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What’s the latest in development economics research? Microsummaries of 150+ papers from NEUDC 2018

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Last weekend, the North East Universities Development Consortium held its annual conference, with more than 160 papers on a wide range of development topics and from a broad array of low- and middle-income countries. We’ve provided bite-sized, accessible (we hope!) summaries of every one of those papers that we could find on-line. Check out this collection of exciting new development economics research!

The papers are sorted by topic, but obviously many papers fit with multiple topics. There are agriculture papers in the behavioral section and trade papers in the conflict section. You should probably just read the whole post.

If you want to jump to a topic of interest, here they are: agriculture, behavioral, climate change, conflict, early child development, education, energy, finance, firms and taxes, food security, gender, health and nutrition, households, institutions and political economy, labor and migration, macroeconomics, poverty and inequality, risk management, social networks, trade, urban, and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH).

Can technology enable effective teacher coaching at scale?

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Teachers are important. And many teachers in low- and middle-income countries would benefit from support to improve their pedagogical skills. But how to do it? Again and again, evidence suggests that short teacher trainings – usually held in a central location – don’t do much of anything to improve teacher practice. Likewise, much teacher training is overly theoretical and doesn’t translate into practical pedagogical improvements.

Providing teachers with one-on-one coaching is a popular alternative. A coach comes to the classroom, observes the teacher, and provides practical feedback. It makes sense. As Kotze and others put it (in turn paraphrasing earlier authors), “Teachers only learn to do the work by doing the work, and not by being told to do the work, or being told how to do the work, or being told that they will be rewarded or punished for outcomes associated with the work.” A recent review of U.S. evidence shows big impacts of coaching on both teacher practices and on student learning. But those big effects are concentrated in small-scale programs: Effects tend to be much smaller when implemented at scale. Outside a high-income environment, a teacher coaching pilot in South Africa compared coaching to a more traditional training at a central location. Students whose teachers received coaching learned twice as much as students who teachers received training.  

But implementing coaching at scale presents a number of challenges. First, it’s costly. Second, where do you find the coaches? Technology has the potential to help. In a follow-up experiment, researchers in South Africa compared on-site coaching to “virtual coaching” to compare effectiveness. Initial results have just come out in Kotze, Fleish, and Taylor’s “Alternative forms of early grade instructional coaching: Emerging evidence from field experiments in South Africa.”

Growing or fading? The long-run impacts of educational interventions

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Also available in: Français

Many education investments focus on the first years of primary education or – even before that – early child education. The logic behind this is intuitive: Without a solid foundation, it’s hard for children and youth to gain later skills that use those foundations. If you can’t decipher letters, then it’s going to be tough to learn from a science textbook. Or even a math textbook. But it’s important to remember that for most “investors” (whether governments or parents or the children themselves), the most basic skills aren’t the ultimate goal. The objective is better life outcomes. Most of the justification for these early interventions are that they will translate into better lives once these children grow up.

How to attract and motivate passionate public service providers

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In Gaile Parkin's novel Baking Cakes in Kigali, two women living in Kigali, Rwanda – Angel and Sophie – argue over the salary paid to a development worker: "Perhaps these big organisations needed to pay big salaries if they wanted to attract the right kind of people; but Sophie had said that they were the wrong kind of people if they would not do the work for less. Ultimately they had concluded that the desire to make the world a better place was not something that belonged in a person's pocket. No, it belonged in a person's heart."
 
It's not a leap to believe – like Angel and Sophie – that teachers should want to help students learn, health workers who want help people heal, and other workers in service delivery should want to deliver that service. But how do you attract and motivate those passionate public servants? Here is some recent research that sheds light on the topic.
 

What’s new in education research? Impact evaluations and measurement – January 2018 round-up

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Here is a selected round-up of recent research on education in low- and middle-income countries, with a few findings from high-income countries that I found relevant. This is mostly but not entirely from the “economics of education” literature. If I’m missing recent articles that you’ve found useful, please add them in the comments!

What is education good for?
  • Education saves lives, but only some of them! “Education is strongly associated with better health and longer lives.” But is that mere correlation, or is a causal link? It depends! This review finds no impact on obesity, inconsistent impact on smoking, and “an effect of education on mortality exists in some contexts but not in others, and seems to depend on (i) gender; (ii) the labor market returns to education; (iii) the quality of education; and (iv) whether education affects the quality of individuals’ peers” (Galama, Lleras-Muney, and van Kippersluis).

What do we learn from increasing teacher salaries in Indonesia? More than the students did.

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Money matters in education. Recent evidence from the United States shows that increased education spending results in more completed years of schooling and higher subsequent wages for adults. Spending cuts during the Great Recession – also in the U.S. – were associated with reduced student test scores and graduation rates.

The Earlier the Better? Timing and Type of Investments to Mitigate Early-Life Shocks: Guest post by Valentina Duque

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This is the seventeenth, and penultimate, of this year’s job market series.
 
Research question and motivation
 That early-life events can affect adult outcomes is now well established. Lifelong health, education, and wages are all shaped by events of the in-utero and early-childhood environments (Barker 1992Cunha and Heckman, 2007Almond et al., 2017). To the extent that adverse shocks can often not be prevented, a key task for researchers and policymakers is to ascertain the potential for and degree of mitigation: Could investing in children's health and education help reduce gaps caused by early-life adversities?
 
In my job-market paper, we study whether the returns on human capital investments on children differ by exposure to adverse early-life shocks. We focus on two shocks that significantly affect households in developing countries: adverse weather shocks -- i.e., floods and droughts, which reduce children's initial skills--, and the introduction of conditional cash transfers (CCTs), which provide monetary subsidies to families with young children conditional on investments in children's health and education. In particular, we provide empirical evidence on how the effects of CCTs on children's long-term educational outcomes interact with children's early-life exposure to adverse weather shocks.

What’s the latest in development economics research? A round-up of 140+ papers from NEUDC 2017

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Did you miss this year’s Northeast Universities Development Consortium conference, or NEUDC? I did, unfortunately!

NEUDC is a large development economics conference, with more than 160 papers on the program, so it’s a nice way to get a sense of new research in the field.
Thankfully, since NEUDC posts submitted papers, I was able to mostly catch up. I went through 147 of the papers and summarized them below, by topic. If a paper you loved or presented isn’t in the rundown, feel free to add a brief summary in the comments. (Why 147 instead of 160? I skipped a few macro papers and the papers that weren’t posted.)

These links should take you to your topic of interest: Agriculture, cash transfers and asset transfers, credit and insurance, crime, conflict, violence, and war, culture, norms, and corruption, education, elections and political economy, firms, governance, bureaucracy, and social capital, health (including WASH), jobs (including public works), marriage, methodology, migration, mobile phones and mobile money, poverty, inequality, and shocks, psychology, taxes, and traffic.

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