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MIT School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences - Great Ideas Change the World

Research Portfolio :: Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL)

How can we improve education worldwide?



Providing evidence to guide policy

Great gains have been made in getting young children to enroll in primary school, but many still don’t attend regularly. Worldwide, an estimated 115 million children are not going to primary school.

The United Nations-led global commitment to achieving universal primary education by 2015 has directed a lot of resources toward this problem. But often, policy-makers have had to move forward with little solid evidence on how to achieve their goals.

Making the world a better place
Researchers at the School’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) are working to take the guesswork out of poverty alleviation programs by providing the scientific evidence needed to guide global policy. Cited by the New York Times as a prime example of how economics can “make the world a better place,” J-PAL uses methods similar to those used in medicine—systematic, randomized evaluations—to test the effectiveness of development programs, including education initiatives.

New ideas and experiments
“If we are to make any progress against poverty, we have to be ready to experiment with new ideas, on a scale modest enough so that we can afford to fail and to admit failure,” says Esther Duflo, professor of economics and director of J-PAL. “The worst mistake we have been making over and over again (and we continue to make) is not to learn from past mistakes, and in fact not to give ourselves the chance to learn properly from experience.”

Improving health, increasing attendance
Among the many education programs that J-PAL researchers have tested, by far the most cost-effective one is to treat children for parasitic worms through in-school programs, since children with worms are often too tired to attend school. In Kenya, for example, J-PAL researchers Michael Kremer of Harvard University and Edward Miguel of UC Berkeley found deworming cut child absenteeism by 25 percent at a cost of only $3.50 per additional year of attendance.

Other initiatives that J-PAL has found help keep children in school include lowering costs associated with attending school by reducing fees or giving out free school uniforms, and incentivizing attendance by providing school meals or merit scholarships for high-performing girls.

Touching lives in 37 countries
In addition to tackling educational issues, J-PAL researchers are at work in more than 37 countries in Africa, Latin America, Asia, and Europe, helping to solve problems that range from fighting corruption in Indonesia to providing subsidized health insurance to families in Nicaragua, and improving immunization rates in rural Ind
ia.

 

kenyan schoolgirl

 

Kenyan schoolgirl 
Photograph by Aude Guerucci, 2007
© J-PAL, all rights reserved 



More about J-PAL 

Photo gallery of J-PAL's global projects