- “Josephine, who cooked every day for the Taylor soldiers who raped her,” and
- “a terrified Mary Warner [who] strapped her four-year-old son on her back and ran from place to place, finally pressed up against a gate outside the United Nations compound, desperately seeking shelter,” and
- Louise Yarsiah, who was leading a group of women in prayers for peace when Charles Taylor’s security chief showed up. Yeaten’s soldiers drew their guns, and Yarsiah’s women kept praying. Ultimately, the soldiers stood down.
Ben Piper reports on insightful work that he and co-authors have done comparing various education technology intervention in Kenya in terms of both effectiveness (do they improve reading ability?) and the cost-effectiveness (what’s the cost per reading gain?).
When compared to traditional literacy programs, the more intensive ICT interventions did not produce large enough gains in learning outcomes to justify the cost. This is not to say that each of the ICT interventions did not produce improvements in students’ reading ability…. [But] the cost-effectiveness of all of these programs might still be significantly lower than a clear investment in high quality literacy programs…. In additional to monetary cost, an opportunity cost existed…. Many of the teachers, tutors, and students lacked exposure to technology and the time and energy spent on learning how to use the technology reduced the amount of time for instructional improvement activities.
When costs are considered, there are non-ICT interventions that could have larger impacts on learning outcomes with reduced costs; one such option could include assigning the best teachers to the first grade when children are learning how to read, rather than to the end of primary school as many schools do.
Economists will disagree with the standard errors if I understand the specification right: Randomization is at the district level and I don’t believe the authors cluster the standard errors.
But I don’t think that will change the fundamental message here: Even if there are some gains from education technology, we have to ask when they will be most likely to be worth the cost.
A new paper by Paul Christian and Brian Dillon poses this question: “Does a consistently seasonal diet during childhood have long-run effects on human capital formation?” They use Tanzania’s Kagera Health and Development Survey — a 19-year panel survey — to answer the question. As you can see from the figure below, Tanzania has dramatic seasonality: Children have very different access to food in some parts of the year than in others.
Christian and Dillon develop a structural model — which you can read all about in the paper — and use the household data to estimate it.
Here is a taste of the results:
We find a robust, negative relationship between consumption seasonality and human capital formation. Across specifications, the negative relationship between seasonality and human capital is 30-60% of the magnitude of the positive relationship between average consumption and human capital (in the same units). … The effects of seasonality on height is greatest for children in utero and during infancy, during the critical first 1,000 days of life. Effects on education are most pronounced for older children, suggesting that behavioral channels such as dropping out of school to help on the farm are more important in this sample than early life impacts on cognitive performance. When we further allow for heterogeneity by both age and gender, we see that the height effects during infancy are concentrated among girls, while the education effects during adolescence are largely driven by boys.
A new study was just published in the Review of Educational Research: Identifying Effective Education Interventions in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Meta-Analysis of Impact Evaluations, by Katharine Conn from Columbia University. Here is a subset of findings (emphasis added):
I identify educational interventions with an impact on student learning in Sub-Saharan Africa. After a systematic literature search, I conducted a meta-analysis synthesizing 56 articles containing 66 separate experiments and quasi-experiments and 83 treatment arms…. A key finding is that programs that alter teacher pedagogy or classroom instructional techniques had an effect size approximately 0.30 standard deviations greater than all other types of programs combined. Limited evidence further suggests that pedagogical programs that employed adaptive instruction or teacher coaching were particularly effective.
In case you don’t have access, the earlier, open-access dissertation version has the same sample and the same findings reported in the abstract.
That version was one of six reviews that Anna Popova and I synthesized in our paper What Really Works to Improve Learning in Developing Countries? An Analysis of Divergent Findings in Systematic Reviews (open-access version).
“A researcher [mtafiti] is an important person because he indeed is the one who discovers everything [anayegundua kila kitu].” – Mzee Thomas Inyassi
Melissa Graboyes describes how research participants in Tanzania see the medical researchers who come to them for samples and information. On the one hand, “East Africans noted the similarity between researchers and doctors: they both gave out medicine and helped the sick recover.” On the other hand…
As healers and witches are understood to rely on the same skills, once researchers were compared with healers, it was not such a stretch to compare them to witches. … Witch doctors often work at night and want blood. … Researchers also worked at night, collecting blood samples by going door to door or collecting night-biting mosquitos by walking around in the bush. For both witches and researchers, blood was valued above all other substances and its use was shrouded in secrecy.
This, from Graboyes’ intriguing book The Experiment Must Continue: Medical Research and Ethics in East Africa, 1940-2014.
Lest you think this is limited only to medical research, consider the following passage from Kremer, Miguel, and Thornton’s randomized evaluation of a girls’ scholarship program in western Kenya:
There is also a tradition of suspicion of outsiders in Teso, and this has at times led to misunderstandings with NGOs there. A government report noted that indigenous religious beliefs, traditional taboos, and witchcraft practices remain stronger in Teso than in Busia (Were, 1986).
Events that occurred during the study period appear to have interacted in an adverse way with these preexisting factors in Teso district. In June 2001 lightning struck and severely damaged a Teso primary school, killing 7 students and injuring 27 others. Although that school was not in the scholarship program, the NGO had been involved with another assistance program there. Some community members associated the lightning strike with the NGO, and this appears to have led some schools to pull out of the girls’ scholarship program. Of 58 Teso sample schools, 5 pulled out immediately following the lightning strike, as did a school located in Busia with a substantial ethnic Teso population. (Moreover, one girl in Teso who won the ICS scholarship in 2001 later refused the scholarship award, reportedly because of negative views toward the NGO.)
Witches or healers?
One take away from this is that researchers need to do more to make sure participants understand what they are participating in.
How do cash transfers conditioned on health clinic visits and school attendance impact health-related outcomes? Examining the 2010 randomized introduction of a program in Tanzania, this paper finds nuanced impacts. An initial surge in clinic visits after 1.5 years—due to more visits by those already complying with program health conditions and by non-compliers—disappeared after 2.5 years, largely due to compliers reducing above-minimal visits. The study finds significant increases in take-up of health insurance and the likelihood of seeking treatment when ill. Health improvements were concentrated among children ages 0–5 years rather than the elderly, and took time to materialize; the study finds no improvements after 1.5 years, but 0.76 fewer sick days per month after 2.5 years, suggesting the importance of looking beyond short-term impacts. Reductions in sick days were largest in villages with more baseline health workers per capita, consistent with improvements being sensitive to capacity constraints. These results are robust to adjustments for multiple hypothesis testing.
This is a deep analysis of the health investments and impacts stemming from cash transfers in Tanzania. Here are some other resources from the same experiment:
- An open access working paper version of the attached paper is available here (which is substantively the same as the published version), and a summary blog post is here.
- A broader analysis of program impacts (beyond health) is available here. A quick summary of those results is available here.
- All of the data from the Tanzania community-based conditional cash transfer evaluation are available here.