New research from the University of Oxford suggests that a parenting app featuring games to encourage child development might actually work as an affordable way of improving school readiness. The study followed 144 families from disadvantaged areas of the British city of Bournemouth as they used EasyPeasy (http://www.easypeasyapp.com/), a software application offering techniques, suggestions and nudges for parents bringing up children between the ages of 2 and 6. The app originated from a 2014 competition run by the Design Council and the Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital charity. Previous research by UK education charity the Sutton Trust found a 19-month attainment gap between children from the richest and poorest backgrounds by the age of 5. After 18 weeks using the app, the parents taking part reported improvements in their children’s behaviour and self-reliance, saying that they were more persistent in completing difficult tasks and were more willing to make decisions independently. (http://www.easypeasyapp.com/evidence.html)
“Although there are many parenting programmes, there is still limited evidence that they are effective at improving children’s learning or their capacity to make a strong start at school,” said Kathy Sylva, professor of educational psychology at the University of Oxford. “These promising results on EasyPeasy stem from a rigorous trial and so build optimism that we can make a difference in the lives of young children through supporting their parents.” The parents reported that they themselves felt better able to stick to rules and set boundaries. However, the app sent data on parents’ usage to children’s centres where they were recruited, allowing centre staff to “encourage less engaged parents to participate”. The parents’ experience was backed by the researchers’ findings as being statistically significant – meaning they were unlikely to have occurred by chance - despite the small sample size involved in the randomised controlled trial.
Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chair of the Sutton Trust, said: “We know that the attainment gap between the richest and the poorest pupils begins before they’ve even started school. Tackling this disparity early on is critical to breaking the cycle of disadvantage and improving social mobility.” While the study only described improvements as “moderate”, it’s low cost (£35 per child), digital nature means that the app would be easy to rollout to disadvantaged households on a large scale. While it is incredibly difficult to compensate for the kind of institutional, social and economic disadvantages faced by children from disadvantaged backgrounds, evidence indicated that ideas like EasyPeasy do go some way towards closing that gap. Proposed solutions need to be affordable and sustainable, yet able to deliver reasonable results. The study also reinforced arguments that the attainment gap between the richest and poorest children begins long before they entre the classroom.
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