Educational System- Theory and Empirics from Africa

International Growth Centre, RA-2010-03-014
Principal Investigator: Miguel Urquiola


There is enormous variation in how countries structure their school systems to allow for competition and selectivity. For example, while most school systems feature public schools that are open to all, many also have public schools that select students based on testing performance. Additionally, many systems subsidize private/independent schools, but differ on what selectivity conditions these subsidies entail (e.g. Chile funds private voucher schools and allows them to select students using many criteria, while U.S. states fund charter schools but restrict their ability to choose students). Why is there such variety, and what would be an optimal design?

In ongoing research, we use economic theory to address these questions by studying the way in which education and labor markets interact. A first component of this project will extend this work, focusing on aspects which seem particularly relevant to Africa. In this case we will analyze how achievement is affected by:

• How school grades are divided into educational cycles.
• Whether and how performance in standardized tests mediates the transition between educational cycles. These issues may account, for example, for the low level of secondary enrollment in countries such as Ghana.
• Whether student performance on such tests is observed/used by employers and tertiary education institutions.
• How this affects the incentives faced by schools, for example, in keeping repetition high to select who takes exit exams for given educational levels (repetition rates are higher in Africa than elsewhere in the developing world).
• The extent to which admission into secondary and tertiary education is restrictive and meritocratic.

In short, the idea is to explore how the relationship between different educational and labor markets may be structured in a way that enhances parents’ demand for and schools’ supply of learning.

A second component of this project will be empirical in nature, and will at least initially be primarily descriptive. It will involve:

• Characterizing the structure of selected African educational systems. For instance,
whether transition exams are used, grade structure, the nature of tracking, and the
enrollment size of different educational levels.

• Describing the correlation between this structure and two relevant educational outcomes:

i) attainment in years of schooling, and
ii) attainment as measured by test scores.