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How did children learn while schools were closed during 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic? In low-income countries where internet access is scarce, distance learning 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, using a randomized controlled trial with 4,399 primary school students in Sierra Leone. Tutoring calls increased engagement in educational activity but had no effect on mathematics or language test scores, for girls or boys. We also make a methodological contribution, testing the reliability of student assessments conducted by phone. Phone-based assessments have sensible properties, but we find suggestive evidence that scores are higher than with in-person assessments, and there is differential item functioning across survey modes for most individual questions.
Read an accompanying qualitiative background paper here.