Stemming learning loss during the pandemic: a rapid randomized trial of a low-tech intervention in Botswana

Author(s): Angrist, Noam; Bergman, Peter; Brewster, Caton; Matsheng, Moitshepi

Organisation(s): University of Oxford (UK). Centre for the Study of African Economies

Date: 2020

Pages: 34 p.


The COVID-19 pandemic has closed schools for over 1.6 billion children, with potentially longterm consequences. This paper provides some of the first experimental evidence on strategies to minimize the fallout of the pandemic on education outcomes. We evaluate two low-technology interventions to substitute schooling during this period: SMS text messages and direct phone calls. We conduct a rapid trial in Botswana to inform real-time policy responses collecting data at four to six-week intervals. We present results from the first wave. We find early evidence that both interventions result in cost-effective learning gains of 0.16 to 0.29 standard deviations. This translates to a reduction in innumeracy of up to 52 percent. We show these results broadly hold with a series of robustness tests that account for differential attrition. We find increased parental engagement in their child’s education and more accurate parent perceptions of their child’s learning. In a second wave of the trial, we provide targeted instruction, customizing text messages to the child's learning level using data from the first wave. The low-tech interventions tested have immediate policy relevance and could have long-run implications for the role of technology and parents as substitutes or complements to the traditional education system.

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