Policies and Programs to Improve Secondary Education in Developing Countries: A Review of the Evidence

White Paper
Publisher: Princeton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research
Aug 01, 2017
Authors
Clair Null, Clemencia Cosentino, Swetha Sridharan, and Laura Meyer

Key Findings:  

  • Money is not a silver bullet—across different contexts, fee reductions, scholarships, and cash transfers have enabled some students to enroll or continue in secondary school, but other barriers continue to prevent many students from graduating. Moreover, these approaches mainly seem to be effective at increasing participation but not necessarily improving learning among enrolled students.
  • Connections to the labor market can incentivize youth and parents to invest in education. After three years of exposure to recruiting services for jobs in a female-dominated sector, girls in rural villages in India were more likely to be enrolled than they would have been in the absence of the program.
  • Despite the critical role of teachers, there is are no rigorous evaluations of programs that provide pre-service or in-service training to teachers or of programs that offer other forms of support to teachers from supervisors or peers.
  • Aside from a handful of small studies showing that more engaging teaching methods can improve learning in the short term, there is very little research on teaching methods, curricula, teacher characteristics, or school conditions and their impact on students’ participation and performance.
  • There is evidence on factors that can reduce the gender gap in school enrollment. In Bengal state (India), a quota that required one-third of councilors to be women provided girls with role models and had the side effect of completely erasing the adolescent gender gap in school enrollment, reading, and writing. In Bihar state (also India), providing female students with bicycles to address transportation barriers boosted female enrollment, reducing the gender gap and improving girls' scores on a state exam.
The Education for All movement and the adoption of free primary education in many countries will put significant pressure on secondary education systems in developing countries to serve more students and to do so more effectively. This white paper summarizes rigorous evidence on approaches to increasing participation, improving learning, and enhancing the relevance of secondary education in developing countries. It should be of particular interest to policymakers and implementers seeking to improve secondary school enrollment, quality and relevance.