When mobile is the playground, learning English is child’s play

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Children in rural area can now find mobile phones even more attractive as more and more village based games like gilli danda, kho and others are made available as applications inside a mobile phone.The credit for this feat goes to a project run by professors of the Carnegie Mellon University led by Mathew Kam.  The objective of the project was to provide rural-folk a way to learn English quickly through familiar games.

Kam came up with the idea to institute, Mobile and Immersive Learning for Literacy in Emerging Economies (MILLEE), in 2004 to study the nuances of games children pay in rural areas. According to Kam these familiar games in mobile phones could help children and elders in rural India learn the English language.

Kam undertook the herculean task to study the village games by involving students from IIIT Hyderabad, Carnegie Mellon and about 130 students from rural setting who were enrolled in different universities throughout India. The team was trained on skills on human-computer interaction, sciences and educational technology.

As a first step Kam and his team trained about 25 local students to develop the cellphone games in a two-week winter school at IIIT Hyderabad. The learning gains of that set of children were compared with a set of 400 children from another 20 villages. Similarly, the games were test-played by a group of children from the slum areas of urban localities to understand how they pick up the language in comparison with village children.

As part of the trial process the MILLEE games targeted an academic year of the local, official English curriculum. The learning gains were evaluated against a standardised exam for English in India to benchmark MILLEE learning gains against more conventional teaching approaches.

Kam’s efforts are finding encouragement from corporate houses such as Microsoft which has sponsored three Indian undergraduate students to Carnegie Mellon for their Summer Internships. Increasingly other corporate are also chipping in with their bit to help Kam’s aim of building a pool of local talented manpower in such innovative areas.