Despite massive improvements in enrollment over the past decade, over 775 million adults worldwide are unable to read and write in any language (UNESCO 2012). These indicators are particularly low in the landlocked countries of sub-Saharan Africa. In Niger, the subject of this research, fewer than 30 per cent of the population is literate, with large discrepancies between men and women.
Building upon a successful mobile phone-based education pilot program in Niger (Aker et al 2012), this research will assess the impact of a mobile phone-based adult education program in Niger in an expanded population. Using both qualitative and quantitative techniques, including a randomized control trial, this research will address five primary research questions:
- it will assess the impact of standard adult education programs on adults’ learning
- it will test whether the impacts of the prior mobile phone education program are similar when the program is significantly scaled
- the research will assess the role of mobile phone technology in distance learning by providing educational content
- the program will assess the impact of the program on children’s educational attainment
- the program will assess the way in which education and technology affect intra-household and inter-village dynamics.
The primary direct beneficiaries of this research will be rural illiterate households in Niger. A mobile phone-enhanced adult education program should allow adults to continue to learn outside of the classroom, thereby improving their learning outcomes. For this most direct potential impact of the innovation ("the direct beneficiary"), our past work, Aker et al (2012) provides estimates of the magnitude of the impacts. In that work, we documented that the improvements in learning outcomes were substantial: Average writing and math test scores were .19-.25 standard deviations higher among ABC classrooms, and the program was equally effective for men and women and different ages. An additional potential benefit is that the mobile phone and enhanced learning may allow households ("the indirect beneficiary") to get access to different types of price, shock and labor market information, thereby allowing them to increase their farm and household income. While our previous work did not find statistically signifcant effects on income, we did find that ABC households were more likely to produce marginal cash crops and to earn approximately $US 2 more than non-ABC households. In addition to these beneficiaries, there are four sets of stakeholders who will also benefit from the results of this research. The first stakeholder is Catholic Relief Services, the primary implementing partner of the project. This research will inform CRS about the effectiveness of its adult education program, as well as the impact of mobile phone-based educational content. Since CRS has programs in over 80 countries worldwide, and several adult education programs within West Africa, if the program is successful, there is a strong likelihood that the program may be replicated in other countries. Second, these insights from this research will be shared with policymakers in Niger, primarily the Ministry of Non-Formal Education, in order to determine whether and how its existing adult curriculum should be modified to incorporate information technology. Cost-effective (adult) education has been prioritized as part of the Government of Niger's ten-year education strategy. The Ministry will use the results from this research to determine whether the ABC program should be adopted as a formal component of its national adult education curriculum. In addition, since the adult education curriculum is similar in many countries in West Africa, these results could potentially benefit ministries in other Sahelian countries. Third, the results from this study will be shared with donors and private sector counterparts interested in adult and non-formal education, and in particular mobile-based learning. These donors will include, but not be limited to, USAID and DFID; UNESCO; and the GSM Association, whereas private sector partners include mobile phone operators (e.g, Airtel, Orange). Finally, this research will benefit researchers and students at UAM, with whom the researchers will collaborate and develop workshops and trainings in impact evaluation. Engagement with these groups will take place through our written project outputs (working papers, policy briefs), our website (http://sites.tufts.edu/projectabc/), short blog summaries of our findings at the Center for Global Development (http://www.cgdev.org), our stakeholder workshops, our impact evaluation trainings at UAM, our regional meeting for education ministry officials, our regular engagement in academic and policy-related conferences in Africa and in the global economic development community (e.g. CSAE, ABCDE, and similar meetings), and through our network of contacts with governments, donors, and NGOs with whom we regularly interact to discuss promising approaches to tackle educational interventions and policies in poor countries. All of these engagement activities are described in detail in the "Pathways to Impact" document.