Published on Let's Talk Development

Improving school enrollment and learning through videos and mobiles: Experimental evidence from northern Nigeria

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A mother/teacher helping a child in a classroom. | © A mother/teacher helping a child in a classroom. | ©

In northern Nigeria, only half of primary school-age children attend school and only one in five people can read a whole sentence. Adverse social norms contribute to worse educational outcomes for girls and female adolescents. The median age at first marriage is 16 for females, compared to 25 for males.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further weakened school systems and worsened learning poverty in developing countries. Because traditional school investments often take a long time to bear fruit, complementary home-learning approaches that can produce impacts in a shorter timeframe are needed. This is particularly true where school systems are overstretched—a student-to-teacher ratio above 50 is very common in northern Nigeria—and where adverse social norms prevent children from attending primary school. Because evidence-based research remains scarce, more research is necessary to better understand the needs of low-literacy communities that are governed by traditional social norms. 

Can aspirational videos change parental attitudes toward education and improve school enrollment and learning outcomes? Can EdTech boost their effectiveness?

A new World Bank paper tested the effectiveness of a demand-promotion and home-learning intervention targeting 6- to 9-year-old boys and girls and their parents in Jigawa and Kano states in northern Nigeria. The study took place in communities where schools had recently received substantial grants and could absorb new students.

Through a cluster randomized control trial in 128 communities that included over 9,000 households, we tested two complementary interventions. The first intervention consisted of community screenings of My Better World, an edutainment program that combines animation with documentaries aimed at increasing life skills and aspirations. In this intervention, the series was used to facilitate discussion and reshape parental attitudes towards education—especially girls’ education. Community leaders and female NGO facilitators further reinforced these messages. My Better World won the 2022 International Emmy Award for Kids: Factual and Entertainment.

The second intervention consisted of a home-learning reinforcer. In half of intervention communities, through random selection we gave 40 percent of invited households a smartphone preloaded with foundational literacy apps. These included the apps Feed the Monster and the Global Digital Library, free and open-source apps that together have been translated into over 100 languages.

At baseline and in our one-year follow up in all intervention and control communities, we interviewed the household head and tested the foundational literacy and numeracy skills of the ‘target child’—the 6- to 9-year-olds invited to the community screenings, and one of their older 6- to 12-year-old siblings.

The innovative intervention worked very well

Over 90 percent of invited children and parents attended the community screenings. After one year, the study showed a highly successful and cost-effective intervention. The screenings alone decreased out-of-school children by 42 percent. Despite this sharp decrease, we did not observe learning gains as expected, which highlights the many learning challenges children face in schools in northern Nigeria.

On the other hand, in communities where we added the EdTech mobile reinforcer, the proportion of children scoring zero in letter recognition—the first level of the foundational skill to learn how to read—went down by almost 50 percent. The combined intervention improved both the aggregated literacy and numeracy measures by half a standard deviation—a 37 percent increase.  Back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that similar learning gains would have taken around 5 years in the schools of our study setting.

The impacts on school attendance and learning were similar for boys and girls. The home-learning intervention also had important spillovers on older siblings, where we observed similar learning gains.  For adolescents, we also observed a decrease in parenthood —13 percent— and a decrease in early entry into the labor market—14 percent. Similar spillovers may be harder to achieve by school-delivered interventions.

What mechanisms drove these effects?

The video and mobile interventions expanded the options parents had for their children’s futures.  Parents living in intervention communities had higher aspirations and expectations for educational achievement and marital status when their children turned 15 and 18. These effects were greater for parents with girls, who at baseline had substantially lower aspirations and expectations in this traditional setting. Relatedly, the intervention improved parents’ perceptions about the social norms regarding educational achievement and early marriage for girls. Finally, parents in the intervention communities had higher self-efficacy beliefs in their capacity to help their child learn. Parents were also more likely to read to their children and make time for school and learning activities at home.

How do these results compare to other educational investments?

This intervention was delivered in 5 days: two days engaging community leaders and mobilizers and three days to deliver the community events with households. Using a recent benchmark study that compares learning impacts across different education investments , the learning gains for the target child alone ranks our home-learning intervention 5th out of 72 studies with cost data in terms of learning gains and top quartile in terms of cost-effectiveness. To understand if the intervention changed the life trajectories of children and their older siblings, we collected a 3-year survey in late 2022. We will be reporting the results in a future blog. 

Policy implications

Nine in ten children in sub-Saharan Africa are learning poor. Sticking with the status quo will not improve matters. A good start is revisiting inputs-only school investments such as the provision of textbooks or libraries, flexible grants to schools, or increasing the number of teachers and teacher salaries. Due to the multiple challenges faced by schools, such as high student-to-teacher ratios, the World Bank’s report “Cost-effective Approaches to Improve Global Learning” provides strong evidence of their lack of effectiveness.

Our findings that learning levels did not improve despite increased enrollments from the screening's alone points to the need to tie community-level attitudinal campaigns with school-based innovations to improve learning once children are in a classroom. Promising innovations include testing interactive EdTech and using approaches for delivering teacher training and classroom instruction. For home-learning, promising innovations to increase parental aspirations for their children's futures and the provision of educational apps include online and offline edutainment campaigns.

Our study shows that dramatic improvements in such settings can be achieved quickly, highlighting the value both of investing in new approaches and carefully trialing them to understand what works and why.   The study is also an example of innovative partnerships with global media firms to combat today’s global challenges, from learning poverty to the prevention of violence against women and girls.

The study was a partnership between the Nigeria Federal and State ministries of education of Jigawa and Kano, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, the World Bank education team, Impact(Ed) International (edutainment producer), Curious Learning, the Global Digital Library (EdTech app producers), Breaking Barriers in Development (implementing NGO), Hanovia (survey firm), and the Edutainment program of the World Bank’s Development Impact Department (DIME), who led the study.


Victor Orozco

Senior Economist, Development Research Group

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