How Can Technology Improve Learning? Information Technology, Education and Welfare in Niger

Lead Research Organisation: Tufts University
Department Name: School of International Affairs

Abstract

Education is essential for economic and social development. Yet over 775 million adults worldwide are unable to read and write in any language (UNESCO 2012). These indicators are particularly low in the landlocked countries of sub-Saharan Africa, where literacy rates are less than 40 percent. In Niger, the subject of our study, fewer than 30 percent of the population is literate, with large discrepancies between men and women.
Despite the immediate private and social returns to adult education, adult education programs are a highly neglected entry point for development interventions. This is often attributed to low enrollment, high drop-out and rapid skills depreciation (Romain and Armstrong 1987, Abadzi 1994, Oxenham et al 2002, Ortega and Rodriguez 2008), possibly due to the limited relevance of such skills in daily life or limited opportunities to practice in one's native language.
The widespread growth of mobile phone coverage in many developing countries, including Niger, has the potential to increase the incentives for and facilitate the acquisition of literacy and numeracy skills by illiterate adults. By teaching students how to use mobile phones, adult learners may be able to practice their literacy skills outside of class by sending and receiving short message services (SMS), making phone calls and using mobile money (m-money) applications, all of which require basic fluency with the numbers, symbols and letters on mobile phone keypads. Mobile phone technology could also affect returns to education by allowing households to use the technology for other purposes, such as obtaining price and labor market information and facilitating informal private transfers (Aker and Mbiti 2010).
Our research team ran a successful randomized evaluation in Niger in 2009-2011 (Project ABC) and showed that a mobile phone-enhanced adult education program improved literacy and math skills of adult education participants by 19-25 s.d., equivalent to an additional year of education (Aker et al 2012). This difference remains significant over time, even as learning depreciates.
Building upon the successful pilot program, this research will provide rigorous evidence on the impacts of adult education programs on educational and socio-economic outcomes in Niger. Yet more importantly, this research will assess the extent to which information technology - in particular, mobile phones -- can affect learning outcomes and households' asset ownership, ability to deal with shocks and farm and off-farm earnings. This will be achieved by including two variations of the basic education intervention. The first variation will teach students in the basic adult education course how to use mobile phones, similar to a previous pilot program in Niger. The second intervention will also provide educational content to adult learners via short message service (SMS), thereby allowing us to measure the extent to which information technology can be used as a distance-learning tool. In addition to its impacts on adult learning, this research will also investigate the extent to which adult education influences parents' investments in children's educational outcomes and which education affects intra-household and intra-village decision-making. And finally, since the research will be conducted in an expanded study population (250 villages, as compared with 117 in the pilot), we will be able to assess the scalability of the approach, thus allowing us to directly address the first overarching research question set out in this call for proposal ("What approaches are most effective in enabling the poorest to exit and stay out of poverty, and under what conditions can such approaches be replicated elsewhere and at scale?")
This research will be achieved through a unique collaboration between Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and researchers at Tufts University, the University of Ottawa, the London School of Economics and the University of Abdoul Moumouni.

Planned Impact

The primary direct beneficiaries of this research will be rural illiterate households in Niger. A mobile phone-enhanced adult education program should allow adults to continue to learn outside of the classroom, thereby improving their learning outcomes. For this most direct potential impact of the innovation ("the direct beneficiary"), our past work, Aker et al (2012) provides estimates of the magnitude of the impacts. In that work, we documented that the improvements in learning outcomes were substantial: Average writing and math test scores were .19-.25 standard deviations higher among ABC classrooms, and the program was equally effective for men and women and different ages.
An additional potential benefit is that the mobile phone and enhanced learning may allow households ("the indirect beneficiary") to get access to different types of price, shock and labor market information, thereby allowing them to increase their farm and household income. While our previous work did not find statistically signifcant effects on income, we did find that ABC households were more likely to produce marginal cash crops and to earn approximately $US 2 more than non-ABC households.
In addition to these beneficiaries, there are four sets of stakeholders who will also benefit from the results of this research. The first stakeholder is Catholic Relief Services, the primary implementing partner of the project. This research will inform CRS about the effectiveness of its adult education program, as well as the impact of mobile phone-based educational content. Since CRS has programs in over 80 countries worldwide, and several adult education programs within West Africa, if the program is successful, there is a strong likelihood that the program may be replicated in other countries.
Second, these insights from this research will be shared with policymakers in Niger, primarily the Ministry of Non-Formal Education, in order to determine whether and how its existing adult curriculum should be modified to incorporate information technology. Cost-effective (adult) education has been prioritized as part of the Government of Niger's ten-year education strategy. The Ministry will use the results from this research to determine whether the ABC program should be adopted as a formal component of its national adult education curriculum. In addition, since the adult education curriculum is similar in many countries in West Africa, these results could potentially benefit ministries in other Sahelian countries.
Third, the results from this study will be shared with donors and private sector counterparts interested in adult and non-formal education, and in particular mobile-based learning. These donors will include, but not be limited to, USAID and DFID; UNESCO; and the GSM Association, whereas private sector partners include mobile phone operators (e.g, Airtel, Orange). Finally, this research will benefit researchers and students at UAM, with whom the researchers will collaborate and develop workshops and trainings in impact evaluation.
Engagement with these groups will take place through our written project outputs (working papers, policy briefs), our website (http://sites.tufts.edu/projectabc/), short blog summaries of our findings at the Center for Global Development (http://www.cgdev.org), our stakeholder workshops, our impact evaluation trainings at UAM, our regional meeting for education ministry officials, our regular engagement in academic and policy-related conferences in Africa and in the global economic development community (e.g. CSAE, ABCDE, and similar meetings), and through our network of contacts with governments, donors, and NGOs with whom we regularly interact to discuss promising approaches to tackle educational interventions and policies in poor countries. All of these engagement activities are described in detail in the "Pathways to Impact" document.

