WhatsApp Remote Reading Recovery: Using Mobile Technology to Promote Literacy during COVID-19
Mariana León, Nanette Archer Svenson, Debbie Psychoyos, Nyasha Warren, Guillermina De Gracia, Andrea Palacios
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School closures because of the COVID-19 pandemic affected over a billion young people worldwide and presented a threat to long-term learning, particularly for public school students in low socioeconomic situations. This article offers quasi-experimental evidence on a low-cost strategy for distance learning applied in the Republic of Panama to minimize the negative consequences of the pandemic on public elementary school children’s reading levels. We conducted a 12-week intervention that utilized mobile phone technology and dissemination of reading material through WhatsApp, a cross-platform messaging freeware service, to maintain and improve children’s reading levels during the pandemic school shutdown. The objective was to determine the feasibility of using WhatsApp as a digital tool to facilitate education and inform evolving practice and policy responses. Results among 292 students between the second and sixth grades indicated overall mean gains of up to 10.3% in the number of words read per minute, with statistically significant improvements overall and higher gains among the second and third grades. In addition, the adoption rate was high, with a reported average of 84% completion of the daily readings. The results of this low-tech intervention have immediate and longer-term implications for using mobile technology as a supplemental or complementary learning tool, especially for developing regions and during school closures or school vacations.