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

34 Pages Posted: 5 Aug 2020 Last revised: 21 Aug 2020

See all articles by Noam Angrist

Noam Angrist

World Bank; University of Oxford; Young 1ove Organisation

Peter Bergman

Columbia University

Caton Brewster


Moitshepi Matsheng


Date Written: July 29, 2020


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 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.

Keywords: Education; Technology; Human Capital

JEL Classification: I24; I20

Suggested Citation

Angrist, Noam and Angrist, Noam and Bergman, Peter and Brewster, Caton and Matsheng, Moitshepi, Stemming Learning Loss During the Pandemic: A Rapid Randomized Trial of a Low-Tech Intervention in Botswana (July 29, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Noam Angrist (Contact Author)

World Bank ( email )

1818 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20433
United States

University of Oxford ( email )

Mansfield Road
Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 4AU
United Kingdom

Young 1ove Organisation ( email )


Peter Bergman

Columbia University ( email )

Caton Brewster


Moitshepi Matsheng


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