School’s Out: Experimental Evidence on Limiting Learning Loss Using 'Low-Tech' in a Pandemic

48 Pages Posted: 24 Nov 2020 Last revised: 11 Dec 2020

See all articles by Noam Angrist

Noam Angrist

University of Oxford; Youth Impact

Peter Bergman

Columbia University

Moitshepi Matsheng


Date Written: November 2020


The COVID-19 pandemic closed schools at one point 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 learning. 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 in multiple waves. We find that phone calls and SMS messages result in cost-effective learning gains of 0.12 standard deviations. We cross-randomize targeted instruction, customizing instruction to a child's learning level using data collected during the trial. We find evidence that targeted instruction can be more effective than non-targeted instruction, especially for SMS messages. Learning gains are robust to a variety of tests, such as randomized problems of the same proficiency and measures of effort on the test. Parents update their beliefs about their child’s learning in tandem with progress and they feel greater self-efficacy to support their child’s learning. 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; Randomized Trials; COVID-19

JEL Classification: I25; I28; O3

Suggested Citation

Angrist, Noam and Angrist, Noam and Bergman, Peter and Matsheng, Moitshepi, School’s Out: Experimental Evidence on Limiting Learning Loss Using 'Low-Tech' in a Pandemic (November 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Noam Angrist (Contact Author)

University of Oxford ( email )

Mansfield Road
Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 4AU
United Kingdom

Youth Impact ( email )


Peter Bergman

Columbia University ( email )

Moitshepi Matsheng


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