Original Research

Using a phone-based learning tool as an instructional resource for initial literacy learning in rural African families

Jacob C. Nshimbi, Robert Serpell, Jari Westerholm
South African Journal of Childhood Education | Vol 10, No 1 | a620 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajce.v10i1.620 | © 2020 Jacob C. Nshimbi, Robert Serpell, Jari Westerholm | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 06 February 2018 | Published: 27 February 2020

About the author(s)

Jacob C. Nshimbi, Department of Psychology, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zambia, Lusaka, Zambia
Robert Serpell, Centre for the Promotion of Literacy in Sub-Saharan Africa (CAPOLSA), Lusaka, Zambia; and, Department of Psychology, University of Zambia, Lusaka, Zambia
Jari Westerholm, Niilo Mäki Institute, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland


Background: Despite increased enrolments at primary schools in Zambia, more than half of the children in Grades 1–4 are unable to meet the required minimum standards for literacy.

Aim: The study set out to examine the effects of using a phone-based mobile literacy game (Graphogame) to improve literacy skills in children and adults in rural family settings.

Setting: The study was conducted in the Katete District, a rural town in the eastern province of Zambia.

Methods: Participants were 73 Grade 2 learners (52% boys, mean age 9 years and 48% girls, mean age 10 years) and 37 parents (mean age 36 years). Three literacy tests, measuring letter-sound identification, phonological awareness, spelling competence and word recognition, were administered to both the children and parents. Parents also reported on their level of education, familiarity with smart phone use, availability of home reading materials and home literacy activities.

Results: The findings showed that children who were exposed to the Graphogame performed better than the control group on all literacy measures. Furthermore, parent’s performance on the tests improved after the intervention.

Conclusion: The findings suggest that technology can improve literacy skills in both children and adults in rural areas of Zambia.


Graphogame; early literacy skills; rural family setting; home literacy environment; Zambia


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