Scholarships: the impact and effectiveness for disadvantaged children and girls

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Helpdesk Query:

What is the evidence of the effectiveness and impact of school-level scholarships for disadvantaged children/girls on:

  1. targeting/uptake
  2. participation/retention/completion
  3. education performance/learning achievement
  4. longer term outcomes/benefits

What is the evidence of the importance and effectiveness (including cost effectiveness) of particular scholarship items and support processes in particular circumstances?


This report outlines a number of different scholarship, stipend and cash transfer programmes (CCTs). Evidence on the effectiveness and impact is mixed. Most programmes increase enrolments but the impact on learning is less clear.

Programmes that aimed to get girls into schools were successful in that aim. Scholarship programmes that target the poor generally have the aim of improving equality in enrolments and retention. They do not directly address learning. Merit-based scholarship programmes, however, are more likely to see improvements in learning but less likely to reach the most disadvantaged. Research found scholarships in Cambodia led to great improvements in enrolment and attendance but that learning did not improve. Results suggest that the self-selection of lower-ability students into school in response to the programme is an important part of the explanation.  A recent learning review finds CCTs play an important role in reducing inequality of education opportunities but suggests that supply-side interventions to improve school quality are needed alongside.

Case study examples in this report include:

  • Expanding access to secondary education in Ghana
  • Girls’ Scholarship Programme in Kenya
  • Bangladesh primary education stipend programme
  • Bangladesh female secondary school stipend project
  • Scholarships in Nepal
  • PROGRESA, Mexico
  • Bolsa Escola/Familia, Brazil
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