Improvements in empirical research standards for credible identification of the causal impact of policies on education outcomes have led to a significant increase of evidence available to improve education in developing countries. This paper synthesises evidence, interprets the results, and discusses the reasons why some interventions appear to be more effective than others, drawing implications for both research and policy.
Interpreting the evidence for lessons is challenging because of variation across contexts, duration and quality of studies, and the details of specific interventions. Nevertheless, some broad patterns emerge. Demand-side interventions that increase the immediate returns to (or reduce household costs of) school enrollment, or that increase students’ returns to effort, are effective at increasing time in school and learning outcomes, but vary in cost effectiveness. Many expensive “standard” school inputs are often not effective at improving outcomes, though some specific inputs (often less expensive) are. Interventions that focus on improved pedagogy (especially supplemental instruction to children lagging behind grade level competencies) are particularly effective as are interventions that improve school governance and teacher accountability.
The broad policy message is that evidence points to several promising ways in which the efficiency of education spending in developing countries can be improved by pivoting public expenditure from less cost-effective to more cost-effective ways of achieving the same objectives. The authors conclude by documenting areas where more research is needed, and offer suggestions on the public goods and standards needed to make it easier for decentralised and uncoordinated research studies to be compared across contexts.
This paper was funded under the Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE) Programme.
Glewwe, P.; Muralidharan, K. (2015). RISE Working Paper 15/001 - Improving School Education Outcomes in Developing Countries. Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE).