Improving education in the developing world

New research, published in Science, explores what improves education in the developing world. The authors reviewed evidence from randomised evaluations. The research showed that making school more financially attractive can increase participation, for example, by providing financial support for poor mothers and through scholarships. Improving the health of children and providing information on how earnings would rise with education can increase schooling even more cost-effectively. Programmes designed to improve teacher performance and school accountability were more context-dependent. Pedagogical reforms that match teaching to pupils’ learning levels were found to be highly cost effective, as were reforms to improve accountability and incentives. “More of the same” solutions, such as more textbooks, had little effect on achievement.

Source: The Challenge of Education and Learning in the Developing World (2013), Science, 340(6130).

Supporting students around the world

This systematic review from the Campbell Collaboration explores the question: “What are the effects of interventions implemented in developing countries on measures of students’ enrolment, attendance, graduation, and progression?” To be included in the review, studies had to meet certain research criteria; for example, studies had to use a randomised controlled trial (with or without baseline control), or a quasi-experimental approach in which baseline controls on main outcomes were included. The final sample included 73 experiments and quasi-experiments. The most common interventions were conditional cash transfers, funding or grants to communities, school breakfasts or lunches, or remedial education or tutoring.

Results showed that the average effects across four main outcome areas (school enrolment, attendance, dropout, or progression) were all positive and statistically significant, although effects on enrolment, attendance, and progression were larger than those on dropout. Results also indicated positive and statistically significant effects for maths achievement and language achievement, but there was no evidence of effects on standardised test scores or other achievement outcomes.

Overall, the authors note that the effects were relatively small in magnitude. They say that “despite the statistical significance of the findings for the main outcomes, most of the effects are equivalent to about 3-9% improvements in the intervention versus control groups.”

Source: Interventions in developing nations for improving primary and secondary school enrollment of children: A systematic review (2012), Campbell Systematic Reviews