Socioeconomic strata, mobile technology, and education: a comparative analysis

  • Paul KimEmail author
  • Teresita Hagashi
  • Laura Carillo
  • Irina Gonzales
  • Tamas Makany
  • Bommi Lee
  • Alberto Gàrate
Research Article


Mobile devices are highly portable, easily distributable, substantially affordable, and have the potential to be pedagogically complementary resources in education. This study, incorporating mixed method analyses, discusses the implications of a mobile learning technology-based learning model in two public primary schools near the Mexico-USA border in the state of Baja California, Mexico. One school was located in an urban slum and the other in a rural village community. Empirical and ethnographic data were collected through a series of achievement tests, observations, surveys, and interviews involving 160 s grade school children recruited by convenience sampling. The general technology infrastructure, distinctive features of mobile learning to supplement literacy development, profound contextual phenomena arising from the two uniquely underserved communities, and social factors possibly influencing the educational experiences are discussed. The findings suggest that students in the rural village, seriously lacking educational resources and technology exposure, may have benefited substantially more from mobile technologies than urban school students possibly due to their relatively higher socio-economic status and higher parental involvement and interest in education. In contrast, there was no evidence of interaction with parental education levels, the experience of teachers or school principals, or the teacher’s perception or preparation of the technology. Overall, the mobile learning technology adoption was rapid, seamless, and actively driven by the students rather than the teacher. The challenges of the phenomenal migratory nature of most families in this unique geographical region are also discussed to benefit future studies.


Mobile learning Rural Urban Mexico Literacy development 



Special thanks go to Curtis Bonk of Indiana University and Chris Dede of Harvard University, and Seth Weinberger of Innovations for Learning for proofreading the paper and offering valuable comments. The authors also thank the Programmable Open Mobile Internet (POMI) research team at Stanford University.


