Nudging Parents to Improve Preschool Attendance

Organization : Inter-American Development Bank

Project Overview

Project Summary

Text messages were delivered to parents of children from 3 to 5 years old enrolled in public preschools in Uruguay using a government mobile app. These messages targeted malleable factors producing students’ absences and sought to influence parent’s attitudes and beliefs about preschool attendance to increase children’s presence in the classroom.


Children in remote areas increased attendance by 1.5 days, suggesting an increase in cognitive development of 0.20 SD. Children in the 25th to 75th percentiles of absenteeism increased their attendance between 0.31 and 0.67 days in 13 weeks of intervention.


No cost using the government’s mobile app.

Show Tags
Hide Tags


Preschool is an invaluable opportunity for children to develop cognitive, socio-emotional, and motor skills; but for children to obtain these preschool gains, they must be there to learn. Typically, absenteeism rates in the early years are notably higher than in other school levels. Children who do not regularly attend preschool miss learning opportunities and interrupt their skills acquisition process, which might prevent them from reaching their potential: these children are likely to have lower academic results later in their formation process and perform worse in the labor market. Uruguay has increased their preschool coverage levels reaching almost universal education for ages four and five. However, more than a third of children enrolled in public preschool programs have insufficient attendance, and absenteeism is skewed towards schools located in lower socio-economic areas and lower preschool grades.


Focus groups conducted in Uruguay showed that parents do value preschool education in general; however, they underestimate children’s cognitive and life gains in the short- and long-term linked to regular attendance. We designed personalized messages that included four different behavioral science tools to induce parents to change behavior:

Feedback. Every three weeks we sent the number of their children’s absences.

“[Parent name], [child’s name] has been absent [# absences] days in the last 3 weeks. Help him develop a habit of responsibility by avoiding missing more days the rest of the year!”

Planning prompt.  Helped parents to associate their goals with concrete actions to achieve them.

“[Parent name]: Think on the reasons that may have prevented your child from attending school last year. Create a plan to avoid them this school year!”

Positive parental identity. Sent positive affirmation about their ability to guarantee their children’s school attendance.

“[Parent name]: What you do for [child’s name] today – for example, taking him/her to school – will impact his/her future. You have a key role in their education!”

Gains in the short- and long-term. Underlined the potential gains in terms of socio-emotional and cognitive skills for children to attend preschool (with negative and positive framing).

“Hello [Parent name]: Have you noticed the change in the development of [child’s name] since s/he attends preschool? Imagine what it would be like if s/he went every day. Let the rain not be an excuse, take her/him!”

Messages were sent from 3 to 4 times per week varying the day, between 5 to 8 pm.


This randomized evaluation was effective in increasing students’ attendance in the middle of the distribution. A possible explanation is that, for this segment, behavioral barriers interfere most with attendance, creating more space to influence behavior through nudges. Specifically, we observe an increase in attendance ranging from 0.31 to 0.67 days attended, in only 13 weeks of intervention.

The messages also increase attendance in the north-east regions of Uruguay. Students in the treated schools increased attendance by 1.48 days, with a significance level of 5%. The north-east regions are characterized for being the least populated and lower performing in several indicators, such as infrastructure, economic activity, health, education, and poverty. The message campaign proved an effective and low-cost intervention to increase attendance in these areas and reduce geographic differences.

Finally, using INDI (Uruguay Child Development Inventory), we found that missing a kindergarten day represents a decrease of 0.13 standard deviations in cognitive outcomes. In the north-east regions, greater attendance would be related to an increase of 0.2 SD in cognitive outcomes as measured by INDI. These results point out the potential of behavioral tools to reduce inequality in access and learning from the early years.

Implementation Guidelines

Inspired to implement this design in your own work? Here are some things to think about before you get started:

  • Are the behavioral drivers to the problem you are trying to solve similar to the ones described in the challenge section of this project?
  • Is it feasible to adapt the design to address your problem?
  • Could there be structural barriers at play that might keep the design from having the desired effect?
  • Finally, we encourage you to make sure you monitor, test and take steps to iterate on designs often when either adapting them to a new context or scaling up to make sure they’re effective.

Additionally, consider the following insights from the design’s researcher and consider:

  • What are the psychological barriers to be addressed in order to choose the right behavioral tools. Focus groups are critical at this stage.
  • When to send messages: Try to match the intervention with absenteeism seasonality to increase attendance when children miss the most days of school. Timing is important.
  • Where: Context analysis is key for the success of this program. Identify to what extent the problem of absenteeism is related to psychological barriers and not structural factors. Otherwise nudging can be irrelevant to address the underlying problem.
  • How to communicate with families: Different channels can have different results.
  • Who receives the messages: For preschool our target population were parents, for higher levels messages can be sent to students themselves, their parents, or both.
  • Which intensity: Our program is in the lower bound of exposure, so you might want to increase the time period during which messages are sent. Effects might intensify after 3 months of exposure.

You might want to identify the impact of different behavioral tools. If so, you will need to design the experiment accordingly. If your sample is big enough to design a multiple arm intervention, you should give it a try!


Project Credits

Mercedes Mateo Díaz Interamerican Development Bank

Laura Becerra-Luna Interamerican Development Bank

Juan Manuel Hernández-Agramonte Innovation for Poverty Action

Florencia Lopez Boo Interamerican Development Bank

Marcelo Pérez Alfaro Interamerican Development Bank

Alejandro Vásquez Echeverría Faculty of Psychology of UDELAR

Sign up for updates

Stay up to Date

Enter your email for occasional updates on new projects.