The world is grappling with the spread of COVID-19. In addition to the direct health effects of the pandemic, education systems and student learning worldwide have been paralyzed. Over 1.6 billion children were out of school at the height of the pandemic. We are rapidly adapting to the COVID-19 crisis and remain committed to connecting youth to proven life-saving information through our health and education programs.
We took decisive and early action to ensure our beneficiaries would not be left behind due to the pandemic. We pivoted to provide remote "low-tech" services via phone calls and SMS, in addition to launching a national radio show, all cheap and scalable options and ran multiple rapid randomized trials, providing some of the first experimental evidence on the fallout of the pandemic.
Low-Tech Education Intervention
With over 1.6 billion learners out of school, the COVID-19 pandemic has paralyzed education systems worldwide. This necessitates new education models, including the use of education technology for distance learning. In response, we developed and trialed a "low-tech" solution that uses SMS messages and phone calls to provide educational instruction for students in 10,000 households across Botswana.
We ran a rapid randomized trial and produced some of the first experimental evidence on minimizing the fallout of the pandemic on learning. Our results show that remote instruction by phone and simple SMS texts can reduce innumeracy by up to 52% for less than $14 per child. The trial was run in partnership with the University of Oxford, Columbia University and the Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). The paper with results is available here. In a related effort we partnered with RTI and the Center for Global Development to measure learning remotely with emerging lessons published in the BMJ Global Health.
We are now actively exploring partnerships with IPA and the World Bank, among other partners. to replicate these results across contexts. If interested, please send us a note here.
The Phone Call and SMS Message Interventions
Every week we sent students text messages and every two weeks we conducted phone calls with students in a "virtual safe space". This was inspired by a similar intervention during the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone where BRAC was shown in a randomized trial to offset a large share of school dropouts with a "safe space" intervention." Our content also draws on our “anti-sugar daddy” programming. Phone calls presented a unique opportunity for us to have one on one contact with students. An important aspect of our digital response was to link students to other relevant sexual and reproductive health platforms to provide additional information and support. Additionally, we referred and linked students to organizations that provide mental health services and Gender Based Violence assistance.
This is a historic moment in which parents have been thrust into the epicenter of their child's education.
We have partnered with the Brookings Institution Center for Universal Education to survey parent experiences and perceptions around education. This effort is part of a global consortium called the Family Engagement in Education Network. Representatives include over 30 collaborators across Argentina, Australia, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Ghana, India, South Africa, the United States, and the United Kingdom.