Publications

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Aker J (2019) Call me educated: Evidence from a mobile phone experiment in Niger? in Economics of Education Review

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Global Development C (2015) Call Me Educated: Evidence from a Mobile Monitoring Experiment in Niger in SSRN Electronic Journal

 
Title Short film on the impacts of adult education and ABC 
Description The project created a short film on the impact of adult education/ABC on people's lives in Niger, as well as a "how to" video on how to implement the ABC program. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact This has just been completed so it has not yet had an impact. 
 
Description This research project examines whether simple information technology - namely, the mobile phone - can be utilized to improve educational outcomes and well-being for adult learners.
Specifically, this research seeks to:

1. Understand whether the impact of adult education programs on students' learning outcomes and well-being can be improved by using mobile phones as an educational tool; and

2. Understand whether mobile phones can be used as a tool to monitor teachers' presence in the classroom as compared with in-person visits

3. Understand how and whether adult education programs affect socio-economic outcomes.

Our research has found that adult education programs are successful in improving adults' learning, and encourage households to invest more in their children's education by sending more children to school and investing more in their education. There are limited impacts on other socio-economic levels of well-being, such as asset ownership and households' agricultural sales.

The simple mobile phone can be used as a pedagogical tool in these classes, which improves learning outcomes as compared to adult education programs that didn't use the mobile phone as an educational tool. That being said, the impacts were not as large as the original impacts during the pilot.

Finally, since teacher absenteeism is a problem in these courses, using mobile phones as a monitoring tool for teachers significantly improves students' test scores (by almost 50%), and is extremely cost effective as compared with in-person monitoring programs. This is, in part, due to the mobile phone's monitoring and motivation effects: Teachers who received calls understood that their presence in the classroom was important, and also felt valued by receiving these alls. These results suggest that simple information technology can be used to improve learning outcomes.
Exploitation Route These results have been widely disseminated at academic conferences and at a final policy conference in Niger in January 2017, which brought together the Ministry, NGOs and research partners. The Ministry agreed to adopt the ABC approach in later 2017, and also was considering using mobile phones as a monitoring tool. We have also written a paper and submitted it for publication; it is currently being reviewed at the second round. Finally, we have written two policy briefs and shared them with DFID and others in Sierra Leone, and have been working on a film.

We feel that these findings may be used by other NGOs, governments and donors as a potential way to modify the implementation of adult education programs.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education

