Post-Primary Education Initiative: Funded Projects

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Projects Funded During the Seventh Round (2016): 

Making Decisions for a Better Future: The Dynamic Complementarities of Educational Information Interventions in Peru

Researchers: Fransisco Gallego, Christopher Nielson, Oswaldo Molina
Location: Peru
Type of Project: Full Study

We evaluate how public school students in Peru develop their preferences across different fields of study, their beliefs regarding their own talents and the feasibility of attending college, and how these beliefs affect their decisions along several margins related to human capital (including both extensive and intensive margins). Specifically, we investigate how parents and students (grade 5 through 11) respond to information regarding returns to increasing education levels,
returns to specific majors, and financial aid availability. Administrative data is used to measure outcomes such as drop-out and matriculation rates, while student surveys clarify the mechanisms through which such information affects beliefs, expectations, and skill-set investment. Baseline analyses indicate that parents lack knowledge of children’s abilities and opportunities, inducing decreased educational investment and substitution of labor for academics. Baseline data from our
study also shows that children become less optimistic about their academic opportunities as they age. Using administrative data, we find promising evidence of impact on dropout rates three months post-delivery of information intervention.

Targeting & Incentives in Ghana’s National Apprenticeship Program

Researchers: Isaac Mbiti, Morgan Hardy, Jamie McCasland
Location: Ghana
Type of Project: Full Study

Youth unemployment is a major policy problem in Sub-Saharan Africa. Apprenticeships are a promising avenue to address youth unemployment as they provide relevant occupational skills training and work experience in the private sector. In this project we conduct a rigorous impact evaluation of the National Apprenticeship Program (NAP) in Ghana. NAP is a government program that is overseen by the Council for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (COTVET). The program is targeted at young people who are unable to continue their education beyond Junior Secondary School. Applicants to the program were assigned to treatment and control groups. They were then placed with firms who were willing to provide the training. The assignment of apprentices to trainers was randomized conditional on apprentice preferences and geographical proximity. This design enables us to ascertain the effect of NAP on youth labor market outcomes as well as participating firm productivity and profitability.

Information Targeting, School Choice, and School Quality

Researchers: Adrienne Lucas, Kehinde Ajayi, Willa Friedman
Location: Ghana
Type of Project: Full Study

This project identifies the impact of information on demand for education and educational attainment. We provided randomly selected Ghanaian junior high school students with application strategies and information about the selectivity and exam performance of secondary schools. We will examine changes in their subsequent secondary school application and enrollment decisions and their educational attainment, identifying how access to information impacts student welfare. In addition to measuring average effects, we will test whether information interventions that target students or the broader community yield larger impacts and determine which is the most cost effective demand-side intervention to stimulate improvements in student achievement. Through this call for proposals, we are requesting funding to follow students beyond junior high school, measuring the effects of the information provision on students’ transitions to secondary school.

Street smart or school smart? Leveraging working children’s competencies to teach them mathematics

Researchers: Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo, Alejandro Ganimian, Elizabeth Spelke
Location: India
Type of Project: Pilot

According to large-scale surveys, most children and adolescents in India perform poorly in “abstract” arithmetic (i.e., the arithmetic operations typically taught in school). Yet, those employed in informal markets seem to perform relatively complex arithmetic operations mentally when handling transactions (e.g., to calculate amounts due or change). Is it possible to leverage the skills that these children already have to help them succeed in abstract arithmetic? We propose to conduct two studies to address this question. In Study 1, we will administer a survey to children and adolescents selling in markets in Delhi and Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh to understand why they might succeed at “market” arithmetic, but struggle with abstract arithmetic. In Study 2, we will design a pilot intervention that can help these children use arithmetic beyond the context of market transactions and assess its effectiveness through a randomized evaluation.

