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From Instant messaging to algebra. Bmobile supports study using mobile phones to teach math

Trinidad - Trinidad and Tobago has a mobile phone subscription rate of well over 100 per cent. Yet we have an o’ level mathematics paper 2 pass rate of only 20 per cent. Clearly we like our mobile devices more than we do math. Recognising this, one graduate student of the University of the West Indies (UWI) has started a study to discover if the popularity of the former can boost the pass rates of the latter. Math has come to the mobile phone.

The three-month study entails using mobile phones to assist secondary school students to study mathematics by building games into the devices that encourage them to learn. The project is being carried out by Vanni Kalloo, a postgraduate scholarship student in UWI St Augustine’s Department of Mathematics and Computer Science. The study is being funded primarily by the university with equipment and service support being provided by bmobile for the 20 students taking part in the study.

“I was a teacher before. I taught for five years. So I am very close to the subject,” explained Ms Kalloo. “The students don’t understand why they have to do math. They don’t like the subject. It’s a problem for them and for the teachers.”

Although the study is the first of its kind in the Caribbean, mobile learning or m-learning is a major international initiative. Related to electronic learning (e-learning), electronically supported learning and teaching, it also has the advantages of mobility and skirts the need for larger (and more expensive platforms) like desktop computers. Already Ms Kalloo has made presentations on her study at m-learning and e-learning conferences locally, in the US and North Africa.

For bmobile, this is an exciting development in the local mobile services industry. “As a technology provider, this type of innovation makes our investments in the technology worthwhile” said Lisa Agard, Executive Vice President Mobile Services, “The platform is here for content developers to fill very real needs in the society.”

“We’ve made major investments in our networks – both wireless and wired – precisely because we recognise the role of communications technology as the ultimate tool of the knowledge era. In TSTT we have created new uses in IPTV and Alarm Monitoring, FCB has started mobile banking and we expect that as these uses become more accepted, entrepreneurs and academics will explore the potential for other uses in e-learning, e-health and e-government. ”

Dr Permanand Mohan, Senior Lecturer – Computer Sciences at UWI and supervisor of the study sees the role of bmobile as vital in these types of developmental studies:

“This is where companies like bmobile come in. If the study shows the potential for m-learning exists it will be an opportunity to find new avenues for revenue. The whole idea behind this is that we can get feedback to determine its viability on a larger scale.”

So far Ms Kalloo has completed the first month in the three-month study. She says the data is “very interesting” but is not yet ready to disclose the results. The first month entailed giving them the phones and allowing them to use them as they see fit. The second month will be “semi-supportive”, monitoring their activities on the phone via the internet and making suggestions to the students about usage.

The third phase will split the sample into two groups (half using the phones and the other half not) to compare their performance.

Ms Kalloo stresses that this is only the beginning of a possible journey to m-learning in Trinidad and Tobago but hopes to eventually make a positive impact on the teaching of mathematics and students’ interest in the subject.

“The next step (after the study’s conclusion) will be to analyse the data and see if it has potential. A lot of young people like to see graphically intensive games and I want leverage that to support their math. The end result is to one day see students' attitudes change about math and perform better at the subject.”