The University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation hosted an event the first week of March titled “Ending Poverty through Education: New Evidence from India and Africa.” The half-day conference included presentations from Karthik Muralidharan, Leigh Linden, Michael Kremer, and Annie Duflo. The comparison between Dr. Muralidharan’s presentation on “Achieving Universal Quality Education in India: Challenges and Opportunities” and Dr. Kremer’s “Girls’ Scholarships in Kenya = Education as Liberation?” is particularly interesting when debating which mechanisms serve best to incentivize and produce successful education programs.
Dr. Muralidharan’s papers reflect several randomized control trials in India that test incentives within the education system. His research shows that enrollment has increased to over 95% in primary schools, but that the students are still unable to read and are not learning. He noted that the difference in objectives is between quality and quantity; for example, more money has been spent on education, but has not been used to target the issue of teacher absenteeism.
With several research partners and funders, Dr. Muralidharan’s group tested five interventions that were a mix of input and incentive based policies. These include implementing feedback and monitoring systems within the schools, funding block grants for students, supplying an additional contract teacher, and in two cases, increasing teachers’ pay based on performance goals and improved outcomes. The study took place in Andhra Pradesh, a state with 85 million people, where schools are typically very small so that students do not have to travel far to attend class. Unfortunately, this also results in multi-grade teaching. The randomized control trial with the most substantial positive effect on learning was tying teachers’ pay to their performance.
Dr. Kremer’s presentation began with an overview of social and political impacts of education. This includes the ideas of modernization theory, which say that education weakens ascriptive identities and promotes secularization and democracy; that education reproduces authority structures; and that education empowers the disadvantaged. The Kenyan girls chosen to participate in the study were socially marginalized, living in a society where arranged marriages and domestic violence were frequent. The Girls Scholarship Program (GSP) was administered by a local NGO and paid school fees for two years, in addition to a public awards ceremony (total cash component of the program was US$38). Teacher absenteeism decreased and large test score gains were the short run incentive effects on education.
Further results identify that one third less of the girls surveyed thought violence was acceptable and more read the newspaper and could identify a favorite paper. While respondents did not indicate any change in participation in democracy and civic affairs, answers did indicate more knowledge of politics and less acceptance of the status quo. In fact, some respondents demonstrated acceptance of the idea that violence is sometimes necessary to support a just cause.
Dr. Kremer concluded by summarizing that the trials showed long-term human capital gains and that the girls were also more empowered within the household.
This event shortly preceded an article in The Atlantic that discusses the benefits and increasing prevalence of working women. Education is one of the first steps toward employment, which is an important aspect of promoting women’s rights and empowerment. The article notes that:
In almost every geographic region, women are catching up to men in school years… But some of the world’s most exciting emerging economies are backtracking. In India, the school-year gap between men and women has grown by 50% in the last 40 years.
Within the development process, women are more likely to enter the workforce after the manufacturing and industrial periods. As the economy develops and moves toward a services-based system, more jobs become available for women, helping them enter into formal economic activity. In order to be ready for this, education development programs should be aware of the economic incentives that affect enrollment and the amount of learning achieved by girls. Drs. Muralidharan and Kremer have taken education initiatives to the next level—helping to identify the interconnectedness of education and society and also ensuring that systems in place actually produce the education necessary for future economic and political participation.