  1. Adams, M. (1990). Beginning to read: Thinking and learning about print. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  2. Anandarajan, M., Igbaria, M., & Anakwe, U. P. (2002). IT acceptance in a less-developed country: A motivation factor perspective. International Journal of Information Management, 22(1), 47–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Attewell, J. (2005). From research and development to mobile learning: Tools for education and training providers and their learners. Paper presented at the 4th World Conference on mLearning.Google Scholar
  4. Bainbridge, W. L., & Lasley, T. (2002). Demographics, diversity, and K-12 accountability: The challenge of closing the achievement gap. Education and Urban Society, 34, 422–437.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brown, E. (Ed.). (2001). Mobile learning explorations at the Stanford Learning lab. speaking of computers, 55. Stanford, CA: Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University.Google Scholar
  6. Campbell, D. T., & Stanley, J. C. (1966). Experimental and quasi-experimental designs for research. Chicago: Rand McNally.Google Scholar
  7. Carnoy, M., & Rhoten, D. (2002). What does globalization mean for educational change? A comparative approach. Comparative Education Review, 46(1), 1–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cavus, N., & Ibrahim, D. (2009). M-learning: An experiment in using SMS to support learning new English language words. British Journal of Educational Technology, 40(1), 78–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Clark, R. E. (1985). Evidence for confounding in computer-based instruction studies: Analyzing the meta analyses. Educational Communication and Technology Journal, 33(4), 249–262.Google Scholar
  10. Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power for the behavioral sciences (2nd ed.). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  11. Crook, C. (2002). Learning as cultural practice. In M. R. Lea & K. Nicholl (Eds.), Distributed learning: Social and cultural approaches to practice (pp. 152–169). London: RoutledgeFalmer.Google Scholar
  12. Cummins, J., & Sayers, D. (1995). Brave new schools: Challenging cultural illiteracy through global learning networks. New York: St. Martin’s Press.Google Scholar
  13. Driscoll, M. (2000). Psychology of learning for instruction (2nd ed.). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.Google Scholar
  14. Dror, I. E., & Harnad, S. (Eds.). (2008). Cognition distributed: How cognitive technology extends our minds. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing.Google Scholar
  15. Goldenberg, C., Gallimore, R. G., & Reese, L. (2005). Using mixed methods to explore Latino children’s literacy development. In T. S. Weisner (Ed.), Discovering successful pathways in children’s development: Mixed methods in the study of childhood and family life. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  16. Graves, F., Juel, C., & Graves, B. (2003). Teaching reading in the 21st century (3rd ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.Google Scholar
  17. Griffith, P. L., & Olson, M. W. (1992). Phonemic awareness helps beginning readers break the code. The Reading Teacher, 45, 516–523.Google Scholar
  18. Halle, T., Kurtz-Costes, B., & Mahoney, J. (1997). Family influences on school achievement in low-income, African-American children. Journal of Educational Psychology, 89, 527–537.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hart, B., & Risley, R. T. (1995). Meaningful differences in the everyday experience of young American children. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.Google Scholar
  20. Henderson, A. T. (Ed.). (1987). The evidence continues to grow: Parent involvement improves student achievement. Columbia, MD: National Committee for Citizens in Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. PS 018 600).Google Scholar
  21. Herselman, M. E. (1999). South African resource-deprived learners benefit from CALL through the medium of computer games. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 12(3), 197–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Instituto Nacional para la Evaluación de la Educación (INEE). (2007). Estimates from Census lifted by ILCE Technology Resources. Banco de Indicadores Educativos.Google Scholar
  23. International Telecommunication Union. (2009). Measuring the Information Society: The ICT Development Index. Retrieved September 23, 2009, from
  24. Jonassen, D. H., & Rohrer-Murphy, L. (1999). Activity theory as a framework for designing constructivist learning environments. Educational Techonology Research & Development, 47, 61–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Jones, M., & Marsden, G. (2006). Mobile interaction design. Chichester, UK: Wiley.Google Scholar
  26. Joseph, S., & Uther, M. (2006). Mobile language learning with multimedia and multi-model interfaces. In Proceedings of the fourth IEEE international workshop on wireless, mobile and ubiquitous technology in education (ICHIT ‘06). Google Scholar
  27. Juel, C. (1988). Learning to read and write: A longitudinal study of fifty-four children from first through fourth grades. Journal of Educational Psychology, 80(4), 437–447.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Juel, C. (1991). Beginning reading. In R. Barr, M. L. Kamil, P. D. Pearson, & P. Mosenthal (Eds.), Handbook of reading research (Vol. 2, pp. 759–788). New York: Longman.Google Scholar
