Live Tutoring Calls Did Not Improve Learning during the COVID-19 Pandemic in Sierra Leone

Education systems regularly face unexpected school closures, whether due to disease outbreaks, natural disasters, or other adverse shocks. In low-income countries where internet access is scarce, distance learning—the most common educational solution—is often passive, via TV or radio, with little opportunity for teacher-student interaction. In this paper we evaluate the effectiveness of live tutoring calls from teachers, designed to supplement radio instruction during the 2020 school closures prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. We do this with a randomised controlled trial with 4,399 primary school students in Sierra Leone. Tutoring calls led to some limited increase in educational activity, but had no effect on mathematics or language test scores, whether for girls or boys, and whether provided by public or private school teachers. Even having received tutoring calls, one in three children reported not listening to educational radio at all, so limited take-up may partly explain our results.

Replication data are available here.

This paper was published in the Journal of Development Economics in 2023. This is the final, published version. The working paper was originally published in September 2021 under the title Teaching and Testing by Phone in a Pandemic. The original version can be viewed here.

Read an accompanying qualitative background paper here.

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