The Puggle: October 2019 edition

In this October Puggle, we’re excited to share three newsworthy items from the world of Echidna Giving grantees that we think are significant for the broader field of girls’ education.

First, the development community celebrated as three of its own—Esther Duflo, Abhijit Banerjee, and Michael Kremer—won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for their “experimental approach to alleviating global poverty.” Although the award has attracted its fair share of critiques, research by Banerjee, Duflo, and Kremer has had a big influence on how we think about education, and girls’ education in particular. Here are just a few highlights of what we can learn from their work:

  • In an experiment in India, Duflo demonstrates that female role models can have a powerful effect on girls’ education. Under local female leadership for two election cycles, “The gender gap in adolescent educational attainment is erased and girls spent less time on household chores.”
  • Duflo and Kremer gathered experimental evidence from Ghana on the effect of free secondary education, demonstrating how critical it can be for girls, in particular. When secondary education is free, girls are more likely to complete secondary education, enroll in tertiary education, earn higher wages, and delay childbirth. Soon we’ll have evidence on how this influences education and learning outcomes for their own children. 
  • Through a series of experiments with Pratham, a large education NGO in India, Banerjee and Duflo, among others, discovered that teaching children based on their current levels of learning can lead to dramatic improvements in reading and math. “Teaching at the right level,” or TaRL for short, is now an approach to learning that at least a dozen countries have tried. 
  • Just as instruction must be targeted, so too must inputs. Kremer showed us that more textbooks in classrooms in Kenya did not make a difference for any students but the top performers—because they were the ones capable of reading English textbooks.

In addition to what the researchers have discovered, we are inspired by how they have worked with organizations as equal partners in an iterative learning approach. This account by Rukmini Banerji, CEO of Pratham, describes their decades-long partnership with Banerjee and Duflo. Congratulations to the laureates and the broader community of researchers, research assistants, field workers, and communities who have supported their work at J-PAL, IPA, and beyond!

Second, the girls’ education community gathered to hear what the latest cohort of Echidna Global Scholars at the Brookings Institution uncovered in their research… 

  • Samyukta Subramanian discovered that children form gender norms in preschool, that heretofore preschool policy in India (and elsewhere) has largely been gender-blind, and that India has a unique opportunity to lead the way on gender transformative preschooling as it expands preschool education. 
  • Nasrin Siddiqa highlighted how STEM education is crucial for building transferable skills and fulfilling Bangladesh’s ambitious economic development goals. She unpacked the systemic and socio-cultural factors that policymakers and practitioners need to overcome to give girls opportunities to fulfill their existing aspirations. 
  • And Anil Paudel looked at what it will take to increase the transition from school to work for girls in Bangladesh, with an emphasis on shoring up investments and participation in technical and vocational education and training (TVET). 

Listen to the Echidna Scholars describe their research in their own words on this podcast.

Third, the Harvard EASEL Lab launched the Explore SEL website launch with a set of tools and resources to navigate the complex field of social and emotional learning. On the site you will find 40 frameworks of social and emotional learning, including 25 that are influential internationally. You can look at individual frameworks, find out how each skill is defined, and visually compare how frameworks and specific skills relate to one another. For anyone trying to navigate the space of life skills, the website is an invaluable resource!

In addition to the above, we were interested to see new research on…

  • Language of instruction, from Cameroon to Kenya, highlighting the importance of teaching in mother tongue and testing in multiple languages to capture the cognitive development of children in multilingual contexts.
  • Private school operators, with new Evidence from Liberia and Nairobi Primary Schools and reflections on The Role of Private School Chains in Developing Countries.
  • Learning goals, with the World Bank launch of a new goal to cut the global Learning Poverty rate by at least half and observations from Girindre Beeharry at the Gates Foundation on what it will take to meet this “ambitious but worthy” goal. Karen Mundy, reflects on the history of learning targets and whether they are likely to shift policy winds.

We hope you find the developments above just as exciting as we do!