Educational inequality and parental involvement during the COVID-19 pandemic

Randomized controlled experiment of a tele-mentoring program in rural Bangladesh

Researchers

  • Hashibul Hassan, Ph.D. Candidate, Economics Department, Monash Business School
  • Associate Professor Liang Choon Wang, Economics Department, Monash Business School
  • Abu Bakar Siddique, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Technische Universität München

Background and objectives

In Bangladesh, because most children do not have internet access or are not used to online learning, the government is using a public broadcasting organization to provide pre-recorded education programs where a 100-minute slot per day is allocated for the 1st to 5th graders learning from home under the Covid-19 lockdown. Let alone the quality and duration, these programs are not even accessible to more than half of the rural Bangladeshi children since only 44% of rural households in Bangladesh own a television (MICS, UNICEF, 2019).

Since the shutdown of educational institutions on 18 March 2020, the learning of rural Bangladeshi children now depends heavily on parental input. In general, higher parental involvement can lead to better student learning. But, parents often do not know how to engage fully at home. As a result, parental involvement is not evenly distributed across households. However, past studies suggest that it is possible to increase the parental involvement through nudges, such as providing short and simple tips, texts, take-home report cards, emails, calls, or short in-person meetings, etc. In line with this previous research, we will provide a brief weekly tele-mentoring service to rural children delivered by current university students with funding support from the Center for Development Economics and Sustainability (CDES), Monash University.

Research design

In the first phase, we will invite around 2000 households to participate in this program. During the invitation, we will do a rapid survey to identify the current private educational investment, e.g. home tutors. Then, we will keep households that do not have any private investment and are interested or motivated to participate. From these eligible households, we will randomly select 800 parents for an in-depth baseline survey and offer the tele-mentoring to half of them, while the other half serves as the control group. Note that we already have baseline assessments about the children from an existing project.

The current graduate students from various universities will be a mentor for a maximum of two children for 12 weeks. They will each make a 30-minute call at a pre-determined time of the day. The tele-discussion will cover weekly goal setting (involvement time, study target), parenting assistance (solving textbook problems, idea for better psychical, emotional and social involvement, mental health, etc.), and general counselling. We will provide all relevant textbooks and solutions (digital version) to the mentors and brief training using online platforms. After the program, we will survey the parents and assess the children using over-the-phone assessment, and compare the results with the baseline scenario.

Potential policy implications

The project is significant in two ways. First, by following-up a moderate sample of children that we have measured of their pre-pandemic cognitive and non-cognitive skills, we will shed light on the effects on educational and gender inequality as a result of school closure and barriers to educational technologies. Second, through the use of an RCT, this project will provide evidence on the effectiveness of a cost-effective and easy-to-scale-up educational intervention that applies to other severely resource-constrained developing countries.