Designing Education and Human Capital

Enrollment is up in low-income countries, but the gender gap remains and educational outcomes are poor. Is policy design the key to equalizing access to quality education?

UNESCO’s Post-2015 Development Agenda states that, “Education is a fundamental human right in itself as well as an enabling right, fostering the accomplishment of all other social, cultural, economic, civil and political rights.” Progress toward universal primary school education looked good in the first decade of the 21st century, with enrollment rising from 82% to 90% in developing countries. However, further analysis  shows that most of those gains took place before 2004, and in recent years progress has come to a virtual standstill. Quality remains poor: as many as 250 million children fail to read or write by the time they reach Grade 4. And inequality persists: 90% of children with disabilities in poor countries do not go to school, while rich children remain far more likely to attend than poor children and boys slightly more likely than girls. Furthermore, just getting children in the door isn’t the end of the story. Across Sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia, more than one third of students who started primary school in 2011 will not finish, and in most of those countries girls are more likely to drop out than boys. To what extent is this stagnation in enrollment caused by lack of supply – insufficient numbers of schools, insufficiently spread across rural areas? To what extent is it caused by lack of demand – parents keeping children at home because they don’t recognize the potential returns, or because they know school quality is poor, or because they need their children to work? How can schools – as well as parent and student incentives – be designed to maximize both enrollment and learning? And how can governments affordably impart a skill set to citizens who reach adulthood without an education?

Policy Engagements

Researching and supporting schools in Pakistan

Through the LEAPS (Learning and Achievement in Punjab Schools) project, we have conducted several rounds of comprehensive testing and surveying to get the full picture of the educational system in Pakistan. Small, home-based private schools seem to outperform overstretched government schools. We are now conducting a suite of interventions and evaluations to determine what policy innovations can improve both.

Policy Partner: Ministry of Education, Punjab, Pakistan, Public and Private Educational support service providers
Researchers
: Asim Khwaja, Tahir Andrabi (Pomona) and Jishnu Das (World Bank)
Research Partner
: World Bank, Center for Economic Research in Pakistan (CERP), Lahore, Pakistan
Funding
: SASHD, Knowledge for Change Trust Fund, Poverty and Social Impact Analysis Fund, BNPP Trust Fund, World Bank, National Science Foundation

Improving teacher attendance through better monitoring technologies

One important supply-side barrier to universal education is simply getting teachers to show up: our survey in rural Rajasthan, India found them to be absent 44% or the time. In a randomized controlled trial, we demonstrated that a simple remote monitoring mechanism using cameras, when combined with salary incentives, decreased absenteeism by 21 percentage points, leading also to improved test scores.

Policy Partner: Seva Mandir, Rajasthan, India
Researchers
: Rema Hanna, Esther Duflo (MIT) and Stephen Ryan (MIT)
Research Partner
: J-PAL South Asia at IFMR
Funding
: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Evaluating the benefits of 'girl friendly' schools

In Africa, we have tested the rollout of innovative schools that offer improved amenities, more female teachers, and an incentive for 90% attendance among girls in the form of take-home food rations. The program began to close the gender gap and caused a significant increase in the probability of any child, boy or girl, being enrolled, which increased enrollment rates of about 15 percentage points and increased test scores of about 0.4 standard deviations.

Policy Partner: Government of Burkina Faso, Plan International, Catholic Relief Services, Tintua, Fawe, and USAID 
Researchers: Dan Levy, Harounan Kazianga (Oklahoma State), Leigh L. Linden (UT), and Matt Sloan (Mathematica Policy Research)
Funding: United States Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).
Improving human capital through vocational training

Through the Punjab Economic Opportunities Programme (PEOP), we are finding ways to increase the earnings of low-income, vulnerable families by augmenting their skills base. We are gathering comprehensive data that captures the current state of skills in poor areas, utilizing that data to better understand failures in Pakistan’s skilled and unskilled labor markets, and designing policy interventions to address those failures.

Policy Partner: Government of Punjab, Pakistan
Researchers: Asim Khwaja, Ali Cheema (LUMS/IDEAS), Farooq Naseer (LUMS) and Jacob Shapiro (Princeton)
Research Partner: Center for Economic Research in Pakistan (CERP), Lahore, Pakistan
Funding: DFID-Pakistan, DFID-IZA