October 26, 2018
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No matter where, education is a must for development. School attendance is basic, of course, but regular school attendance is hard to achieve, sometimes due to the sociocultural context, others because of lack of motivation. And when it comes to motivation, both parents and students can have their own positions.

That is why Christine Valente, PhD in Economics of the University of Bristol, and Damien de Walque, Senior Economist in the Development Research Group of the World Bank, tried to know “how to improve policies that aim increasing school attendance, especially in developing countries”, as Valente said at the presentation of their paper Incentivizing School Attendance in the Presence of Parent-Child Information Frictions, in a seminar at the University of Navarra on October 22nd.

“The main originality of the paper is that we are trying to understand basically how decisions within the household are made through some kind of interactions between the parents and the children,” explained Valente, who did the research involving 173 schools of Mozambique.

“Theory tells us that incentivizing the children may be more effective than incentivizing the parents,” she stated. After trying several methods to foster school attendance, the researchers found that just by giving information to parents about the attendance of their children increased how much they assisted to classes by 7%, and giving information of their own attendance plus vouchers to the students to redeem for products increased attendance by 13%. Both methods worked better than just giving cash to the parents.

However, the initial success of education doesn’t come directly through school attendance, but through learning, and the starting point of both is motivation. About this, the field work in Mozambique led to the conclusion that “incentivizing the girls about their own attendance also improved the learning, in math specifically”, instead of “simply incentivizing the parents with cash”, as Valente affirmed. Giving cash to parents in this kind of programs “is a very popular plan in developing countries”, and according to their research it increased attendance, but didn’t increase learning.

Finally, for all this to be possible, it is necessary to structure it through political implications, which is a long-term objective that could be focused on the students. This would also imply a lower cost if it involves giving students information rather than cash to parents, according to Valente: “If the objective of the policy makers is simply to increase attendance and to improve learning, then where there are enough funds to consider incentivizing either parents or children, it might be preferable to incentivize the children themselves.”