Brighten Youth Education Centre

 

 

Texting for success

 

Parents in Hong Kong continue to invest a phenomenal amount of emotional and financial resources in extracurricular programs for their children. While one impact of this may be the more holistic development of young people, surely another of the most attractive aims for parents is that all this running around between activities might create better exam results. However, a recent UK study has shown that simply texting parents about their children’s homework requirements was a more cost-effective way of improving grades than any number of extracurricular solutions, including joining the Scouts and exposing children to classical music on a regular basis.

The research was sponsored by the Education Endowment Fund (EEF), a grant-making charity dedicated to breaking the link between income and educational achievement (https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/about/). The most cost-effective strategy was run by academics at Harvard and Bristol universities. Weekly texts were sent to parents updating them on upcoming tests, missing homework and what subjects their children were studying in class (https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/evaluation/projects/texting-parents/). The study involved 15,700 students in year 7, 9 and 11 in 36 secondary schools in the UK. Parents received around 30 text messages in an academic year, or an average about one a week. The scheme cost around £7.55 per student in the first year, dropping to £3.25 in subsequent years once staff had been trained in the program. Parents also recorded support for the frequency, content and timing of the texts (because we all know that we don’t read spam, no matter what the subject).

Initially, results have been modest. Pupils involved in the study showed a slight improvement in math and English (an advancement of about one month) but no improvement in science. There was also an average decrease of unauthorised absences of around half a day per pupil, an unusual development as no messages were sent on the subject of truancy. However, given that the trial’s duration was limited, a longer study would perhaps yield more dramatic results. At the very least, it would allow parents to engage with their children about their schoolwork on a more specific level.

The reality is that parents who want to be engaged in the school life of their children will be, and a weekly text message will not magically persuade those who behave otherwise. The charity did find that students engaged in a weekly activity with a group where they were required to wear a uniform (Scouts, Sea Cadets), showed no improvement in their exam results (https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/evaluation/projects/youth-social-action-secondary-trial/), nor did those receiving weekly classical music lessons (https://www.shinetrust.org.uk/what-we-fund/halle-shine-on-manchester/). The message here is that if your children enjoy those activities in and of themselves then by all means continue. Hobbies are always wonderful. However, they are not a shortcut to exam success.

 

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