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.
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.
Education benefits individuals, but the societal benefits are
likely even greater
Formal schooling increases earnings and provides other
individual benefits. However, societal benefits of education may exceed individual benefits.
Research finds that higher average education levels in an area are correlated with higher
earnings, even for local residents with minimal education. Science, technology, engineering,
and mathematics (STEM) graduates appear to generate especially strong external effects, due to
their role in stimulating innovation and economic growth. Several strategies to test for
causality find human capital externalities do exist.
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.
Student sorting into classes complicates policies that utilize peer effects to optimize educational outcomes
The role of social interactions in modifying individual behavior is central to many fields of social science. In education, one essential aspect is that “good” peers can potentially improve students’ academic achievement, career choices, or labor market outcomes later in life. Indeed, evidence suggests that good peers are important in raising student attainment, both in compulsory schooling and university. Interventions that change the ability group composition in ways that improve student educational outcomes without exacerbating inequality therefore offer a promising basis for education policies.