J-PAL Post-Primary Education Initiative launched

The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) has launched a Post-Primary Education Initiative intended to promote policy and relevant research on secondary and post-secondary education in developing countries, which together will be referred to as post-primary education.

A new paper titled, ‘Expanding Access and Increasing Student Learning in Post–Primary Education in Developing Countries: A Review of the Evidence’, was launched in April 2013 and is a first step in that process. Different countries define primary and secondary schooling differently, and in many countries students attend middle schools, upper primary schools, or junior secondary schools before attending secondary school. For the purpose of this review, “post-primary education” is taken to include everything from upper primary, middle, or junior secondary school through tertiary education, as defined by the local context in different countries, including vocational school and other alternative tracks for this age group. In practice, this means that in the research  reviewed, the majority of children are in 5th grade (i.e. 10-11 years old) and older.

The review found that low learning levels have been reported for students at start and end of secondary school. These disappointing learning outcomes are reported despite many countries having made big investments in secondary education. Poor learning levels could be inherited from primary education, with children not being up to grade level in areas including literacy and mathematics. The lack of suitable teachers and the elitist nature of secondary level education are also cited as factors. In total 56 Papers were included in final review. A few select key findings include:

  • Enrollment is sensitive to the cost of schooling, borrowing constraints, household income, and incentives
  • Small changes in Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) design can increase value for money
  • Performance incentives for students appear effective (limited evidence)
  • Students are often misinformed about the benefits of schooling
  • Students complete more school when given accurate information about opportunities

Now the review is published, the initiative is calling for proposals from J-PAL affiliates and post-docs for both pilot studies and full research projects. For more information, please see the Post-Primary Education section of the J-PAL website.

Finding ways to deliver and promote access to high-quality, labour market relevant post-primary education is one of the great challenges of our times. International reports such as ‘A Global Compact on Learning‘, by the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution, emphasize providing opportunities for post-primary education as a first-tier policy challenge.

J-PAL was established in 2003 as a research centre at the Economics Department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Since then, it has grown into a global network of researchers who use randomized evaluations to answer critical policy questions in the fight against poverty. J-PAL’s mission is to reduce poverty by ensuring that policy is based on scientific evidence, and research is translated into action.

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