Working Paper


New Evidence on Trajectories in a Low-Income Setting


Image of Natalie Bau

Natalie Bau

RISE Pakistan

University of California, Los Angeles

Image of Jishnu Das

Jishnu Das

RISE Pakistan

Georgetown University

Using a unique longitudinal dataset collected from primary school students in Pakistan, we document four new facts about learning in low-income countries. First, children’s test scores increase by 1.19 SD between Grades 3 and 6. Second, going to school is associated with greater learning. Children who dropout have the same test score gains prior to dropping out as those who do not but experience no improvements after dropping out. Third, there is significant variation in test score gains across students, but test scores converge over the primary schooling years. Students with initially low test scores gain more than those with initially high scores, even after accounting for mean reversion. Fourth, conditional on past test scores, household characteristics explain little of the variation in learning. In order to reconcile our findings with the literature, we introduce the concept of “fragile learning,” where progression may be followed by stagnation or reversals. We discuss the implications of these results for several ongoing debates in the literature on education from Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs).


Please access and cite the journal version of this paper:

Bau, N., Das, J., and Yi Chang, A. 2021. New Evidence on Learning Trajectories in a Low-Income Setting. International Journal of Educational Development. Volume 84, 2021, 102430, ISSN 0738-0593.