Shari Krishnaratne on what works in education in developing countries

In this short video, Shari Krishnaratne summarises a 3ie working paper that she co-authored, titled ‘Quality education for all children? What works in education in developing countries’. Along with her colleagues, Howard White and Ella Carpenter, Shari analysed the evidence from 75 studies of a range of school interventions. The interventions analysed included conditional cash transfers, school fee subsidies, distribution of teacher and learning aids, investment in additional teachers, new schools, early childhood development programmes, school feeding programmes and community-based school management. The paper presents evidence indicating which interventions work in getting children into school in developing countries, keeping them there, and ensuring that they learn whilst there.


When Shari wrote this working paper she was an Evaluation Officer with the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie). She is now a research fellow in the Department of Social and Environmental Health Research at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). She is also the Communications Officer for the LSHTM Centre for Evaluation. Shari completed her MSc in Public Health Nutrition at LSHTM in 2011. Prior to that, she obtained her MPH in International Health from the Boston University School of Public Health. She is the Editor of the Nutrition Review Group under the Campbell Collaboration for Systematic Reviews and an Associate Public Health Nutritionist with the Association for Nutrition in the UK.

Key findings

Key findings from the working paper include that overall, interventions to get children into school and improve learning outcomes work. However,  different interventions are needed to improve learning that are needed to get children into school and of course some work better than others.

Other key points are as follows:

  • Conditional cash transfers increase school enrolment and attendance, but have no overall impact on children’s test scores (though the evidence base is not that broad for learning outcomes).
  • School fees subsidies improve enrolment and progress in school, while merit-based scholarships increase learning.
  • Distributing teaching and learning aids in school has no impact on school attendance and language test scores of children. However, computer-based learning offered in addition to the regular school curriculum has positive impacts on mathematics test scores.
  • Investing in additional teachers, new schools, early childhood development programmes, community-based school management and school-feeding programmes looks promising in boosting schooling outcomes.

However, not all interventions had significant results, though this may be due to the limited number of studies. While several interventions, such as teacher resources, new school buildings, early childhood development and school-feeding programmes, had positive effects on schooling outcomes, more studies are needed to confirm these findings.

Evidence Matters, a policy brief produced in collaboration with the IDS Knowledge Services, draws out policy recommendations from the working paper and provides direction for programme design and implementation. It contains relevant messages on the impact of education interventions that address both demand and supply side challenges.

Howard White, Executive Director of 3ie and co-author on the working paper, wrote a piece for HEART blog page titled ‘How will they ever learn? What works to improve education in developing countries’. Howard states that the findings of the working paper surprised him as he had expected to see a significantly positive average treatment effect (the overall average impact of the interventions being assessed) for enrolments and possibly attendance. He writes that he thinks most children in most schools in most countries are not learning enough, but the study shows what needs to be done about it.

Shari can be followed on twitter – @SKrishnaratne

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