Adapting To The Times
Committed to the Cause:
Since 2020, the world has grappled with the spread of COVID-19. In addition to the direct health effects of the pandemic, education systems and student learning worldwide have been affected, with some countries out of school for nearly two years. In fact, at the height of the pandemic, over 1.6 billion children were out of school. At Youth Impact, we rapidly adapted to the COVID-19 crisis in an effort to 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
In 2020, with over 1.6 billion learners out of school, the COVID-19 pandemic paralyzed education systems worldwide, requiring new education models to fulfill the gap, including the use of education technology for distance learning. In response, we developed and trialed a "low-tech" solution that used 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 31% 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.
The approach has been adapted and trialed in six countries to date (Botswana, Kenya, India, Nepal, the Philippines, and Uganda) reaching over 25,000 students and generating the fastest, largest-scale multi-country evidence in education.
The Phone Call and SMS Message Interventions
Inspired by a 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, "we engaged students through text messages and phone calls in an effort to create a "virtual safe space". Our content drew upon our “anti-sugar daddy” programming. Phone calls presented a unique opportunity for us to have one on one contact with students and link them to 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.
Our intervention was extremely well-received with very positive results. We are now preparing to publish the results of our work as well as explore how to integrate it with our in-person Zones sessions for maximum impact.
This is a historic moment in which parents have been thrust into the epicenter of their child's education.
In 2020, we artnered 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.