Effective Teacher Coaching – Improving student outcomes in Mexico

Researchers: Susan W. Parker, Lucrecia Santibanez
Location: Mexico
Type of Project: Pilot

In this project, we propose a pilot teacher-coaching program in the state of Sonora, in Mexico. The program would be implemented with lower secondary teachers in 50 of the country's "telesecundaria" and technical secondary schools (7-9th grade). We will collect data on program implementation through survey and interview of program participants (teachers and coaches). Classroom practice will be measured using the CLASS observation rubric. In addition, we will administer pre- and post-tests of general skills, as well as survey students for engagement and perceptions of teaching quality.

Projects Funded During the Sixth Round (2016):

What motivates students to work hard in school? Experimental evidence contrasting interventions from economics and psychology

Researchers: Alejandro Ganimian
Location: Argentina
Type of Project: Full Study

Economists have found that providing students with information on the returns to schooling can induce them to stay in school longer and improve their achievement. Similarly, psychologists have found that informing students about the brain’s capacity to grow and reorganize when individuals respond productively to difficult situations can improve school performance and achievement. Yet, no study has explored which of these two approaches is more (cost-) effective at motivating students to stay in and succeed in school. I propose a randomized evaluation of two brief and inexpensive informational interventions on returns to schooling and the malleability of the brain for students in grades 7 through 12 in Argentina. The study will be conducted among participants of an existing education program, capitalizing on the data already collected by the program and setting up an infrastructure to take the interventions to scale, if they are successful.

Can Incentives Mitigate Educational Triage in Upper Primary: Evidence from Uganda

Researchers: Adrienne Lucas, Daniel Gilligan, Naureen Karachiwalla, Ibrahim Kasirye, Derek Neal
Location: Uganda
Type of Project: Full Study

We conjecture that primary leaving exam systems in Africa create educational triage, limiting educational opportunities for many students. Because leaving exam results receive significant public scrutiny, educators face incentives to devote resources to students who could earn high marks and to encourage weak students to dropout prior to completing upper primary school. These triage behaviors appear to be common in Ugandan primary schools, and we propose an RCT to evaluate a teacher incentive mechanism that should mitigate triage incentives. We will measure effects on the entire student achievement distribution, dropout rates, and secondary school enrollment. We will also gather information about classroom interactions between students and teachers to understand underlying mechanisms. Finally, we will estimate heterogeneous effects by baseline achievement, gender, and family background.

Solar-powered Videos, Integrated Textbooks and the Elasticity of Human Capital to Financial Incentives: Evidence from a Randomized Evaluation in Tanzania

Researchers: Samuel Seo, Michael Greenstone
Location: Tanzania
Type of Project: Pilot

In 2015, close to 90% of Tanzanian secondary school students failed their national mathematics examination. We ask to what extent a low-cost, technology-based intervention can remedy this situation. Collaborating with 172 secondary schools without electricity in northern Tanzania, we provide half of the schools with solar panels, TVs, mathematics curriculum videos and textbooks. We additionally ask how an equally low-cost, performance-based monetary incentives compare. For half of the facilities-receiving schools and half of the control schools, we provide a within-school-varied, monetary incentives pegged on the students' upcoming examination scores. We study reduced-form evidence on the impact of these interventions; in particular, evidence on how the elasticity of human capital to external incentives responds to the introduction of a new learning facility. We also study structural estimates of heterogeneous preferences for knowledge and welfare across students by estimating and extending upon recent models of coordinated learning in the classroom.

Evaluation of a Growth Mindset Intervention in Bangladesh Secondary Schools

Researchers: Thomas H. Polley, Erica Field
Location: Bangladesh
Type of Project: Pilot

Belief in one’s private ability to succeed in school can have large impacts on private educational investment. Growth mindset interventions, which aim to increase individuals’ perceived abilities to learn, have been shown to reverse downward grade trajectories among low performing students in the United States. Despite evidence for their potential success developing countries, no such intervention has been tested. I propose a randomized experiment to test whether a growth mindset intervention can change grade trajectories for secondary school students in Bangladesh. I will test the impact of the intervention on ~960 secondary school students from two schools, one urban, one rural. In addition, I will randomly treat parents, orthogonally to students, to test whether their changing beliefs impact their childrens’, and I will include information about the returns to schooling for half of treated and control parents to test the complementarity of information and growth mindset interventions.

