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Nudges to improve learning and gender parity: Supporting parent engagement and Ghana’s educational response to Covid-19 using mobile phones
Initial registration date
July 07, 2020
July 08, 2020 5:04 PM EDT
University of Pennsylvania
Other Primary Investigator(s)
ISSER, University of Ghana
Imperial College London
Additional Trial Information
While recent evidence from Brazil and Ivory Coast suggests that SMS messages to nudge parents' engagement in their children's education have large effects on educational outcomes, the Covid-19 pandemic raises additional concerns. In particular, learning deficits and school dropouts are likely to increase following school shutdowns, especially among vulnerable populations such as older girls who need to work to support their families or due to early marriage, childbearing and adolescent pregnancy. A further knowledge gap relates to the optimal period of exposure to the nudges, which is critical to scale-up. This study investigates whether sending nudges to parents can improve parental engagement in child education and broader development across child age groups and gender, in the low-resource setting of Ghana, by randomly assigning whether parents receive two different versions of nudges, with one version including content promoting girls’ education and addressing some common stereotypes around gender, and whether the duration of these different modalities vary between three and six months.
Aurino , Elisabetta , Isaac Osei-Akoto and Sharon Wolf. 2020. "Nudges to improve learning and gender parity: Supporting parent engagement and Ghana’s educational response to Covid-19 using mobile phones." AEA RCT Registry. July 08.
The Parental Nudges Project (PNP) is a household-level intervention designed to improve school-aged children’s outcomes by engaging parents in their children’s learning during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. The intervention involves two text-messages (SMS) per week sent to parents / primary caregivers in simple English with behavioral “nudges” around engaging with children’s learning generally and during remote learning across grades and ages. Messages include suggestions of simple activities that promote nurturing child social-emotional development and education. No curricular knowledge is required. During school closures, suggestions related to remote-learning will be included.
As school-age children (ages 5-15 years) and particularly girls in primary schools are likely to be disproportionally affected by the crisis, a randomized subset of parents will receive messages promoting gender-equitable outcomes. Nudges will encompass reminders, encouragement and activities addressing information gaps, biased beliefs, and norms behind gender inequalities in education and broader development. We will also vary the duration of exposure to the interventions across treatment arms. While the general parental engagement intervention has been implemented in several countries, the effectiveness of the gender component and the differing duration of exposure to messages in inducing belief and behavior change has never been tested.
The intervention is nimble, and message contents can be changed rapidly. We will adapt content as the country updates its plans to reopen schools (currently September 2020), and align them to government and World Bank remote-learning and back-to-school campaigns.
All nudges will be sent from a short code number (a 5-digit number that enables users to reply at no costs), and include the EDUQ+ tag, to clearly identify the messages under this initiative. Eduq+ (powered by EdTech Movva) shares weekly suggestions of activities for parents to do with their children – none of them linked to curricular activities; rather, those try to bring parents closer to their children’s school life by having them ask about school, discuss future plans, and share how they dealt with similar conflicts back in the day. Nudges are structured around sequences in a format inspired by READY4K!, an eight-month-long text-messaging intervention for parents of preschoolers that targets the behavioral barriers to engaged parenting (York et al., 2017). The figure below showcases two examples of the SMS sequence sent to parents assigned to the nudge program: the first sequence is not gender specific, while the second is specifically targeted at tackling gender inequalities.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date
Primary Outcomes (end points)
1. Parent involvement in education and remote learning
2. Parent expectations and aspirations for their child’s learning and schooling
3. Parent beliefs about gender norms
4. Children’s school enrollment and attendance (as measured by parent’s survey)
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
1. Parent’s involvement in their child’s education, as reported by the parent, in terms of time spent for school-related activities (e.g. reading to child, talking with the child, playing, etc.), and with government remote-learning activities, assessed through phone surveys;
2. Parent self-reported expectations and aspirations for their child’s education, with and without actual constraints to her/his education, assessed through phone surveys;
3. Parent’s self-reported beliefs about gender norms, assessed through phone surveys;
4. Children's school enrollment and attendance, as reported by the parent and children, assessed through phone surveys;
Secondary Outcomes (end points)
5. Children’s literacy and numeracy skills
6. Child Social-emotional skills
7. Educational aspirations
8. Parent and child time use
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
5. Children's literacy and numeracy skills, assessed through a mix of phone and direct assessments with children using a short scale for each (with different scales for children in the two age groups: 5-9 years and 10-15 years);
6 and 7. Children self-reported social-emotional skills, educational aspirations, and current school enrollment and attendance status, assessed through phone surveys;
8. Parents and children self-reported time-use which consists in questions about the time the child has spent in a typical day in educational activities, house- and care-work, work out of the household, leisure, etc (parents will answer for younger children), assessed though phone surveys
The unit of randomization is households. To assign households to treatment and control, we will employ a household-level randomized controlled trial design. Households in the control group will not receive any messages during the study period. There will be no stratification as part of the randomization. Eligible and consented households identified through the Enrollment Call will be randomly assigned to receive one of the four treatment SMS text message groups or to receive no SMS text message. The randomization protocol, which will be implemented through a STATA do-file, will seek to achieve a 1:1:1:1:1 ratio across the five experimental groups. The use of a STATA do-file is to ensure that the randomization is reproducible.
The experimental groups are:
1. Treatment group 1. Behavioral nudges: Nudges to parents supporting involvement with children’s learning, their child’s social-emotional development, academic aspirations, and engagement in remote learning activities during the school closures and into the summer (3 months);
2. Treatment group 2. A “gender-equality boost” arm, in which some of the nudges include content promoting girls’ education and addressing some common stereotypes around gender roles during the school closures and into the summer (3 months);
3. Treatment group 3. Treatment 1 implemented for 6 months into the first term of the next academic year;
4. Treatment group 4. Treatment 2 implemented for 6 months, into the first term of the next academic year;
5. Control group. No intervention / no messages.
Experimental Design Details
The randomization protocol, which will be implemented through a STATA do-file, will seek to achieve a 1:1:1:1:1 ratio across the five experimental groups. The use of a STATA do-file is to ensure that the randomization is reproducible.
Was the treatment clustered?
Sample size: planned number of clusters
Total of 2,500 households
Sample size: planned number of observations
5,000 school-age children, 2500 parents
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
Treatment - 3 months behavioral nudges: 500 households
Treatment - 6 months behavioral nudges: 500 households
Treatment - 3 months gender-equality boost: 500 households
Treatment - 6 months gender-equality boost: 500 households
Control: 500 households
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
Power: 0.80 for outcomes 1, 2, 3 and 4: size of cluster = 1 parent; alpha = 0.05; follow-up 1 and 2 = 0.14 SD; follow up 3 = 0.18 SD
Power: 0.90 for outcomes 1, 2, 3 and 4: size of cluster = 1 parent; alpha = 0.05; follow-up 1 and 2 = 0.17 SD; follow up 3 = 0.21 SD
Power: 0.80 for outcomes 6 and 7: size of cluster = 2 children / household; alpha = 0.05; follow-up 1 = 0.057 SD
Power: 0.90 for outcomes 6 and 7: size of cluster = 2 children / household; alpha = 0.05; follow-up 1 = 0.066 SD
Power: 0.80 for outcome 5: size of cluster = 2 children; alpha = 0.05; follow-up 1 = 0.13 SD
Power: 0.90 for outcome 5: size of cluster = 2 children; alpha = 0.05; follow-up 1 = 0.15 SD
INSTITUTIONAL REVIEW BOARDS (IRBs)