Alleviating poverty through education

In 2019, Abhijeet Bannerjee, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer received the Nobel Prize in Economics for their experimental approach to alleviating poverty. Poverty is one of the biggest issues faced by mankind. It is associated with social problems such as malnutrition, poor education and health. Poverty alleviation is the method of systematically reducing poverty by improving peoples’ education and job opportunities and in turn drastically improve their standard of living.

Their approach was very simple. To tackle the big problem of how to remove poverty, break it down into smaller, manageable questions. Once you find those questions, try to answer each one of them with a field experiment. A field experiment is a randomized controlled trial in which participants make choices in their normal day-to-day environment. Some of these experiments were carried out to find out how exactly education plays a role in reducing poverty.

Michael Kremer rounded up a large number of schools that needed some kind of support and split them up into groups. These schools were given resources that they were not receiving before. These resources varied from textbooks to free school meals. The outcome of the resource distribution was randomised. Due to this, researchers could find a connection between the various types of resources and how it helped children learn better. Surprisingly, textbooks and free school meals proved to make no difference in the learning of the students. It was observed that lack of resources was not the major problem that the low-income schools were facing. The biggest problem was that the teaching happening in these schools was not in accordance with the students’ needs. Banerjee and Duflo analysed remedial tutoring in Mumbai and Vadodara by providing schools with teaching assistants who helped students that had special needs. They discovered that helping the weakest student was a very effective measure in increasing the quality of education.

These experiments showed us that teachers lacked incentive and accountability, which showed in a high level of absenteeism. Reforms had to be made to bring teaching in line with students’ needs and the experiments showed that extra resources are of very limited value.

After the field experiment, this is what Banerjee and Duflo had to say on education policy formation:

  1. They believe that if the cost of schooling decreases, it would lead to a sizeable increase in school enrolment. If some financial barriers and non -financial barriers (e.g: distance to school) are removed it would certainly result in better school participation,
  2.  Awareness about the benefits of education should be spread. If the underprivileged know that there is a wage gap between the educated and uneducated, they would certainly want to be educated. Providing information about jobs would lead to an increase in education investment.

3. More attention should be paid to weaker students. Teaching assistants should be provided to make sure all students are able to cope with the level of teaching and should ensure no child is left behind.

This was how field experiments in education proved to be useful in alleviating poverty.

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