Evaluating After School English Programs for Youth: A Pilot of Freedom English Academy

Researchers: Isaac Mbiti, Tarun Jain, Sisir Debnath
Location: India
Type of Project: Pilot

Hard skills such as fluency in English are associated with better labor market outcomes in India (Chin et al., 2013). Soft skills such as grit are also valuable in the labor market (Heckman and Kautz, 2012). However, the lack of these skills may be particularly acute among youth from disadvantaged areas. We partner with the Freedom English Academy (FEA), an Indian NGO that aims to improve the English language and soft skills (such as self-confidence) of youth from disadvantaged areas of Delhi. After-school programs, such as those run by FEA, have the potential to complement the formal secondary school education to impart such skills. However, training programs suffer from low attendance and high dropout rates. We propose a series of pilot activities to refine and test different interventions to reduce dropout and support the design of a larger evaluation.

Improving Post-Primary Education Delivery through Technology and Pedagogy

Researchers: Sabrin Beg, Adrienne Lucas
Location: Pakistan
Type of Project: Pilot

Even though educational access has increased in Pakistan since 2000, learning levels remain disturbingly low. The methods available to explain complex subject matter, the instructional techniques that teachers use, and the teachers’ own content knowledge are often lacking, especially as students enter middle and secondary school. This pilot study will use an RCT to test a novel middle school intervention that trains teachers on pedagogical techniques, provides classrooms with video content, and engages students at home through SMS in order to enhance middle school students’ achievement in both mathematics and science. This 60 school pilot study in Punjab Province, Pakistan will inform the design and implementation of an 81,000 student, 450 school nation-wide RCT.

Projects Funded During the Fifth Round (2015):

Returns to Secondary Education in Ghana

Researchers: Pascaline Dupas, Esther Duflo, Michael Kremer
Location: Ghana
Type of Project: Full Study

While access to primary education has expanded rapidly in the developing world and in Africa, access to secondary education remains more limited, and in many countries, fees are required for secondary education. One important question for policymakers is whether to extend free education to secondary school. This project sheds light on the consequences of this by following a sample of 2,064 Ghanaian youth who had gained admission to senior high school in 2008, when they were on average around 17 years old, but failed to enroll due to a lack of financial resources 682 of these academically qualified students were randomly selected (via lottery) to receive secondary school scholarships. Following subjects until they reach the age of at least 30 will shed light on the long-term impact of reducing financial barriers to secondary education on a wide range of outcomes, from income to health and fertility decisions to civic participation.

Teacher training and Entrepreneurship Education: Evidence from a Curriculum Reform in Rwanda

Researchers: Moussa Blimpo, Todd Pugatch
Location: Rwanda
Type of Project: Full Study

At least ten countries across Africa, including Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia and Namibia, are currently undergoing secondary curriculum reforms to teach youth the skills they need to succeed after school. Yet many of these reforms are not effective due to implementation challenges, particularly the prevalence of traditional rote-memorization pedagogy. This study will examine pedagogy-targeted curriculum reform and teacher training in the delivery of Rwanda’s revised secondary school entrepreneurship curriculum, to be introduced in 2016. A subset of schools will be randomly selected to receive two years of ongoing teacher training on the curriculum. A comparison group will receive the curriculum only. The study will measure impact on student academic and life outcomes over a period of three years. The results will inform government efforts to implement competency-based curriculum reforms in secondary schools across Africa.

Examining the impact and cost‐effectiveness of supplementary math courses with a focus on girls on Benin

Researchers: Leonard Wantcheckon, Markus Olapade, Romaric Samson
Location: Benin
Type of Project: Full Study

In Benin, as elsewhere in the world, education of girls lags behind that of boys in a number of dimensions, e.g. enrollment, promotion and graduation rates. While these measures have seen some improvement in the recent years, they do not guarantee that neither girls nor boys obtain quality education. One area where quality of education is especially critical, particularly for girls, is numeracy skills, as a solid quantitative foundation could highly increase their post-secondary education paths and employment prospects. Notwithstanding the importance of these skills, Beninese teachers are insufficiently trained in science subjects and are overburdened with work. Temporary supplementary teachers who have been trained to provide math classes and who can spend three months at a school represent a straightforward solution to this problem. Our evaluation will examine the impact of temporary supplementary teachers in improving the learning outcomes and the employment prospects of girls in junior and secondary high schools located in rural Benin.

