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Investigating Learning Inequalities and Social Mobility – Questions from the RISE Online Presentation Series

Katie Cooper

It is no surprise that in many developing countries, inequalities in learning outcomes emerge in the early years of schooling. Furthermore, for those children that fall behind, it can be a struggle to catch up.

On 15 July, RISE launched the first session of the RISE Online Presentation Series, a panel that explored some of the sources of inequalities in learning outcomes and a few strategies that have been undertaken to tackle such inequalities. The panel was chaired by RISE team member Caine Rolleston (University College London) and featured four researchers talking about their respective work.

Research insights from the RISE webinar panellists

Janice Kim discussed the expansion of access to primary schools in Ethiopia, and the effects of this expansion on children’s readiness to start primary school. Alejandro Ganimian gave insight into how educational activities in pre-school centres in India can later impact learning outcomes once children reach primary school. Harounan Kazianga shared thoughts from a study in Burkina Faso on the long-term effects on girls from expanding access and the quality of schooling. Bich-Hang Duong explored the ways in which teachers’ treatment of minority students inside the classroom in Vietnam can affect students’ experiences and outcomes.

While the hour-long session only allowed us to touch the surface of this topic, our panellists have kindly offered some additional insight based on questions submitted to the panel. Click on one of the questions below to learn more about our panellists’ research.

Questions

  1. In Burkina Faso, given the impossibility of blinding the intervention, did other "good" things crowd into the villages that might have biased the estimates? Did this get tracked? Other than considering those things a "contamination," might there be interesting lessons in what things the villages did to "crowd in" other good things?
    Go to Question 1
  2. What is a RDD? Go to Question 2
  3. In India, did the intervention effectively double the supply of teachers? If something has a benefit 12X its cost, what governance or market failures prevent this from being more spontaneously discovered.  Education itself has a much lower return. So, how can such as hugely beneficial thing exist and the governance system prevent its discovery? Go to Question 3
  4. In Burkina Faso, were there any curriculum and teaching practice gender considerations? Go to Question 4
  5. What are the implications of your findings for policy and practice in Burkina Faso? Go to Question 5
  6. What is structural inequality? Go to Question 6
  7. Thank you for the fascinating study on ICDS, an understudied ECCE provider with immense potential. I am curious if you investigated any heterogeneity in impacts by either facilitator or student characteristics? Go to Question 7
  8. In India, given that the outstanding cost-benefit seems to be driven by the lower wages of local staff vis-à-vis civil service workers, do you have any concerns of any potential unintended consequences of a policy switch that focuses on hiring on this pool of potential workers? (e.g. at a labour-market, macroeconomic, civic, or worker’s rights level?) Go to Question 8
  9. In Vietnam, does the government have a teacher recruitment policy which enables hiring of teachers from the indigenous communities, so that these teachers come with an understanding of the issues and challenges that children from these communities face and also understand the language? Go to Question 9
  10. In India, I’m interested in the political implications of hiring an extra teacher.  This kind of strategy has had major backlash from powerful teachers’ unions in India and elsewhere.  Is ECE different than primary school for some reason and insulated from political backlash? Go to Question 10
  11. The study on anganwadi centres in Tamil Nadu is very interesting. I wanted to know more about the second worker who was hired. Was her wage the same as that of the main worker, and what training was provided for this additional worker to implement the pre-school programme? Is the government of Tamil Nadu aware of the findings of the study, and do they plan to expand this model? Go to Question 11
  12. In relation to Burkina Faso, are there other good practices such as changing norms around age of marriage that get "crowded in" into the experiment, by the experiment in some sense?  How much attention was paid to that? Go to Question 12
  13. Most of the papers addressed issues or questions using quantitative methodologies, I wonder if there might have been some qualitative findings, e.g., lived or learning experiences of the children or ethnic minority in terms of whether inequality is reinforced, or reduced with and through ‘standards’? Go to Question 13
  14. I am curious as to whether those practices in Vietnam that were observed through natural variation, could be experimented with a bit more systemically? Is there appetite for that? Go to Question 14
  15. What is the impact of the World Bank funded "escuelo nuovo" project on the inequality of school results, teacher’s behaviour, and teaching skills? Go to Question 15
  16. In India, how would you explain the difference in health outcomes across the in-school and at-home follow-up samples? Is this about exposure? Or about heterogeneous effects? Go to Question 16
  17. The Ethiopia paper showed a gender gap in preschool enrollment, which isn’t something we typically see elsewhere. Does this suggest that as preschool expands else where we may expect to see gendered inequalities in preschool as well? In the context of Ethiopia, were the gender differences driven by certain regions? In the India study, were there any gendered differences? Go to Question 17
  18. What were the perceptions and beliefs of people on the ground—parents, teachers, school principals, administrators, political decision-makers—about educational inequalities in the contexts you studied, and how might these perceptions have shaped both the initiatives you studied as well as future possibilities for remedying these inequalities? Go to Question 18
  19. How might the rural/urban inequity be addressed? What government policy or intervention might help reach most remote areas and communities? Go to Question 19

