Working Paper 164 - Closing the Education Gender Gap: Estimating the Impact of Girls’ Scholarship Program in The Gambia
|Publishing Date||26/12/2012 15:37|
Description Universal primary education and the elimination of gender gap in enrollment rates are two of the targets in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Achieving these goals has been a high development priority for sub-Saharan African countries over the past decade. The challenges in this sector remain significant. Approximately 32% of primary school age children do not attend school and 34% of all youths do not attend secondary school in sub-Saharan Africa (UNESCO 2012). In addition, the adult literacy rate in Africa is 62%, which is far lower than the global average (84%). The ratio of female to male enrollment at secondary level is 79%. The reality in The Gambia is a microcosm of the situation in the region as a whole. While enrollment rates have risen recently in The Gambia, they have been historically low. Average net enrollment rates in the country between 1999 and 2007 for primary, middle and high school levels were on average 61%, 30% and 16% respectively. These low enrollment rates have persisted despite the high rate of returns to education in the country (Foltz and Gajigo 2012). This paper estimates the schooling impact of a nation-wide scholarship program for female secondary school students. The program is funded jointly by the Gambian government, UNICEF, World Bank and the IMF (though the HIPC program) to help the country reach the MDG targets of reducing gender disparity in secondary school enrollment. In the regions where the scholarship program was implemented, all girls attending public (government-run) middle and high schools were exempted from paying school fees, which used to be mandatory. The program started in 2000 in few districts and then expanded across the country geographically (from east to west). This gradual expansion of the program in the initial implementation phases provides a unique opportunity to rigorously assess the causal impact of the scholarship program on educational outcomes. We use two nationally representative household surveys that were carried out in 1998 and 2002/03. In 1998, the program had not been implemented while in 2002, about half of the districts in the country had benefited from the project. This makes it possible to analyze the schooling impact of the program using difference-in-difference strategy – an impact evaluation strategy that is almost ideal to this setting. The results show that the program had a significant enrollment effect on female students of all student-age groups. Specifically, the program led to approximately 8 to 9 percentage point enrollment increase in middle and high school female students. In addition, the enrollment effect of the program on girls at primary level is significantly positive (about 9 percentage points), suggesting that the removal of school fees caused households to further increase female primary school enrollment in anticipation of lower future costs. Years of schooling attained increased by 0.3 to 0.4 for female students. We found no significant schooling effect (enrollment and years of schooling attained) of the program on male students at any level (primary, middle or high school). The estimated results are robust to policy changes that occurred in the country during the period of the scholarship program implementation that could have affected student enrollment. For example, there was a significant expansion in school construction in parts of the country. This possibly confounding effect is addressed by controlling for the number of schools at the district level. This paper contributes to our understanding of the impact of abolishing school fees on enrollment and schooling attainment in Africa by providing precise estimates of the effects of user fee elimination for female students. This paper provides the first impact evaluation of enrollment of an almost nation-wide female scholarship program in Africa. More precise estimate of the impact of reducing schools is important for policy since it will enable governments to better assess the trade-offs involved in implementing similar policies.