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Stemming Learning Loss During the Pandemic: A Rapid Randomized Trial of a Low-Tech Intervention in Botswana


  • Noam Angrist
  • Peter Bergman
  • Caton Brewster
  • Moitshepi Matsheng


The COVID-19 pandemic has closed schools for over 1.6 billion children, with potentially long¬term 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 trans¬lates 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 en¬gagement 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 im¬mediate 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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  • Noam Angrist & Peter Bergman & Caton Brewster & Moitshepi Matsheng, 2020. "Stemming Learning Loss During the Pandemic: A Rapid Randomized Trial of a Low-Tech Intervention in Botswana," CSAE Working Paper Series 2020-13, Centre for the Study of African Economies, University of Oxford.
  • Handle: RePEc:csa:wpaper:2020-13

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    Cited by:

    1. Guido Neidhöfer & Nora Lustig & Mariano Tommasi, 2021. "Intergenerational transmission of lockdown consequences: prognosis of the longer-run persistence of COVID-19 in Latin America," The Journal of Economic Inequality, Springer;Society for the Study of Economic Inequality, vol. 19(3), pages 571-598, September.
    2. Nora Lustig & Valentina Martinez Pabon & Guido Neidhöfer & Mariano Tommasi, 2020. "Short and Long-Run Distributional Impacts of COVID-19 in Latin America," Working Papers 2013, Tulane University, Department of Economics.
    3. Elena Serfilippi & Daniele Giovannucci & David Ameyaw & Ankur Bansal & Thomas Asafua Nketsia Wobill & Roberta Blankson & Rashi Mishra, 2022. "Benefits and Challenges of Making Data More Agile: A Review of Recent Key Approaches in Agriculture," Sustainability, MDPI, vol. 14(24), pages 1-18, December.
    4. Guilherme Lichand & Carlos Alberto Doria & Onicio Leal-Neto & João Paulo Cossi Fernandes, 2022. "The impacts of remote learning in secondary education during the pandemic in Brazil," Nature Human Behaviour, Nature, vol. 6(8), pages 1079-1086, August.
    5. Harry Anthony Patrinos, 2022. "Learning loss and learning recovery," DECISION: Official Journal of the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta, Springer;Indian Institute of Management Calcutta, vol. 49(2), pages 183-188, June.
    6. van Cappelle, Frank & Chopra, Vidur & Ackers, Jim & Gochyyev, Perman, 2021. "An analysis of the reach and effectiveness of distance learning in India during school closures due to COVID-19," International Journal of Educational Development, Elsevier, vol. 85(C).
    7. Angrist, Noam & de Barros, Andreas & Bhula, Radhika & Chakera, Shiraz & Cummiskey, Chris & DeStefano, Joseph & Floretta, John & Kaffenberger, Michelle & Piper, Benjamin & Stern, Jonathan, 2021. "Building back better to avert a learning catastrophe: Estimating learning loss from COVID-19 school shutdowns in Africa and facilitating short-term and long-term learning recovery," International Journal of Educational Development, Elsevier, vol. 84(C).
    8. Noam Angrist & Peter Bergman & Moitshepi Matsheng, 2022. "Experimental evidence on learning using low-tech when school is out," Nature Human Behaviour, Nature, vol. 6(7), pages 941-950, July.
    9. Lennox, Janet & Reuge, Nicolas & Benavides, Francisco, 2021. "UNICEF’s lessons learned from the education response to the COVID-19 crisis and reflections on the implications for education policy," International Journal of Educational Development, Elsevier, vol. 85(C).
    10. Boruchowicz, Cynthia & Parker, Susan W. & Robbins, Lindsay, 2022. "Time use of youth during a pandemic: Evidence from Mexico," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 149(C).
    11. Alban Conto, Carolina & Akseer, Spogmai & Dreesen, Thomas & Kamei, Akito & Mizunoya, Suguru & Rigole, Annika, 2021. "Potential effects of COVID-19 school closures on foundational skills and Country responses for mitigating learning loss," International Journal of Educational Development, Elsevier, vol. 87(C).

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