Educational Mismatch and Motivational Messages in the Dominican Republic

Researchers: Jim Berry, Giacomo De Giorgi, Christopher Neilson, Sebastián Otero
Location: Dominican Republic
Type of Project: Full Study

Dropout is a common problem in junior and senior high schools across many developing countries. The Dominican Republic is no different: 38 percent of students taking national exams in 8th grade drop out by the next set of high-stake exams in 12th grade. Importantly, high performing students drop out at similar rates than low performing students, even more so for poorer (rural) students and girls. With this project we aim to shed light on whether “mismatch” is a likely explanation. We design a multifaceted information intervention covering the majority of 8th and 12th graders in the country, while planning on following these cohorts over time through administrative records. At the same time we will attempt to understand students’ beliefs through surveys.

Projects Funded During the Fourth Round (2015):

Improving Secondary School Governance and Pedagogy at Scale: A Randomized Evaluation of the Madhya Pradesh School Quality Assessment Program

Researchers: Karthik Muralidharan, Abhijeet Singh
Location: India
Type of Project: Pilot Study

We propose a randomized pilot evaluation of an ambitious attempt to improve secondary school pedagogy and governance at scale in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. The program targets these dimensions directly through a combination of (a) regular monitoring of schools by government-designated subject experts, (b) creation of school report cards, and a customized school improvement plan, (c) quarterly follow-ups on progress against this plan, and (d) the leveraging of ICT tools to collect and report real-time records of all assessment results, school improvement plans, and follow-ups to a dedicated online system. The evaluation will assess the effects of the program on key process metrics in high schools, relating especially to pedagogy, governance and student academic outcomes in the state-wide official high school exams. Results would be particularly relevant for the scheduled extension of this program across Madhya Pradesh and possibly to other states in India.

What about the parents? Designing post-primary policies that encourage parent investment

Researchers: Rebecca Dizon-Ross
Location: Malawi
Type of Project: Pilot Study

The effects of education policies depend on individuals’ behavioral responses, which can either enhance or undo the policies’ intended impacts. This project aims to understand one important aspect of parental behavior -- how parents allocate their investments across their children, and whether they are motivated by a desire to maximize returns (earnings) or equalize across their children – and use that knowledge to design (and test) better post-primary education policies. In the pilot phase, I will estimate parents’ preferences for education spending, quantifying the relative weight they place on returns maximization, equality of inputs, and equality of outcomes, using lab-in-the-field experiments. Based on this, I will determine the implications for how to design better post-primary education policies, including how to optimize the design of conditional cash transfers (CCTs) to maximize positive spillovers. The pilot will then lead directly into an RCT testing the standard policy relative to the new one optimized to parents’ preferences. This application is for funding for the pilot phase. The pilot findings will be useful not just for the RCT but for any future research on post-primary education policies like CCTs and information.

Improving secondary school learning outcomes through customized computer-based supplementary instruction: A randomized evaluation of Mindspark

Researchers: Karthik Muralidharan, Abhijeet Singh
Location: India
Type of Project: Pilot Study

Ever-larger proportions of children are progressing to secondary schooling in India. However, weak foundational academic skills in primary schools have made it very challenging to provide effective instruction in secondary schools. Classroom instruction typically follows the syllabus and textbook in lock-step, but the translation of class time into learning may be very low since many students are far behind grade level competencies. We propose a pilot project for a randomized evaluation of an innovative technology-led initiative to provide customized computer-based supplementary instruction to students in Grades 6-9, i.e. in middle and lower secondary school grades, in deprived slum areas of Delhi. The evaluation will provide rigorous evidence on a promising model for improving learning outcomes for secondary school students, that combines the strength of remedial education programs with ICT tools for a replicable and scalable model for delivering supplementary secondary school instruction.

