Education is central to economic development and recognised as the Second Goal of the UN Millennium Development Goals. Many developing countries, including Bangladesh, which is the focus country of this project, have achieved impressive progress in primary school enrolment; however, there is evidence that the effectiveness of primary education is low in many cases. While Bangladesh has adopted various policy measures to improve incentives to attend primary school, there are still severe problems with low completion rates. Furthermore, poor cognitive skills are found among those who have completed primary education.
Our project sets out to investigate the impact of several novel programs targeting both pre-school children and their parents, with the goal of improving both short- and long-term outcomes of rural children in Bangladesh. Past research, such as that on the Perry Preschool Program, has demonstrated that the return to investment in high quality childhood education is substantial and that this is especially true for families from disadvantaged backgrounds. However, the vast majority of these programs are currently found in developed countries and it is uncertain whether these types of intensive programs can be effectively run in a poor developing country. Other research has shown that parenting skills are potentially as crucial as formal early life educational programs for child development. Again, this evidence is mainly from developed countries and no research has examined if this is true in the context of developing countries where many poor families have limited education themselves. Recent work has also shown that parental stress is a particularly important impediment to investments in children among the poor. Some researchers have argued that other investments, such as those in formal education, are unlikely to have benefits if parents are constantly worried about day-to-day stressors.
This project will use a randomized controlled trial (RCT) to evaluate the efficacy of four interventions designed to improve child outcomes in Bangladesh. In collaboration with the BRAC, we will develop the Bangladesh rural early childhood centre (BRECC). This centre will have many commonalities with the Chicago Heights Early Childhood Centre (CHECC) project that was successfully carried out in low-income areas of Chicago, IL between 2010 and 2014. The first intervention will establish a pre-school program that aims to prepare pre-primary students for formal school and provide them with the skills needed to succeed in life. The second intervention will also set up a 'Parent Academy' which will consist of a series of interactive workshops designed to assist parents in supplementing their child's school learning. The third intervention will provide them with monthly cash transfers in order to reduce the stress that these families face in dealing with unforeseen events and allow them to focus more on investing in their children. The fourth intervention will combine all three interventions to understand the role, relative efficacy and cost-effectiveness of each of the interventions.
These interventions will be designed so we can measure their impacts on a wide variety of outcomes including child health, cognitive development and non-cognitive skills (e.g., personality). Testing will be used to measure cognitive skills. We will also carefully measure the costs of each intervention so we can properly estimate the most efficient use of resources.
The field component of the project will be run by BRAC, one local researcher from the University of Dhaka, and research assistants and field staffs. The main program will be implemented over a two-year period in 200 randomly selected villages, with the intention of follow-up to measure the long-term consequences of the four interventions. We will survey around 6,000 children and their parents from these villages and the resultant database will be one of a kind for developing countries.