New educational app promises to improve pre-literacy skills of preschoolers

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Child using the Khan Academy Kids app. Photo credit: Khan Academy

AMHERST, Mass. – As millions of families struggle to keep their children learning while schools are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, preliminary results from a randomized, controlled study led by psychology researcher David Arnold of the University of Massachusetts Amherst show that 4- and 5-year-olds from low-income families who used a Khan Academy Kids app for three months at home made “substantial gains in their pre-literacy skills that made them feel better. brought almost to the national average ”.

This result suggests that high-quality educational apps could be an important tool in closing the HSE achievement gap, which is particularly interesting given that the app is free, and mobile technology is available to almost all children of this country and that children love to use the application, ”they add. Such applications could provide an important and practical tool to promote the academic success of children at risk.

Arnold says, “Historically, the lack of equal access to technology prevented low-income children from having the chance to use educational software because they had less access to computers and the Internet. But now everyone has access, ”he notes, even in the poorest communities. One study found that three-quarters of low-income minority children now have their own mobile device by the age of 4.

Arnold adds, “Each of our families had mobile devices, and even very young children often use phones and tablets. I’m not advocating more screen time for kids, but if they have to, making it as educational and useful as possible is a good goal. He believes the current era is “very analogous to the early days of television,” when, without much evidence, observers took sides in whether television was “good or bad.”

The authors describe the Khan home learning tool as using thousands of varied and rated interactive activities, music videos, virtual books and creative tools ”to support the development of kindergarten readiness skills in children aged two to six. The app now provides appropriate math content for Kindergarten preparation, but it was not ready for inclusion when this study was undertaken.

The unpublished results were presented in poster form during a pre-conference digital media research meeting ahead of the 2019 Cognitive Development Society meeting in Louisville, Kentucky. The article is currently under review in a peer-reviewed journal.

As Arnold points out, “Khan Academy has a reputation of reaching millions of children with access to educational materials. This new technology has the potential to reach huge numbers of people, and we assume it is educational. But I was impressed when they came to see us and wanted to rigorously assess whether their application could help this group of young people.

For this double-blind study supported by the Overdeck Family Foundation and an anonymous donor who loaned iPads to participating families, the researchers recruited 49 four- and five-year-olds who had not yet entered kindergarten, as well as ‘a primary caregiver, a total of 45 mothers and four fathers. Most of them came from low socioeconomic status urban communities in western Massachusetts; about a third of caregivers spoke another language but were fluent in English.

In a pre-test, the researchers assessed the childrens before-literacy skills, then randomly assigned them to receive the Khan Kids app or two healthy apps that didn’t target kindergarten readiness skills. The children were re-evaluated 10 weeks later in a post-test.

For the study, researchers reviewed recommended screen time guidelines with parents, then asked parents in the Khan Kids group to encourage children to spend about 20 minutes a day playing with the screen. ‘application. Because we did not see fit to encourage non-educational screen time, we did not explicitly ask the parents in the comparison group to encourage the use of the comparison app by children, ” they note. In both groups, we actively guarded against overuse and increasing children’s total screen time, scheduling use with parents to replace rather than increase children’s screen time.

In addition to children’s pre-literacy skills, surveyors measured media, app and device usage by family. They asked parents about their satisfaction with using the app (s) with their children, their perception of the degree to which the apps promoted pre-literacy skills, and the extent to which the app (s) gave them ideas for teach these skills.

Among other results, Arnold and colleagues report that the Khan Kids group showed “statistically and substantially greater increases in overall pre-literacy skills than the comparison group,” with overall pre-literacy scores dropping from the 34th percentile to almost the national average. of the 47th percentile. . The academic interest assessed by the parents also increased significantly for the experimental group compared to the control group.

“It’s not easy for parents to find educational apps among the tens of thousands available, and some that claim to be educational are not,” says Arnold. “A big effort is needed to reduce the access gap,” he adds, noting that the website commonsensemedia.org does a good job of app evaluation. “We believe this new app from Khan has the potential to level the playing field for the benefit of these children.”


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