Evaluations Funded During the Third Round (2014):

Encouraging Youth Entrepreneurship in Kenya: A Study of Vocational Training and Cash Grants

Researchers: Joan Hamory Hicks, Michael Kremer, Isaac Mbiti, Edward Miguel
Location: Kenya
Type of Project: Full Study

This project will examine the effectiveness of potentially complementary interventions aimed at boosting the employability of youth and the productivity of their self-employment ventures in a less-developed country. In particular, we seek to compare and contrast the relative efficacy of vocational training voucher and unconditional cash grant provision in Kenya by studying two overlapping programs administered by a local NGO involving nearly 2,200 youth. The vocational training voucher program selected applicants by lottery to receive vouchers which permitted them to enroll in training programs of their own choosing between 2009 and 2010. The cash grant program was launched in mid-2013, and provided grants to a randomly selected subset of voucher winners and non-winners. The proposed project will undertake detailed, high-quality data collection among the full sample of program applicants, in order to evaluate the medium-longer term effectiveness of these programs in improving youth employment, entrepreneurship, and other important life outcomes.

Not Informed, Not Allowed, or not Wanted? Understanding Supply and Demand-side Constraints to Vocational Training and Post-Placement Tenure for India's Young Rural Females

Researchers: Charity Troyer Moore, Rohini Pande, Soledad Artiz Prillaman
Location: India
Type of Project: Pilot Study

Together with India's Aajeevika Skills program, which will provide vocational training for 5 million unemployed rural youth between 2012 and 2017, we propose a pilot study on how to more effectively integrate rural young women into the labor force. We will identify supply and demand-side constraints and incentives driving behavior of young female trainees and private-partner training organizations and use these to design a RCT that tests how altering one or more key identified constraints can increase young women's recruitment and retention. On the supply side, we will collect data on information and incentives available to trainees, with a focus on the accuracy of perceived returns and influence of trainees’ families on their take-up and course selection. On the demand side, we will conduct interviews and surveys to examine trainer-specific incentives for training and placing women, focusing on financing and life-cycle considerations that may improve female recruitment and retention.

Leveraging Technology to Increase Student Effort and Improve Learning Outcomes

Researchers: Sarojini Hirshleifer,  Karthik Muralidharan
Location: India 
Type of Project: Full Study 

This project aims to leverage a technology-based learning model to both increase the supply of high quality education and to increase the demand for learning (through incentives for student effort).  The Nalanda project is developing and deploying a scalable and cost-effective model of a technology-based learning platform (KA Lite) and hardware configuration, which is fully integrated into the local math curriculum.  KA Lite is unique in that it is free, designed to be downloaded anywhere, by anyone, and used without an internet connection. An integrated student performance incentive leverages the instant feedback component of KA Lite to reward day-to-day effort.  The first phase of the project (for which we are applying for funding) will cost under $50,000 and provide a high-quality RCT of the impact of student incentives (demand-side intervention) and also serve as a pilot for the next phase that will conduct a full-scale RCT of the technology-enabled curriculum itself (a supply-side intervention).

Improving Job Matching Among Youth

Researchers: Rebecca Dizon-Ross
Location: Iraq
Type of Project: Full Study 

The project examines the impact of job-search assistance and career guidance on youth employment. The project is in collaboration with Silatech, which runs online job-search portals in several Arab countries, where youth unemployment is especially high. The previous literature has found that job-search and career guidance improves employment outcomes but has been less successful at identifying the main mechanisms. The online format of Silatech’s services also facilitates the design and implementation of tailored interventions that test specific hypothesized barriers to youth employment, e.g., adding a website features whereby users can set themselves deadlines to complete applications that is based on the hypothesis that procrastination inhibits job search. Thus, the first component of the project is to analyze Silatech’s rich (non-experimental) data to identify likely barriers such as procrastination or misinformation about which jobs one is qualified for, and then design an intervention that aims to overcome them. The second component of the project is to evaluate two existing services Silatech offers: online counseling on which careers the individual’s personality is well-suited for (psychometric tests with a follow-up online session with a counselor) and an (offline) information session on private sector job opportunities.

