Invest in educational initiatives with a proven effect

Education leads to development, but what efforts improve education? In order to ensure that training aid is used effectively, aid actors must invest in high-quality evaluations using quantitative methods. It writes Amy Damon, Paul Glewwe, Suzanne Wisniewski and Bixuan Sun, the authors of a new EBA report on educational initiatives in developing countries.

An overwhelming amount of evidence shows that investment in education leads to development. Improved education contributes to poverty reduction, improved health, reduced crime and increased economic growth. However, it remains vilka types of investment needed to raise the level and quality of education in developing countries is an open question.

Although the number of children in the world who are not allowed to go to school has decreased remarkably, from close to 100 million in 2000 to 58 million in 2012, the millennium goal of universal primary education was not achieved in 2015. Many of the children in developing countries who are allowed to go to school seem to also learn a little during his school days. More work is clearly needed for children to go to school, and for them to learn more in school, in almost all developing countries. So how can an aid organization or government use its resources in the most efficient way to contribute to this development?

Limited resources require rigorous methods

Educational assistance should be targeted at programs that have been shown by so-called rigorous evaluations to be effective in achieving the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education, and in achieving the UN's more recently adopted global goals of improving the quality and effectiveness of education. Rigorous evaluations are those that convincingly establish a connection between a development assistance effort and educational results, primarily RCT studies (randomized controlled trials with experimental group and control group).

There is a wealth of knowledge about the problems that exist in the education sector in developing countries, and there is no shortage of proposed policies to address these problems. However, with limited resources, decision-makers need information from high-quality evaluations of the effects of past policies to make future investments as effective as possible.

Fortunately, many high-quality quantitative studies on education in developing countries over the past 25 years have been conducted to determine which policies and programs "work", and the vast majority have been conducted over the last 5-10 years. One new report from the Expert Group for Development Aid (EBA) summarizes the research with a focus on which policies and programs increase the number of enrolled students, school attendance, the number of completed school years and students' learning, and which is the best method for determining whether an effort is effective.

Reliable recommendations

Based on this analysis of the best available evaluations of training initiatives, we offer several recommendations for effective investments in the training sector. Our recommendations are necessarily limited to efforts that have been analyzed using rigorous methods, so even if they are few in number, the recommendations are very reliable. The analysis can be used by Sida and other development assistance actors to maximize the effect of their development program.

The most effective efforts to increase time in school are those that reduce the cost of going to school. In particular, conditional cash transfers (the child must attend at least 80% of school time) and the construction of new schools in the local area have proved to be effective measures, as well as offering school meals and subsidizing private schooling. To increase students' learning, it has proven effective to distribute merit-based scholarships, build new schools where there is a lack of local access, increase teacher density and improve teaching pedagogy by, among other things, providing support teaching.

Many unique and creative efforts have been evaluated to assess their effects on students' time in school and learning. A relatively large variety of these looks promising, but they require further evaluation.

Evaluate effects, not processes

Although Sida and many other international aid actors make evaluations, these are often evaluations of procedures and processes, and generally not evaluations of the efforts of effects. We found that many of the so-called impact evaluations carried out by development assistance actors have not used high-quality, quantitative evaluation methods. One of our strongest recommendations to aid actors is that they should carry out - or hire external evaluation experts to carry out - high-quality impact assessments of as many of their programs and projects as possible.

High-quality impact assessments help direct aid to where it is most useful. By investing in high-quality evaluations at the start of an innovative effort, aid actors invest in the generation of valuable information about program and cost-effectiveness that will be useful when considering future similar efforts. Furthermore, this type of analysis contributes to a broader general knowledge base that can make a difference to investments in education in developing countries.

Amy Damon, Paul Glewwe, Suzanne Wisniewski and Bixuan Sun.

On 11 May, Paul Glewwe and Suzanne Wisniewski will present the EBA report Education in developing countries - what policies and programs affect learning and time in school? by one seminar at Sida.

This is a debate article. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

Do you also want to write a debate article for Uttvecklingsmagasinet? Contact us at

Share this: