At this year’s Global Education Summit, GPE partner countries and the global community pledged to invest in girls’ access to education.
With commitments now affirmed, and still in the midst of the COVID pandemic, governments, donors and the international community will need to choose programs to fund to build back better for girls. Rigorous evidence from randomized evaluations can maximize the impact of donor funding.
Why care about evidence?
Evidence of effective approaches from across the world can provide a menu of promising interventions to invest in. More specifically, randomized evaluations can tell us which programs have successfully increased enrollment for girls and which have not, often with surprising results. For example, impact evaluations have shown that in some contexts increasing spending on school books and computers has not increased school participation.
Cost-effectiveness analyses can also sheds light into intervention that have yielded high returns when applied in the right context. Some of the most cost-effective school participation programs tested so far address child health issues, such as intestinal worms and chronic anemia.
Evidence from global impact evaluations, combined with contextual knowledge, can also support intervention design to maximize impact.
Having identified the interventions that work, we can pair evaluations with local contextual data to understand if such interventions can be replicated in the local context and how. For example, J-PAL Africa is currently working in Nigeria to design an evidence-based life skills program in collaboration with the World Bank, the Federal Ministry of Education and Health, the State Ministry of Education in Katsina, and the Gender Innovation Lab.
We are using evidence from randomized evaluations of 36 life skills interventions to design a program informed by global lessons.
What does the evidence tell us about how to increase enrollment among girls?
There are three key lessons donors and governments should keep in mind when thinking about what interventions to invest in to keep girls in school.
1.Interventions that reduce the costs of education are particularly effective at increasing girls’ enrollment.
While most countries have eliminated tuition fees for public primary schools, fees for secondary schools are more common. Even when there are no fees, parents often still have to pay for uniforms, textbooks and school supplies.
Interventions that remove even small costs to schooling can be very effective at increasing enrollment and attendance. In Kenya, school uniforms cost about US$6 each, which is equivalent to 1.6% of the local average annual household income.
While uniforms are not officially required, students face intense social pressure to wear them to school. Sixth-grade girls who received free uniforms for two years were 16.5% less likely to drop out after three years than their peers who did not receive uniforms.
Increasing the supply of schools in areas of limited availability can be particularly effective for girls. Setting up community-based schools in remote areas in Afghanistan decreased school travel time, increasing enrollment in formal schools. In particular, girls’ enrollment rates increased compared to boys’ and the enrollment gap between girls and boys fell from 21% to 4%, almost eliminating the gap in that context.
The program also delivered 2.61 additional years of schooling per US$100 spent.