Phone-based lessons boost Philippines students’ math skills

Students received a 20-minute weekly phone call tutorial conducted in the most commonly spoken languages in the regions, along with a weekly text message with simple math exercises.

Jane Bautista

Jane Bautista

Philippine Daily Inquirer

Screenshot-2023-05-16-095301.png stock images

May 16, 2023

MANILA — A cellphone-based tutoring program has proven to be effective in improving the math skills of Filipino students by 40 percent, according to a recent study conducted by a nonprofit organization, Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), on the new learning intervention called mEducation (mobile phone + education).

IPA, in partnership with the Department of Education (DepEd) and Youth Impact, tested the program which uses simple text messages and phone calls to deliver math lessons to students to curb learning losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Mobile phones enable teachers to reach students at home even when school is disrupted, providing a resilient and flexible modality to provide education during emergencies,” said the working paper published in the Massachusetts-based National Bureau of Economic Research.

The project was first implemented in Botswana and its implementation in the Philippines, as well as India, Kenya, Nepal and Uganda, was part of a global initiative to recreate the intervention.

A total of 3,492 Grades 3 and 4 students from 110 schools in Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan) provinces, as well as the cities of Calapan and Puerto Princesa, Western Visayas and Zamboanga Peninsula regions participated in the eight-week program that started in August 2021.

“These regions were selected by the government and represent some of the most marginalized communities in the country,” the study said.

Participating Filipino students received a 20-minute weekly phone call tutorial conducted in the most commonly spoken languages in the regions, along with a weekly text message with simple math exercises.

IPA said the results showed that the mEducation program increased the number of students who could solve arithmetic problems involving all basic operations, with six out of every 100 participants able to solve math problems compared to those who did not undergo the tutoring intervention.

“Similarly, for every 100 participants, 18 more students could correctly complete the subtraction problems than in the group that did not receive the intervention, 18 more for multiplication and 13 more for division,” it added.

Positive impact

The phone call tutoring program was done via two methods: through a “government delivery treatment arm,” or DepEd teachers conducting the tutorial, and the “nongovernment organization-led teacher-aide arm” in which IPA employed and trained tutors taken from the pool of government teacher applicants.

“The program’s consistently positive impact on learning gains, regardless of whether the instruction was delivered by teacher aides or actual DepEd teachers, shows the intervention can be adopted successfully by government teachers,” IPA said.

It added that mEducation was different from other mobile education programs as it required only basic mobile phones without the need to download any application.

The approach also used tutoring elements and a strategy called “Teaching at the Right Level” to improve learning outcomes.

For example, if a student was struggling with subtraction, the weekly topic would focus on the mathematical operation and the learner would not move on to the next level without mastering subtraction first.

“The intervention was rigorously tested twice in the Philippines,” IPA said, adding that students were randomly assigned to different groups that included a control group that did not receive the program, a second group that received both phone calls and SMS, and a third one that received SMS only.

Both components, the SMS and phone calls, were tested to see if these were necessary to achieve a positive impact on the students’ numeracy skills.

‘Lost schooling’

Of the five participating countries, the study said the results showed “consistently large and robust effect sizes of phone call tutorials on learning across contexts.”

“We find results are largest in countries that experienced the longest school closures: Uganda and the Philippines. These results translate into large learning gains in absolute terms,” it added.

“Given how students in the Philippines suffered from lost schooling during COVID-19, mEducation offers an alternative way to improve numeracy skills,” said Cerilo Illaga Jr., a senior education program specialist of the Schools Division of Calapan City, who added that it could also complement other distance learning methods to give students additional study opportunities.

Based on the results of the first Philippine Assessment for Learning Loss Solutions conducted by the University of San Carlos and Thames International School, private school students in Grades 1 to 12 suffered learning losses in mathematics and sciences due to disruptions caused by school closures due to the pandemic.

The assessment study noted that elementary and high school students posted an average score of 54.1 percent in science and 47.5 percent in math—both below the 60-percent passing grade set by DepEd.

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