3 things the Nobel prize winners for economics say about education

The Nobel Prize for Economics was just awarded to Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer for their pioneering work on global poverty. A most timely prize as we celebrate the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

October 17, 2019 by GPE Secretariat
3 minutes read
Grace, age 12, in the Primary 5 classroom at Makamba Primary School, Uganda. Credit: GPE/Livia Barton
Grace, age 12, in the Primary 5 classroom at Makamba Primary School, Uganda.
Credit: GPE/Livia Barton

The 2019 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences was just awarded to Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo of M.I.T. and Michael Kremer of Harvard, three economists who have “transformed development economics” by pioneering new ways to study, and alleviate, global poverty.  

Banerjee, Duflo and Kremer emphasize the use of field experiments to apply the benefits of laboratory trials to their field of research.  They look at the spectrum of issues and challenges linked to global poverty, including education, to develop successful antipoverty programs, which are implemented across the world.  

As part of their work, Banerjee and Duflo (the second woman and the youngest person ever to be awarded the prize for economics) founded the Abdul Lateef Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J PAL), a research center working to reduce poverty by ensuring that policy is informed by scientific evidence.  

Here are three of their policy insights on education

  • Reducing the cost of schooling increases school participation 
  • Despite important progress in access to education, school participation and enrollment remain critical challenges in ensuring quality education for children in developing countries. J PAL evaluated 31 programs that try to increase student attendance by reducing the cost of schooling.

    Their research found that lowering or removing school fees, providing cash transfers and small incentives to parents, improving child health, and shortening distance to schools consistently increased school attendance and enrollment. These programs addressed the barriers to participating in school by reducing financial and non-financial costs.  

  • Highlighting the benefits of education is a cost-effective way to increase student participation.  
  • J PAL researchers found that interventions that successfully addressed perception gaps related to the benefits of education or that increased student motivation had positive impacts on enrollment and attendance. For example, boys in the Dominican Republic who received information on the average wages earned by people with different levels of education in their area completed an additional 0.2 years of schooling after four years. In India, providing information on job opportunities for educated women led parents and students to invest more in their education.  

  • Reducing the costs and increasing the perceived benefits of education increase both boys and girls’ participation 
  • J PAL evaluated 25 programs to increase school participation and disaggregated the results by gender. They looked at interventions ranging from community schools in Afghanistan to merit scholarships in Kenya and free textbooks in Sierra Leone. They found that most initiatives that improved school participation were as effective—if not more effective—for girls as they were for boys. Generally, programs tended to help the disadvantaged gender most.  

GPE grants have been used to support interventions outlined above across partner developing countries, for example:  

  • funding school-based health interventions in 22 countries 
  • investing in cash transfers to keep girls in school in Sierra Leone and South Sudan 
  • funding campaigns on the benefits of education in Burundi 
  • supporting school-based grants in Uganda, Lao PDR, Malawi and several more countries to ensure families don’t bear the financial burden of schooling.  

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