Homework goes mo­bile for pupils

Lesotho Times - - Entertainment -

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.

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