 
Description At the institution level, the research findings have encouraged our key NGO partner and Ministry partner, as well as donors (USAID) to consider using mobile phones as both a pedagogical and monitoring tool in their adult education programs. In addition, the Millennium Challenge Corporation has expressed interest in using these findings to shape its future funding and work in Niger. In 2017, the Ministry of Non-Formal Education formally adopted the ABC curriculum - which is using mobile phones as a pedagogical tool in the classroom - as part of its adult education curriculum. At the individual and household level, this program has allowed adults to learn at higher levels (in terms of reading and math scores), and allowed teachers to be more effective at their jobs. We are currently analyzing the impact of the program on other measures of well-being, such as agricultural production and marketing, intra-household decision-making, etc, and find that the adult education program increases investments in children's educational outcomes. Finally, in meetings with DFID at the DFID-ESRC conference in 2018 and 2019, I engaged with DFID representatives from different countries. I shared the findings, as well as a policy brief, with the DFID representative in Sierra Leone, who said that he was willing to try the phone calls amongst primary school teachers in country. Finally, I was invited to give an informal talk with DFID and the FCO on their new Sahel initiative, and the potential use of mobile phones in this vein.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Other
Impact Types Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description Adult education curriculum
Geographic Reach Africa 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
Impact Based upon our work, the Ministry of Non-Formal Education in Niger formally adopted the ABC curriculum as part of its adult education curriculum.
 
Description Co-wrote an article for the Impact Initiative Impact Story
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
 
Description Impact Evaluation Workshop for Research Partners in Niger
Geographic Reach Africa 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description Policy Dissemination Conference in NIger
Geographic Reach Africa 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description Policy Dissemination Conference in Niger
Geographic Reach Africa 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description Presentation to CRS and Ministry of Non-Formal Education
Geographic Reach Africa 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description Hitachi Center Faculty Research
Amount $15,000 (USD)
Organisation Hitachi 
Sector Private
Country Japan
Start 05/2015 
End 08/2015
 
Description Post Primary Education Grant
Amount $10,000 (USD)
Organisation J-PAL 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United States
Start 06/2016 
End 05/2017
 
Title Baseline, Second and Third Round Datasets 
Description These datasets include adult student learning outcomes using EGRA and EGMA techniques, self-efficacy and self-esteem scales and household outcomes for students participating in the adult education program over 2 years. We also have a dataset on teacher outcomes over 2 years. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact To date, we have produced one working paper and are working on a second working paper. 
 
Title Final Household Survey and Education Datasets 
Description Data from household survey, final educational outcomes and teacher surveys 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact These databases allow us to measure the learning and household (socioeconomic) impacts of the program. 
 
Title Mobile Phone Surveys 
Description As part of our teacher datasets, we piloted and implemented a mobile monitoring component, which involved mobile phone surveys. The surveys were extremely successful in terms of contacting respondents, as well as extremely cost effective. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact This allowed us to collect high-frequency data on teachers at a low cost. 
 
Description Catholic Relief Services 
Organisation Catholic Relief Services
Country United States 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Implementing partner of the adult education research
Collaborator Contribution The partner helped with the design and implementation of the intervention associated with the research, and also helped to disseminate results to policymakers.
Impact Completed adult education program Policy conference for stakeholders Film
Start Year 2014
 
Description Sahel Consulting 
Organisation Sahel Consulting Agriculture & Nutrition
Country Nigeria 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Provided material and capacity-building support
Collaborator Contribution Fully participated in research, worked with local partners, helped to organize and implement research and policy conference.
Impact Completed all surveys Completed all data Produced policy conference Produced video
Start Year 2014
 
Description University partnership 
Organisation Abdou Moumouni University
Country Niger 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We provided training in impact evaluation and data to the university professors and students.
Collaborator Contribution Attended the training, provided feedback on research and participated in policy conference.
Impact Impact evaluation workshop Shared data Policy conference
Start Year 2016
 
Description Center for Global Development 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Approximately 40 people from the Washington, DC area, including academic and non-academic institutions, attended a talk on the results of the mobile monitoring program.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Final Policy Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact This was a final workshop sharing information on the findings from the DFID-ESRC-funded research between 2014 and 2017 with the Ministry of Non-Formal Education, NGOs, donors (e.g., MCC and USAID) and other stakeholders in Niger. Media interviews were given and put on TV.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description International Food Policy Research Institute 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation to donors, academics, practitioners and others on the short-term impacts of the program.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Interview in Niger 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Interview during the policy conference on the adult education research and its findings.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Policy Conference with Ministry and NGOs 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact This activity brought together our research partners, NGOs and Ministry of Non-Formal Education in Niger and presented the results of the DFID-ESRC-funded research and talked about next steps.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010,2017
 
Description Presentation at NEUDC 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation to development economics professors and students.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Presentation at University of Minnesota 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Presentation of mobile monitoring work.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017
 
Description Presentation of Results at the University of Minnesota 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Presentation on results to economics and public policy department.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Presentation to World Bank field offices 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Presentation and debate on the role of adult education in World Bank programs in West Africa
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description World Bank Africa Group Presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation to World Bank Africa Group on results
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015