Answers

  1. In Burkina Faso, given the impossibility of blinding the intervention, did other "good" things crowd into the villages that might have biased the estimates? Did this get tracked? Other than considering those things a "contamination," might there be interesting lessons in what things the villages did to "crowd in" other good things?

    Harounan Kazianga: Over time, some villages which were not selected to receive a BRIGHT school got a school from other sources. Some BRIGHT villages could have an extra school. In the paper, we verify that our estimates are still internally valid. Unfortunately, we did not track the "crowding in" of other good things. Top

  2. What is a RDD?

    Regression Discontinuity Design. Top

  3. In India, did the intervention effectively double the supply of teachers? If something has a benefit 12X its cost, what governance or market failures prevent this from being more spontaneously discovered. Education itself has a much lower return. So, how can such as hugely beneficial thing exist and the governance system prevent its discovery?

    Alejandro Ganimian: This is not a new policy; in fact, a few decades back the World Bank supported a similar two-worker model in Tamil Nadu (the setting of our study). However, the programme was abandoned because the extra funding ran out. This prior (positive) experience made the government of Tamil Nadu more likely to take up this innovation, and our cost-effectiveness calculation was crucial to persuade them of the potential benefits of scaling this up with government funds. Top

  4. In Burkina Faso, were there any curriculum and teaching practice gender considerations?

    Harounan Kazianga: No, the curriculum and teaching were not modified. However, the treated schools received more female teachers. Top

  5. What are the implications of your findings for policy and practice in Burkina Faso?

    Harounan Kazianga: (i) Intervening earlier (here elementary schools) can have long-term effects on academic outcomes and life choices. (ii) Adding girl-friendly amenities are effective at reducing the gender gap; (iii) Improving school quality can raise both enrollment rates and learning outcomes. Top

  6. What is structural inequality?

    Harounan Kazianga: I think inequality is structural when policies keep some groups of people from obtaining the resources to better their lives. So education policies can create inequalities, for example tracking students according academic performance.
    Top

  7. Thank you for the fascinating study on ICDS, an understudied ECCE provider with immense potential. I am curious if you investigated any heterogeneity in impacts by either facilitator or student characteristics?

    Alejandro Ganimian: We did investigate heterogeneity by baseline nutrition, children’s sex, mother education, whether the AWW position was initially vacant, and children’s baseline achievement. With the exception of a positive and statistically significant interaction effect on girls (larger in the HH assessments), we did not find much else. Maybe this reflects the across-the-board positive effects of ECE? Top

  8. In India, given that the outstanding cost-benefit seems to be driven by the lower wages of local staff vis-à-vis civil service workers, do you have any concerns of any potential unintended consequences of a policy switch that focuses on hiring on this pool of potential workers? (e.g. at a labour-market, macroeconomic, civic, or worker’s rights level?)

