YEAR 2020

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LIfBi Lecture: How can socio-economic inequalities in children's academic skills be reduced?


Differences in academic skills between children from low-income families and children from higher-income families emerge early in life. With the goal of closing this gap, Professor Ariel Kalil, Ph.D. at the University of Chicago is researching ways to improve the literacy and numeracy skills of preschool children from low-income families. She presented current results of two intervention studies in her LIfBi Lecture at the end of October in Bamberg.


Ariel Kalil conducted two randomised controlled trials (RCTs) with her team to reduce income-specific differences in academic skills through technology and behavioural tools. During her visit to the Leibniz Institute in Bamberg, she gave the audience in the Wilhelmspost and online an overview of the experiments and the findings obtained by the research team from Chicago.

Maths Intervention: Math Parents and Children Together (MPACT)

In the MPACT experiment, low-income parents received information materials and a tablet with maths apps to practice maths skills with their children. In addition, they were regularly motivated to learn maths with their children through diffent kinds of text messages. It was found that parental encouragement was increased by the tablets provided and by certain text messages that set goals, gave tips and reminded parents of the opportunities for encouragement. However, none of the interventions had a positive impact on the children's mathematical skills.

Reading Intervention: Children and Parents Engaged in Reading (CAPER)

CAPER was an 11-month reading intervention that tested the use of a digital library and text messaging to change parental support behaviours to increase low-income parents' reading time and their children's reading skills. Making the digital library available to families significantly increased children's literacy skills. Additional text messages to parents had no additional positive impact. In fact, pure reminder messages had a negative effect: they increased reading time, but not children's reading skills, i.e. they led to less efficient reading.

Two key findings

In summary, Ariel Kalil emphasised that both experiments showed the potential of technology to support disadvantaged parents' engagement in their children's learning activities as well as their skill development. Yet text messaging to influence parental behaviour was successful in promoting parental engagement, but did not increase children's skills more than the provision of technological aids (tablets and digital library) alone.


Link [external] to the profile of Professor Ariel Kalil at the University of Chicago