Homework goes mobile for pupils
LONDON — There can be no doubting Lesotho’s commitment to education. In 2000, the country began making primary education free; a decade later, in 2010, it became compulsory.
Now the country is trialling a startup that sends homework to pupils via mobile phone.
Sterio.me sends homework lessons and quizzes to basic phones that have limited access to data. Phones of this type have more than 86% penetration in Lesotho.
The programme is undergoing trials in local schools, supported by the Vodacom Foundation, the ministry of education and the local teachers’ union, before being rolled out across the country.
The project was started by Christopher Pruijsen, Danielle Reid and Dean Rotherham during the 2013 Startupbus Africa hackathon, run by ampion.org.
“We originally saw the potential to use something as simple as a mobile phone to deliver powerful information, especially across literacy, internet access and device barriers,” says Pruijsen, now CEO of Sterio.me.
“We also wanted to make sure that the experience was simple and effective for teachers, by saving them time creating, distributing and marking homework.”
The Sterio.me team generates homework and quizzes for teachers, with the content relevant to what students will be learning in the next term. The teachers approve the content before the school year starts.
“We can say that, as of December 2014, we have more than 1,000 questions across the Le- sotho junior secondary curriculum, approved by active local teachers,” Pruijsen says.
Currently, the curriculum covers maths, geography, English and agriculture.
When the programme is running, students receive a call covering the day’s work. A text-to-speech programme reads out several multiple-choice questions that the pupil can answer using the phone’s keypad.
The collected data is fed back to improve learning outcomes, teaching methods and the school curriculum.
Teachers can see the data in real time, checking which pupils have completed assignments and monitoring their progress while also seeing where they could improve their teaching methods. To aid with policy formation, the data is accessible to government agencies.
The Sterio.me team hopes to use the collected data to filter for cheating. “With any type of out-of-classroom or remote form of learning and quizzing, there is a risk of cheating — paper-based homework is the same,” Pruijsen says.
“We believe that with the wealth of data we will gather via mobile engagement of the students, both via voice and SMS, we can use big data analysis to filter for ‘high risk of cheating’ scenarios, such as when students who normally take a longer time to respond suddenly take 0.1 second to input the correct answer.
We can also scramble the order of correct answers, so that the correct answer for one student might be the ‘1’ key on a given multiple choice quiz, and for another student it would be option ‘3’.
“For the moment, feedback from students has been so positive that we trust they will complete the quizzes for their own personal benefit, as they are motivated to improve their education and with this their opportunities at a better life.
Students are looking to improve their own comprehension and are excited about new ways to do that.”
The project has been a work of passion for the team. “We’ve done everything to make the concept a reality, from sleeping on couches for months to taking on personal loans as founders, all to make Sterio.me a success,” Pruijsen says.
In its Lesotho trial, the Vodacom Foundation pays for the airtime, making the system free for students.
The team hopes to extend the project’s reach to mobile English language learning in Asia and Latin America, and to expand its basic operation globally. — theguardian
The Sterio.me system has more than 1,000 questions across the school curriculum, covering maths, english, geography and agriculture.