Evaluation of the Indian National Employability Through Apprenticeship Program

Researchers: Abhijit Banerjee, Marianne Bertrand, Bruno Crépon, Isaac Mbiti
Location: India 
Type of Project: Full Study 

To address critically high levels of youth unemployment and under-employment, as well as an apparent mismatch between youth’s skills versus those demanded by employers, the Indian Government has established a new Public-Private Partnership: the National Employability Through Apprenticeship Program (NETAP). NETAP aims to significantly increase the number of youth and firms participating in the apprenticeship system in India, with the ultimate goal of becoming the largest employability scheme in the country.  We have partnered with TeamLease Skills University (TLSU), the largest private sector service provider under NETAP. TLSU will recruit and match both firms and youth into NETAP apprenticeships. We propose to leverage this partnership to pursue two key research questions. First, we exploit an over-subscription design to study the returns to apprenticeship for young people. Second, we exploit a randomized information treatment  to examine the potential benefits that accrue to firms who have access to apprentices.

Empowering Adolescent Girls: Evidence from a Randomized Evaluation in Sierra Leone

Researchers: Imran Rasul, Oriana Bandiera, Niklas Buehren, Markus Goldstein
Location: Sierra Leone
Type of Project: Full Study

Pregnancy and early childbearing can limit teenage girls' human capital accumulation and labor force participation. At the same time, a lack of skills and limited labor market opportunities increase teenage girls' financial dependency on men, possibly leading to pregnancy and early child bearing. Breaking the vicious circle requires understanding which factors sustain it. This project, in collaboration with BRAC, provide alternative bundles of health education, vocational skills training, and micro-credit to adolescent girls in 200 communities in Sierra Leone, where, like many African countries, teenage pregnancy rates are high and girls' labor force participation is low. The intervention and data collection are designed to shed new light on the interplay between reproductive choices and labor market performance of young women in low income countries, and to help pinpoint the key underlying constraints that prevent girls from accumulating human capital and successfully transitioning to productive employment.

Information Targeting, School Choice, and School Quality in Ghana

Researchers: Adrienne Lucas, Kehinde Ajayi, Willa Friedman
Location: Ghana
Type of Project: Full Study

This study identifies the impact of information on demand for education. We will provide a randomly selected group of Ghanaian junior high school students with application strategies and information about the selectivity and exam performance of secondary schools. We will then examine changes in their subsequent secondary school application and enrollment decisions and their educational attainment, identifying how access to information impacts student welfare. In addition to measuring average effects, we will test whether information interventions that target students or the broader community yield larger impacts and determine which is the most cost-effective demand-side intervention to stimulate improvements in education quality.

The Impact of Mentoring and Life Skills Training on Secondary School Progression Among Girls in India

Researchers: Jessica Leigh, Eric Edmonds, Maheshwor Shrestha
Location: India
Type of Project: Pilot

Many developing countries are characterized by gender gaps in educational attainment that widen as cohorts progress through secondary school, leading to the failure of disproportionate number of girls to graduate. The objective of this pilot is to explore the impact of a girls' education program that provides life skills training and mentoring on girls' progression through secondary school as well as various measure of life skills. The project will be implemented by J-PAL South Asia and Room to Read in Rajasthan, India. Specifically, the pilot will collect data from around 200 girls in eight schools, four of which are currently served by Room to Read, and more limited administrative data from an additional 800 girls in eight schools. In additional extensive piloting will be done of innovative methods to measure life skills, and around 100 schools will be screen for their eligibility in a full-scale randomized controlled trial planned for 2016-2018.

