Nova workboard

a blog from young economists at Nova SBE

New learning methods to help escape Poverty

Why education is relevant to fight poverty

Children have the right to an education and it plays a major role in political, social and economic development of a country. Moreover, education gives people the skills needed to help themselves create a better life, and even escape the poverty trap. Several problems found in developing countries may be solved through education alone, as it improves health (e.g. people with primary education are less than half as likely to contract HIV and other diseases), enhances economic growth (e.g. no empirical support for a country to achieve continuous and rapid growth without a minimum of 40% adult literacy rate) and promotes political stability (e.g. people learn about their rights and how to exercise them which help to fight corruption and provide better suited governments).

Why computer-based learning matters

The use of computers in education has been found to be an effective way to tackle numerous flaws of the current educational systems, mainly in developing countries. For the first time in history they provide individualized interactivity, a key missing ingredient until now. James Kulik showed, in the early 90’s –  i.e. before computers became part of our daily life – that, not only students learn more and in less time, but also like their classes more when they receive computer-based instructions.

What’s Khan Academy

The Khan Academy is a free online learning platform, created by Salman Khan, which has been hailed as the “world’s teacher” and the “Messiah of Math” by Bloomberg. This revolutionary platform contains thousands of videos in a myriad of areas, and almost infinite amount of interactive exercises, real-time data and analysis features. For these reasons it has become a worldwide phenomenon, with more than 32 million users, in just a few years.

The growing website has material in almost every area but math is without a doubt its main strength. The students engage in a game-oriented, self-paced and individualized learning setting while the teacher is able to monitor every action.

Khan academy.jpg

Research in USA and Chile

In a study conducted on schools from Chile, the authors discovered that students from schools that were using the platform spent more time on math exercises and did better on the year achievement tests. Likewise, students asked more questions and where much more engaged in learning the subject.

Moreover, an investigation on several US schools that incorporate the Khan Academy in different settings, found “large, significant differences in spring test scores compared to students who attended the school before the change in math instruction”. Students who spent more time on Khan Academy experienced greater than expected outcomes, reduced math anxiety, and had higher confidence in their ability to do math. Additionally, 45% of them self-report increase in learning autonomy, 71% enjoyed using it and 1/3 agreed they liked math more since its implementation in the school. Teacher’s perceptions of the software are also striking: 90% would recommend it to other professors, planned to use it on the next year’s class and said it enhanced their ability to monitor students’ knowledge, thus helping to properly tackle students who were struggling or ahead of class.

Implementation in Developing Countries

Although internet access is still a big issue – only 35,5% of the world population has it -, there has been a growing number of innovative solutions. World Possible (non-profit NGO) has developed a hardware called RACHEL that works as an offline Google, including: Wikipedia, Khan Academy, textbooks, Gutenberg World Literature, UNESCO Primary School resources, etc. It has been working with several community-based organizations, which distribute hardware like Raspberry Pi (costs less than $40) so that anyone can install RACHEL and, if connected to a router, add content or even became a server for others, all free of costs. Thus, making it possible to implement K.A. in schools from poorer regions.

Would it work in developing countries?

In order to test this pioneer hypothesis, one could conduct a randomized field experiment in schools, with both control (traditional learning) and treatment (K.A. in schools) groups. The treatment would consist of in-depth tutorial of the platform to teachers and students, and math test’s scores would be the dependent variable. After controlling for pre-treatment differences between groups, implementation the platform follows, and after at least one year, one could recollect the data (scores and a set of individual characteristics) and run a Difference-in-Difference regression: if the treatment dummy is significant we confirm that this new method of learning improved the students’ performance.

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With sufficient low-cost hardware solutions, like RACHEL, it should be possible for students from the third world to acquire knowledge and skills, through platforms like the Khan Academy, Wikipedia and Youtube, guiding them in the direction to escape poverty.


Alexandre Mergulhão – 786 / 18572



Author: studentnovasbe

Master student in Nova Sbe

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