Getting the message: Using parental text messaging to increase learner attendance

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This paper presents results from a randomised controlled trial in low-income neighbourhoods in Cape Town, South Africa, to test whether parental messages can increase learner attendance at after-school programmes. Parents who were randomly assigned to one of two treatment groups received simple weekly text messages providing them with information about their children's attendance in the previous week. Learners whose parents received text messages attended on average 5.6%-6.1% more after-school sessions than the control group (p<0.01), after controlling for background characteristics and spillover effects. This effect was sustained over the course of the observation period. Structured interviews with parents suggest that those parents who received messages were more likely to engage their children regarding the after-school programme, and were better able to monitor their children's attendance. The intervention cost approximately R1.01 per child per week and has potential for replication. However, good quality data collection systems and regular updates of parent contact information are important for the success of similar interventions. This paper shows that low-cost text messages to poorer parents can increase learners' investment in their education, and shows potential to be scaled up.