Authors: Nicola J. Pitchford, Elizabeth Kamchedzera, Paula J. Hubber and Antonie L. Chigeda
Interactive apps delivered on touch-screen tablets can be effective at supporting the acquisition of basic skills in mainstream primary school children. This technology may also be beneficial for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) as it can promote high levels of engagement with the learning task and an inclusive learning environment. However, few studies have measured extent of learning for SEND pupils when using interactive apps, so it has yet to be determined if this technology is effective at raising attainment for these pupils. We report the first observational study of a group of 33 pupils with SEND from two primary schools in Malawi that are implementing a new digital technology intervention which uses touch-screen tablets to deliver interactive apps designed to teach basic mathematical skills. The apps contain topics that align to the national curriculum. To assess learning gains, rate of progress (minutes per topic) for each pupil was determined by calculating the average time taken to complete a topic. Progress rate was then correlated with teacher ratings of extent of disability and independent ratings of pupil engagement with the apps. Results showed SEND pupils could interact with the apps and all pupils passed at least one topic. Average progress rate for SEND pupils was twice as long as mainstream peers. Stepwise regression revealed extent of disability significantly predicted progress rate. Further exploratory correlations revealed pupils with moderate to severe difficulties with hearing and/or language made slower progress through the apps than those with greater functionality in these two domains because the use of verbal instructions within the apps limited their capacity to learn. This original quantitative analysis demonstrates that interactive apps can raise learning standards in pupils with SEND but may have limited utility for pupils with severe difficulties. Software modifications are needed to address specific areas of difficulty preventing pupils from progressing.