    Alejandro Ganimian: Careful: the cost-effectiveness is not only driven by the low ECCE facilitator wages, but also from the fairly large effects on learning. And consider that we only used the HH assessments for this calculation, where impacts were smaller. And we did not even consider the effects on nutrition, which would make this intervention even more cost-effective. And yes! We see this study as having crucial implications for the licensing of pre-school workers in India. Even if the global literature has focused on minimum qualifications for pre-school instructors, our results suggest that ***in an environment with a high-quality curriculum, daily guidance on activities, and an over-worked main worker*** we can achieve large gains in learning outcomes by adding a local facilitator with only a high school education (Karthik Muralidharan has a nice policy paper on this question). Top

  9. In Vietnam, does the government have a teacher recruitment policy which enables hiring of teachers from the indigenous communities, so that these teachers come with an understanding of the issues and challenges that children from these communities face and also understand the language?

    Bich-Hang Duong: This is one of the policy recommendations we offer. Actually, we do have this policy but it still does not work as we wish. Many minorities drop as they go to higher levels of education. Top

  10. In India, I’m interested in the political implications of hiring an extra teacher. This kind of strategy has had major backlash from powerful teachers’ unions in India and elsewhere. Is ECE different than primary school for some reason and insulated from political backlash?

    Alejandro Ganimian: I cannot speak on behalf of unions, although yours is a good question. I can tell you, however, that (as I mentioned in my response to Luis) the government of Tamil Nadu had already experimented with a similar policy before, so this was not completely new to AWWs. With respect to the differences with primary education, I would compare our results with those of Duflo, Dupas and Kremer (in Kenya) and with those of Karthik and Venkatesh Sundararman (in India). The main difference between the results of those studies and our own was that the main teachers shifted their responsibilities to the contract workers and shirked. This did not happen in our setting — possibly because anganwadi workers were already overworked and welcomed the additional help to improve early-learning outcomes. Top

  11. The study on anganwadi centres in Tamil Nadu is very interesting. I wanted to know more about the second worker who was hired. Was her wage the same as that of the main worker, and what training was provided for this additional worker to implement the pre-school programme? Is the government of Tamil Nadu aware of the findings of the study, and do they plan to expand this model?

    Alejandro Ganimian: The anganwadi worker had a wage that was about half of that of the main worker (watch Karthik Muralidharan’s presentation for further details). And yes! The government of Tamil Nadu is well aware of the findings — as I mentioned in my response to one of the chair’s questions, we had several instances for their feedback through an ongoing partnership with J-PAL SA. As I mentioned in another answer, one of my co-authors (Karthik Muralidharan) is also conducting a study on strengthening early childhood education in primary schools. This will be another policy option that the government will consider before they decide how to move forward. We are currently in the process of collecting (and responding to) feedback from the government. I imagine that process will also inform their decision on whether to scale up this intervention.
    Top

  12. In relation to Burkina Faso, are there other good practices such as changing norms around age of marriage that get "crowded in" into the experiment, by the experiment in some sense? How much attention was paid to that?

    Harounan Kazianga: The experiment did not address norms around age of marriage. There was, however, a sensitisation programme on the benefits and the importance of girls education. We find that the overall effect (enrolling more girls and keeping them longer in school) has led to a reduction in the rates of early marriages and child bearing. Top

  13. Most of the papers addressed issues or questions using quantitative methodologies, I wonder if there might have been some qualitative findings, e.g., lived or learning experiences of the children or ethnic minority in terms of whether inequality is reinforced, or reduced with and through ‘standards’?

