In the middle of Volunteers’ Week, what better way to celebrate the incredible work being done by the education team in Papua New Guinea and my fellow volunteer colleagues than to highlight some of the amazing results from one of the recently completed trials.
VSO’s groundbreaking SMS story project has shown that sending daily text message stories and lesson plans can improve children’s reading in Papua New Guinea (PNG) elementary schools. The research was a controlled trial in which half of the teachers involved received text messages for twenty weeks and half did not. The stories and lesson plans were designed to introduce children to reading English.
At the start of the project the baseline results showed that many children had limited or no reading ability.
The research was conducted in rural elementary schools in two provinces, the coastal region of Madang and the highlands province, Simbu. Through the duration of the trial teachers received 100 stories and lesson plans and had a cartoon poster to explain how to use them. At the start of the project the baseline results showed that many children had limited or no reading ability. This issue is exacerbated by the fact that all of the schools had very few reading books, a problem across the whole of PNG.
Results from the study found that children who did not receive the SMS Story were approximately twice as likely to be unable to read a single word of three sub-tests (decodable words, sight words and oral reading). Therefore, the intervention almost halved the number of children who couldn’t read anything, which is a staggering achievement.
The intervention almost halved the number of children who couldn’t read anything.
The text messages were delivered to the teachers using a bulk messaging service called Frontline. The estimated cost of delivering the text message for the 100 stories was K2.01 per child, just 50 pence. This unit cost would likely reduce as the project was scaled up. In the absence of reading materials and scripted lessons in elementary schools SMS Story provides a simple and cheap strategy for raising reading standards.
Ali Gee, VSO volunteer was a key figure in the trial: “It was a humbling experience and I was fortunate to be part of a team that made such a significant difference to those teachers and children. When we visited the active schools the children, parents and teachers were all determined to show us how well their children could read. One highlight for me was the children showing off their reading skills by going round the classroom and reading any writing they could see. Parents came to the schools to thank us, some had never learnt to read themselves but wanted their children to do well at school and saw the importance of the intervention.”
Amazing, innovative work like this is happening across the international development sector, run by knowledgeable Programme Managers in liaison with local people and the support of dedicated volunteers.