Cognitive abilities that mediate SES’s effect on elementary mathematics learning: The Uruguayan tablet-based intervention
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In unequal societies the effectiveness of formal education depends on the socioeconomic status (SES) of students. Studies have shown that poverty affects the development of the brain in ways that might compromise future learning, thus increasing the differences between groups with different SES. Interest is growing in the development of tools that might change this state of affairs. This article presents a tablet-based study aimed at determining the cognitive abilities related to primary school children’s math learning. The study followed the students’ changes during a short intervention, the purpose of which was to improve students’ performance of some of the core components of mathematical cognition; in particular, of the approximate number system (ANS), a system that supports one’s ability to estimate quantities and to compare time intervals. The article presents the study’s characteristics and shows how the variables that were evaluated—ANS precision, time discrimination accuracy, digit span, and mathematical achievement—depend on SES. We employ multiple regressions to show that the variance in mathematics performance attributed to SES can be explained by differences in underlying cognitive factors. The study also indicates that those students of low-SES schools who participated in more tablet activities increased their performance more than students who did fewer activities. Although the intervention’s initial objective was to influence mathematical development and the study is not a randomized double-blind study, we argue that training the ANS can have positive effects in mathematics learning, and that this might benefit children living in low-SES contexts more than those in the general population, perhaps because of the former’s initially low levels of performance in school mathematics.
KeywordsMath learning Cognitive abilities Socio-economic status (SES) Uruguay
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