  29. Kim, P. (2009). Action research approach on mobile learning design for the underserved. Educational Technology Research & Development, 57, 415–435. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kim, P., Miranda, T., & Olaciregui, C. (2008). Pocket school: Exploring mobile technology as a sustainable literacy education option for underserved indigenous children in Latin America. International Journal of Educational Development, 28(4), 435–445. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Klebanov, P. K., Brooks-Gunn, J., & Duncan, G. J. (1994). Does neighborhood and family poverty affect mothers’ parenting, mental health, and social support? Journal of Marriage and the Family, 56, 441–455.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kuhn, M., & Stahl, S. (2000). Fluency: A review of developmental and remedial practices. Ann Arbor, MI: Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Acquisition, University of Michigan.Google Scholar
  33. Kulik, J., Bangert, R., & Williams, G. (1983). Effects of computer-based teaching on secondary school students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 75, 19–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Lea, M. R., & Nicholl, K. (Eds.). (2002). Distributed learning: Social and cultural approaches to practice. London: RoutledgeFalmer.Google Scholar
  35. McNaughton, S., Phillips, G., & MacDonald, S. (2003). Profiling teaching and learning needs in beginning literacy instruction: The case of children in “low decile” schools in New Zealand. Journal of Literacy Research, 35, 703–770.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Mercy, J. A., & Steelman, L. C. (1982). Familial influence on the intellectual attainment of children. American Sociological Review, 47, 532–542.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Nyíri, K. (2002). Towards a philosophy of M-learning. In: Proceedings IEEE international workshop on wireless and mobile technologies in education (pp. 121–124), August 29–30, 2002.Google Scholar
  38. OECD. (2006a). Are Students Ready for a Technology-Rich World? What PISA Studies Tell Us. OECD. Google Scholar
  39. OECD. (2006b). Starting Strong II. Early childhood education and care. OECD. Google Scholar
  40. Parsons, D., & Ryu, H. (2006, April). A framework for ssessing the quality of mobile learning. In: R. Dawson, E. Georgiadou, P. Lincar, M. Ross, & G. Staples (Eds.), Learning and teaching issues in software quality. Proceedings of the 11th international conference for process improvement, research and education (INSPIRE), Southampton Solent University, UK, pp. 17–27.Google Scholar
  41. Pineiro, R. C. (2009). Developing the U.S.-Mexico border region for a prosperous and secure relationship: Mexican border cities and migration flows. Rice University: Baker Institute for Public Policy.Google Scholar
  42. Roschelle, J., & Pea, R. (2002, January). A walk on the WILD side: How wireless handhelds may change CSCL. Proceedings of CSCL 2002, Boulder, CO, pp. 51–60.Google Scholar
  43. Sammons, P., Elliot, K., Sylva, K., Melhuish, E., Siraj-Blatchford, I., & Taggart, B. (2004). The impact of pre-school on young children’s cognitive attainments at entry to reception. British Educational Research Journal, 30, 691–712.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Santibanez, L., Vernez, G., & Razquin, P. (2005). Education in Mexico: Challenges and Opportunities. RAND Education.Google Scholar
  45. Schwartz, S. (1988). A comparison of componential and traditional approaches to training reading skills. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 2(3), 189–201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Sharples, M., Taylor, J., & Vavoula, G. (2005). Towards a theory of mobile learning. In: Proceedings of mLearn 2005 conference, Cape Town.Google Scholar
  47. Shin, N., Norris, C., & Soloway, E. (2006). Effects of handheld games on students learning in mathematics. In Proceedings of the 7th international conference on learning sciences, pp. 702–708.Google Scholar
  48. Shuler, C. (2009). Pockets of potential: Using mobile technologies to promote children’s learning. New York: The Joan Ganz Center at Sesame Workshop.Google Scholar
  49. SINIEG. (2009). National institute of statistics, geography, and data processing. Retrieved on 14 April 2009 from
  50. Soloway, E., Norris, C., Blumenfeld, P., Fishman, B. J. K., & Marx, R. (2001). Devices are ready-at-hand. Communications of the ACM, 44(6), 15–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Stead, G., Sharpe, B., Anderson, P., Cych, L., & Philpott, M. (2006). Emerging technologies for learning. Coventry, UK: Becta.Google Scholar
  52. Straub, D. W., Loch, K. D., & Hill, C. E. (2001). Transfer of information technology to the Arab world: A test of cultural influence modeling. Journal of Global Information Management, 9(4), 6–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Uden, L. (2007). Activity theory for designing mobile learning. International Journal of Mobile Learning and Organisation, 1, 81–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Vellutino, F. R., & Scanlon, D. M. (2002). Research for the future: The interactive strategies approach to reading intervention. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 27, 573–635.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. World Food Programme. (2009). WFP launches mobile phone-based food voucher pilot for iraqi refugees in Syria. Retrieved on 28 October 2009 from
  56. Zhao, Y., & Cziko, G. A. (2001). Teacher adoption of technology: A perceptual control theory perspective. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 9(1), 5–30.Google Scholar
  57. Zurita, G., & Nussbaum, M. (2004). A constructivist mobile learning environment supported by a wireless handheld network. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 20, 235–243.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Association for Educational Communications and Technology 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul Kim
    • 1
    Email author
  • Teresita Hagashi
    • 2
  • Laura Carillo
    • 2
  • Irina Gonzales
    • 1
  • Tamas Makany
    • 1
  • Bommi Lee
    • 1
  • Alberto Gàrate
    • 2
  1. 1.Stanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  2. 2.CETYS UniversidadCol. Rivera MexicaliMexico

Personalised recommendations