A group of researchers found significant and long-lasting improvements in the learning of children from lower-income areas through a relatively short period of mentoring carried out over the phone, with the positive effects still present a year later.
Children tutored in English literacy and maths scored significantly higher in tests than those who had not been tutored – by 52 per cent and 33 per cent respectively - with the effect still evident a year later (19 per cent and 20 per cent respectively).
The study, Telementoring and Homeschooling during School Closures: A Randomized Experiment in Rural Bangladesh, was co-authored by Dr Abu Siddique (King’s College London), Hashibul Hassan, Dr Asad Islam, and Dr Liang Choon Wang (all of Monash University, Australia).
To help with the learning of rural children at home during COVID-19 school closures, the researchers recruited university students in Bangladesh as volunteers to provide learning support to primary school children and their mothers through phone calls and text messages.
Children received weekly tutoring in mathematics and English and mothers received home-schooling mentoring over the phone, which were not otherwise available to them. Support for mothers involved structured guidance through weekly phone calls and text messages to facilitate and improve home-schooling.
These learning gains are remarkable and highlight how brief learning support during crises—especially when alternative learning opportunities are unavailable—can have lasting benefits and be transformative for vulnerable children.– Dr Abu Siddique
The researchers worked with more than 800 mother-child pairs across Bangladesh for a period of about three months in late-2020 when all schools were closed. A month after the intervention ended (in January 2021), the researchers conducted learning assessments among children and surveys among mothers to evaluate the immediate impact.
They then returned to the participants a year later (in December 2021)—when schools briefly reopened and social distancing rules were lifted by the government—and conducted a second round of learning assessments and surveys to evaluate the impact.
The results were compared against a control group of mother-child pairings who did not receive the tutoring.
Dr Siddique said: “A month after the intervention ended, treated children scored 52 per cent higher in English literacy and 33 per cent higher in numeracy relative to children in the control group and the positive impacts persisted a year after the intervention ended, with children scoring 19 per cent higher in English and 20 per cent higher in numeracy.
“We also found positive spillovers on two other core subjects taught in Bangladeshi schools, Bangla and general knowledge, which were not targeted by the intervention.”
There were also positive outcomes for the mothers who received coaching during the study period, with researchers recording increased daily time input with mothers and children for home-schooling, and self-reported increases in confidence and parenting skills.
Dr Siddique added: “These learning gains are remarkable and highlight how brief learning support during crises—especially when alternative learning opportunities are unavailable—can have lasting benefits and be transformative for vulnerable children.”