Projects Funded During the Second Round (2013):

Evaluating a School-Based Gender Sensitization Program in India

Researchers: Diva Dhar, Seema Jayachandran
Location: India
Type of Project: Full Study

This study is a randomized evaluation of a secondary-school-based attitude-change program aimed at promoting gender equality, reducing son preference in reproductive decisions, and improving girls’ school enrollment. The premise is that a promising way to reduce sex-selective abortion and other forms of gender bias is to shift the attitudes and norms of teenagers. The intervention is led by Breakthrough, an Indian NGO, and targets female and male students in Classes 7 to 9. We will measure the impact of two years of exposure to the program in 150 treatment schools in Haryana, the state with the most skewed child sex ratio in India. The main outcomes are gender attitudes, gender-related behaviors, and school enrollment. In addition, the study is powered for long-term tracking to measure impacts on marriage and fertility. The baseline survey is underway and will be completed in December 2013; the intervention begins in April 2014.

Structured Study Time, Self-Efficacy, and Tutoring

Researchers: Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo
Location: USA
Type of Project: Full Study

Massive on line courses have the potential to make quality higher education accessible to a much larger public, but they have been plagued by low retention rates. Using the online course “The Challenges of Global Poverty,” we propose to implement a series of interventions designed to test scalable methods to improve student retention and performance in online courses, with the goal of improving meaningful access to this resource. Compared to regular classes, MOOCs lack (1) structure and (2) support and (3) ways to boost students’ confidence. We test whether committing to a regular study time encourages enhances student performance, and whether various enforcement mechanisms can further strengthen this effect. We test whether self-efficacy messaging can boost marginalized students’ self-expectations of performance and in turn their eventual performance. Finally, we implement a tutoring program to test whether supplementing online instruction with personalized, virtual tutoring results in cost-effective learning gains.

Empowering Girls in Rural Bangladesh

Researchers: Erica Field, Rachel Glennerster
Location: Bangladesh
Type of Project: Full Study

Adolescent girls in Bangladesh are seeing increased rates of enrollment in secondary school, but face high rates of drop out and early marriage, which curtail formal and informal skill acquisition. This study follows adolescent girls who took part in a program designed to strengthen academic education and nonacademic skills through different approaches. Midline results suggest that there are complementarities between approaches. An incentive to delay marriage successfully delayed marriage and helped girls stay in school, without impacting a wider range of capabilities. However, combing peer-led training and the incentive had an impact on schooling, math and literacy, and capabilities like negotiation and contraception knowledge. Preliminary evidence suggests that including savings clubs in the training curriculum successfully encouraged savings behavior, improved negotiation skills, and more surprisingly, delayed marriage and increased education. This study will follow these girls as they enter adulthood in order to carefully document the various influences on secondary schooling attainment and also to document the association between increased secondary schooling attainment that resulted from this program and adult economic activity, inter-household bargaining, fertility, and health.

Soft versus Hard Skills in Entrepreneurial Success: Evidence from Post-Secondary Entrepreneurship Training Interventions in Uganda

Researchers: Dana Carney, Paul Gertler
Location: Uganda
Type of Project: Full Study 

Business and labor market successes are thought to depend on a series of economic/business "hard" skills and social-emotional "soft" skills. Soft skills include self-regulation, self-actualization, communication, win-win judgment, persona power, negotiation, leadership, team building, goal setting, decision making, risk taking, social networking, and public speaking. Hard skills, taught in existing entrepreneurship programs, focus on skills such as accounting, finance, and strategy. The goals of this project are to understand (1) the types of skills needed for successful entrepreneurship, (2) whether those skills can be taught, and (3) the effectiveness of skills for females versus males. We propose to evaluate an intervention that experimentally strengthened the training of these skills in Ugandan entrepreneurship programs in high schools. The intervention also included a module on life planning, including the relationship between fertility and work. This research will shed light on the relative contribution of hard versus soft skills in predicting successful entrepreneurship, business success, labor market outcomes, and fertility particularly among women.

