Expert Commentary

Village-based schools: Evidence from a randomized controlled trial in Afghanistan

2012 paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research on how village schools affect attendance rates and academic achievement.

According to a United Nations study, more than 40 million school-age girls around the globe were not receiving any type of formal education. The problem is particularly acute for young women in sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania and Western Asia, the result of of political instability and corruption, poor infrastructure, and cultural practices that keep young women and girls out of school. The 2012 Taliban attack on a young Pakistani girl illustrated the dangers that education advocates often face in such countries.

A 2012 study for the National Bureau of Economic Research, “The Effect of Village-Based Schools: Evidence from a Randomized Controlled Trial in Afghanistan,” analyzed the impact of a pilot community school program in the country’s rural villages on academic achievement and attendance. The researchers evaluated more than 1,470 children ages 6 to 11 from 31 villages in northwestern Afghanistan; the students attended either a traditional government school or a village-based school. Two surveys in the fall of 2007 and the spring of 2008 captured demographic information; researchers also interviewed parents and collected data on math and language academic achievement of students attending the two types of schools. Village and traditional schools were found to be of comparable quality, with the primary difference being how far the schools were from students’ homes.

Key study findings include:

  • The village school program significantly increased overall enrollment levels, with approximately 27% of students enrolled in traditional schools and about 74% enrolled in village schools. Winter attendance for village schools rose; the region’s harsh climate proved less of a deterrent for those enrolled in a school closer to home.
  • Village school attendance was associated with higher student test scores in both math and language compared to their peers in traditional schools.
  • “While boys benefit significantly from the [village school] program, the benefits accrue much more strongly to girls — so much so, that placing schools in the villages virtually eliminates the gender gap in enrollment and reduces the test score gap by a third after only one academic year of treatment.” Parents typically wary of allowing their daughters to travel alone to attend a traditional school for safety reasons were more willing for them to attend nearby village schools.
  • The distance between home and school influenced enrollment levels, with enrollment dropping significantly for schools located more than 1.5 miles from home. “Distance affects girls more than boys — girls’ enrollment falls by 6 percentage points more per mile (19 percentage points total per mile) and their test scores fall by an additional 0.09 standard deviations (0.24 standard deviations total per mile).” Distance to school also adversely impacted test scores.

The researchers noted girls benefit disproportionally from village schools, with increased enrollment rates and improved test scores: Indeed, “the net effect … is that placing a school in each village dramatically reduces the existing gender disparities.”

Tags: children, youth, rural

About The Author