    Bich-Hang Duong: Our Vietnam study is a qualitative study with videos of three teaching sessions with students, pre-and post-interviews with teachers before we record them, and also interviews with principals.We are doing very close analysis of teachers’ beliefs with their practices that we can see in their teaching in the videos.Our analysis of these beliefs is found in the data from teachers’ interviews, also principals, but also these beliefs (about ethnic minorities) run through policy and public discourse and is quite normalised in society. Top

  14. I am curious as to whether those practices in Vietnam that were observed through natural variation, could be experimented with a bit more systemically? Is there appetite for that?

    Bich-Hang Duong: There are data from our study with teachers that show some teachers have beliefs and practices that are aimed at promoting ethnic minority learning beyond the basic learning. For example, we also see in our quant. learning data that some groups have more gains more than others, e.g., Khmer students had better gains in math and literacy than some other groups. And there may be some teaching practices that support this. We are trying to look at our data more on this. Top

  15. What is the impact of the World Bank funded "escuelo nuovo" project on the inequality of school results, teacher’s behaviour, and teaching skills?

    Bich-Hang Duong: The RISE Vietnam team is doing re-analysis of the VNEN to see it’s longer-term impacts on learning outcomes now that the students are in secondary schools. We can also look at how it does or not address inequality.There are relatively large enough numbers of some ethnic groups in this sample so we can look at this more directly. We do have some data in our interviews with teachers about how they think about the VNEN program, its curriculum, and how it impacts their practices. But because training no longer continues for secondary school teachers, we can’t follow this very systematically. But the training does not directly address teachers’ beliefs about ethnic minorities, which is one of our concerns here. Top

  16. In India, how would you explain the difference in health outcomes across the in-school and at-home follow-up samples? Is this about exposure? Or about heterogeneous effects?

    Alejandro Ganimian: Just to clarify, the tests were conducted in anganwadi centers (not schools) and households. As I briefly mentioned in my discussion, you can think of the AWC tests capturing the effects for children who consistently attended the centers during the study (~16 months) and the HH tests capture the ITT effects (i.e., the effects of the offer of the intervention, for children who may not have attended for the full period). So yes, it is about exposure. Top

  17. The Ethiopia paper showed a gender gap in preschool enrollment, which isn’t something we typically see elsewhere. Does this suggest that as preschool expands else where we may expect to see gendered inequalities in preschool as well? In the context of Ethiopia, were the gender differences driven by certain regions? In the India study, were there any gendered differences?

    Janice Kim: The gender parity index (GPI) in Ethiopia at the pre-primary level has increased slightly from 0.98 to 0.94 as enrolment has expanded from 2010/11 to 2016/17, and it is driven by historically disadvantaged regions. Compounding with regional disparities in preschool access, the most significant differences are evident in the three most disadvantaged regions of Somali (0.84), Gambella (0.89), and Benishangul-Gumuz (0.90). Patterns of GPI at the pre-primary level are similar to those at the primary level. The average GPI in primary is slightly lower at 0.90 with similar patterns in the three regions of Somali (0.78), Benishangul-Gumuz (0.84), and Gambella (0.92). Top

  18. What were the perceptions and beliefs of people on the ground—parents, teachers, school principals, administrators, political decision-makers—about educational inequalities in the contexts you studied, and how might these perceptions have shaped both the initiatives you studied as well as future possibilities for remedying these inequalities?

    Janice Kim: The paper by Rossiter et al., (2018) will be useful to address this question (although not fully answered). For example, it highlights incoherence between delegated national objectives and local preferences and capacities, which results in inequitable processes of early learning expansion. Top

  19. How might the rural/urban inequity be addressed? What government policy or intervention might help reach most remote areas and communities?

    Janice Kim: In Ethiopia, the government introduced capitation School Grants for pre-primary classes, which provide much-needed additional resources for the classes nationwide. However, to reach and support most remote areas and marginalized communities, it needs to permit adjusted assignments to districts/regions based on needs. This can help to overcome the short-term inequalities in funding per-child by location. Top

For more information regarding the event, including links to the papers that were presented, please visit the event page on the RISE website.

Author bios:

RISE blog posts reflect the views of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation or our funders.