While mostly missing their primary objectives, adult
literacy programs can still improve key socio-economic outcomes
In addition to the traditional education system
targeting children and youth, one potentially important vehicle to improve
literacy and numeracy skills is adult literacy programs (ALPs). In many
developing countries, however, these programs do not seem to achieve these
hoped for, ex ante, objectives and have therefore received less attention,
if not been largely abandoned, in recent years. But, evidence shows that
ALPs do affect other important socio-economic outcomes such as health,
household income, and labor market participation by enhancing participants’
health knowledge and income-generating activities.
A child’s age at school entry matters, and the
implications of policy changes can have long-lasting effects
Laws on age at school entry affect student
achievement and often change for a number of reasons. Older students are
more mature and ready to learn. This can have positive impacts on academic,
employment, and earnings outcomes. The costs of holding children back
include another year of childcare expenses or income forgone by the
caregiver parent. Entering the workforce one year later also has
implications for lifetime earnings and remittances to governments.
School-entry policies could be a useful tool in increasing student
achievement, but the short- and long-term impacts need to be better
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.
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
External school leaving exams raise student
achievement and improve how grades are understood in the labor market
Reaching the policy goal of improving student
achievement by adding resources to the school system has often proven
elusive. By contrast, ample evidence indicates that central exit exams
constitute an important feature of a school system’s institutional
framework, which can hold students, teachers, schools, and administrators
accountable for student outcomes. While critics point to issues such as
teaching test-only skills, which may leave students ill-prepared for the
real world, the evidence does not bear this out. Overall, central exams are
related to better student achievement, favorable labor market outcomes, and
higher economic growth.
Generous parental leave and affordable,
high-quality childcare can foster children’s abilities
The economic and psychological literatures have
demonstrated that early investments (private and public) in children can
significantly increase cognitive outcomes in the short and long term and
contribute to success later in life. One of the most important of these
inputs is maternal time. Women’s participation in the labor market has risen
rapidly in most countries, implying that mothers spend less time with their
children and that families rely more on external sources of childcare. This
trend has raised concerns, and an intense debate in several countries has
focused on the effectiveness of childcare policies.
What are the implications of childcare subsidies
for care quality, family well-being, and child development?
Most public expenditure on childcare in the US is made through a federal program, the Child Care and Development Fund
(CCDF), established as part of landmark welfare reform legislation in 1996.
The main goal of the reform was to increase employment and reduce welfare
dependence among low-income families. Childcare subsidies have been
effective in enabling parents to work, but apparently at some cost to the
well-being of parents and children.
Smaller classes are often associated with
increased achievement, but the evidence is far from universal
Numerous economic studies have considered the
relationship between class size and student achievement, the majority of
which have focused on elementary schools in the US and Europe. While the
general finding is that smaller classes are associated with increased
student achievement, a few high-quality studies find no relationship.
Further, empirical research on the costs and benefits of smaller classes
concludes that other education policies, such as tutoring, early childhood
programs, or improving teacher quality would be better investments.
Subsidized childcare fosters maternal
employment, but employment status, childcare quality, and availability
Women’s labor force participation has rapidly
increased in most countries, but mothers still struggle to achieve a
satisfactory work−life balance. Childcare allows the primary caregiver,
usually the mother, to take time away from childrearing for employment.
Family policies that subsidize childcare and increase its availability have
different effects on female labor supply across countries. For policymakers
to determine how well these policies work, they should consider that policy
effectiveness may depend on country-specific pre-reform female employment
and earnings, and childcare availability, costs, and quality.
Increased stakes in educational achievement
explain why today’s anxious parents engage in intensive parenting styles
Parents now engage in much more intensive
parenting styles compared to a few decades ago. Today’s parents supervise
their children more closely, spend more time interacting with them, help
much more with homework, and place more emphasis on educational achievement.
More intensive parenting has also led to more unequal parenting: highly
educated parents with high incomes have increased their parenting
investments the most, leading to a growing “parenting gap” in society. These
trends can contribute to declining social mobility and further exacerbate
rising inequality, which raises the question of how policymakers should