Increasing teacher certification in developing
countries is widely believed to improve student performance; yet the
evidence suggests otherwise
Teachers are perhaps the most important
determinant of education quality. But what makes a teacher effective?
Developing countries expend substantial resources on certifying teachers and
retaining those who become certified; moreover, policymakers and aid donors
prioritize increasing the prevalence of certified teachers. Yet there is
little evidence that certification improves student outcomes. In fact,
augmenting a school's teaching corps with contract teachers hired outside
the civil service and without formal qualifications may be more effective in
boosting student performance.
Changes in compulsory schooling laws have
significant effects on certain population groups, but are costly to
Compulsory schooling laws are a common policy
tool to achieve greater participation in education, particularly from
marginalized groups. Raising the compulsory schooling requirement forces
students to remain in school which, on balance, is good for them in terms of
labor market outcomes such as earnings. But the usefulness of this approach
rests with how the laws affect the distribution of years of schooling, and
the wider benefits of the increase in schooling. There is also evidence that
such a policy has an intergenerational impact, which can help address
persistence in poverty across generations.
Childcare provided by grandparents helps young working
mothers, but reduces the labor supply of older women
Older people in developed countries are living longer and
healthier lives. A prolonged and healthy mature period of life is often associated with
continued and active participation in the labor market. At the same time, active
grandparents can offer their working offspring a free, flexible, and reliable source of
childcare. However, while grandparent-provided childcare helps young parents (especially
young mothers) overcome the negative effects of child rearing on their labor market
participation, it can sometimes conflict with the objective of providing additional
income through employment for older workers, most notably older women.
Jobs require skills, but they also build skills
and create a demand for them
Skills are widely regarded as being necessary
for boosting productivity, stimulating innovation, and creating new jobs,
while skill mismatches are often cited as being responsible for a lack of
dynamism in the labor market. However, heavy investments in technical and
vocational training programs are seldom a “silver bullet.” Recent evidence
on skill building not only points to the core importance of foundational
skills (both cognitive and social) for success in the labor market, but also
emphasizes how jobs themselves can lead to learning and shape social
competencies that, in turn, ignite innovation and create more jobs.
Students’ decisions about their education can
be, but are not always, improved by providing them with more information
The quantity and quality of educational
investment matter for labor market outcomes such as earnings and employment.
Yet, not everyone knows this, and navigating the education system can be
extremely complex both for students and their parents. A growing economic
literature has begun to test whether interventions designed to improve
information about the costs and benefits of education and application
processes have an effect on students’ behavior. So far, findings have been
mixed, although the positive findings arising from some very carefully
targeted interventions give cause for hope.
The success of universal preschool education depends crucially
on the policy parameters and specific country context
Since the 1970s, many countries have established free or highly
subsidized education for all preschool children in the hope of improving children’s learning
and socio-economic life chances and encouraging mothers to join the labor force. Evaluations
reveal that these policies can increase maternal employment in the short term and may continue
to do so even after the child is no longer in preschool by enabling mothers to gain more job
skills and increase their attachment to the labor force. However, their effectiveness depends
on the policy design, the country context, and the characteristics of mothers of
It is difficult to find consistent evidence that
schooling reforms provide health benefits
A statistical association between more education
and better health outcomes has long been observed, but in the absence of
experimental data researchers have struggled to find a causal effect.
Schooling reforms such as raising school leaving age, which have been
enacted in many countries, can be viewed as a form of natural experiment and
provide a possible method of identifying such an effect. However, the
balance of evidence so far is that these reforms have had little impact on
long-term health. Thus, policymakers should be cautious before anticipating
a health effect when introducing reforms of this nature.
Standardized testing can create incentives to
manipulate test results and generate misleading indicators for public
Standardized testing has become the accepted
means of measuring a school’s quality. However, the associated rise in
test-based accountability creates incentives for schools, teachers, and
students to manipulate test scores. Illicit behavior may also occur in
institutional settings where performance standards are weak. These issues
are important because inaccurate measurement of student achievement leads to
poor or ineffective policy conclusions. The consequences of mismeasured
student achievement for policy conclusions have been documented in many
institutional contexts in Europe and North America, and guidelines can be
devised for the future.
Expanding higher education might solve rising
youth unemployment and widening inequality in Africa
Developing countries often face two well-known
structural problems: high youth unemployment and high inequality. In recent
decades, policymakers have increased the share of government spending on
education in developing countries to address both of these issues. The
empirical literature offers mixed results on which type of education is most
suitable to improve gainful employment and reduce inequality: is it primary,
secondary, or tertiary education? Investigating recent literature on the
returns to education in selected developing countries in Africa can help to
answer this question.
Parental leave increases the family–work balance, but may
have negative impacts on mothers’ careers
Numerous studies have investigated whether the provision
and generosity of parental leave affects the employment and career prospects of women.
Parental leave systems typically provide either short unpaid leave mandated by the firm,
as in the US, or more generous and universal leave mandated by the government, as in
Canada and several European countries. Key economic policy questions include whether, at
the macro level, female employment rates have increased due to parental leave policies;
and, at the micro level, whether the probability of returning to work and career
prospects have increased for mothers after childbirth.