Returns to Secondary Education: Unpacking the Delivery of Secondary Schooling in Ghana

Researchers: Esther Duflo, Pascaline Dupas, Jamie Johnston 
Location: Ghana
Type of Project: Add-on to an existing evaluation

Evidence suggests that despite completion of secondary schooling, students in Ghana are not gaining basic skills important for their future success.  Furthermore, relatively little information about the quality of secondary school and its relationship to student outcomes currently exists.  The proposed project intends to fill this gap by collecting detailed information from 400 Junior and Senior High Schools as part of a larger randomized scholarship study examining the returns to secondary education.  The data collected through this project will allow us to both (1) understand the sources of heterogeneity in the returns to schooling (namely, what are the characteristics of the schools and programs within schools that yield higher cognitive gains and labor market returns?); and (2) shed light on the challenges associated with the delivery of secondary schooling.  The project presents a unique opportunity to explore potential policy levers and interventions that can improve the situation of disadvantaged student populations in Ghana and elsewhere in the developing world.  

Improving Employment Prospects of Indian College Graduates through Standardized Testing: A Pilot Evaluation

Researchers: David Autor, Amanda Pallais
Location: India
Type of Project: Pilot

Many Indian students graduate with bachelor's degrees, but are unable to find work. In this project, we propose to evaluate whether providing employers with more detailed information on recent graduates' skills and aptitudes can improve their labor market outcomes. We will work with Aspiring Minds, a firm that tests workers' skills and provides the results of these tests to firms looking to hire workers. In this project, Aspiring Minds will assess the skills of many additional college students. We will randomize (1) whether an individual students' assessment results are given to firms immediately or six months after graduation and (2) the fraction of students at a given college whose results are immediately given to firms. This will allow us to determine whether the benefit of providing information on some students' skills to firms comes at the expense of their classmates' labor market outcomes. If this intervention is successful in boosting job-finding rates among Indian college graduates, we anticipate it will ultimately assist colleges to better tailor their curricula—and students to better target their studies—to improve market-readiness at graduation.

Negotiating a Better Future

Researchers: Nava Ashraf, Corinne Low, Kathleen McGinn
Location: Zambia
Type of Project: Full Study

School data for Zambia shows a dramatic decline in female enrollment around the transition to fee-based secondary school. Moreover, young women of this age in Zambia contract HIV at twice the rate of young men. We propose that the ability to communicate within a household and commit to returning investments may be a crucial enabler of greater parental investment in secondary school. Our study aims to measure how training in non-cognitive skills centered on communication can allow girls to better negotiate health and education decisions with power figures in their lives, thereby completing more years of schooling and gaining greater human capital. This evaluation currently has enrolled 3,146 8th grade girls, using a six-arm design, crossing communication skills and information provision, to isolate the impact of communication skills from other factors, and innovative behavioral measures to track both long-term outcomes and driving mechanisms.

Projects Funded During the First Round (2013):

Pricing of Private Education in Urban India: Demand, Use, and Impact

Researchers: James Berry, Priya Mukherjee
Location: India
Type of Project: Full Study 

There is a large market for education services for children in the developing world, with many of these services provided by private education service providers. Yet little is known about how prices influence demand and utilization of these services. This study will explore this issue by examining demand for tutoring services among post-primary school children in India. Through a two-part pricing design, we will investigate how prices influence the number and composition of those willing to take up the services, whether prices can induce more frequent attendance through a psychological effect, and whether treatment effects are heterogeneous by willingness to pay. In addition, given the gender bias prevalent in educational attainment in India especially among older children, we will explore differential effects that pricing policy can have on children based on their age and gender.

SMS-Based School-Parents Communication Technology

Researchers: Taryn Dinkelman, Claudia Martínez
Location: Chile
Type of Project: Full Study 

We propose to test the effectiveness of sending parents high frequency SMS messages with information on their children’s activities and behavior at school, as well as advice on parental involvement with the school. Our main hypothesis is that frequent text messages will enhance parental awareness of their children’s education, providing them with effective tools to monitor and incentivize their effort. Even if the information is not novel for the parents, the low cost of this technology suggests that this could also help to allocate resources more efficiently within the schools by replacing time-consuming school-household communication technologies.