04 September 2013

Anti-social evidence-lite education advocacy

I'm trying to be a responsible sector specialist. As Owen Barder wrote way back in 2009.
we should, as a development community, heap scorn and opprobrium on anyone caught advocating for more resources in their sector. We need stronger social norms in development that frown upon this kind of anti-social behaviour.
We should be advocating for more resources for development, but these should be allocated across sectors by the best evidence not the best lobbying. We shouldn't be squabbling between ourselves over our pet projects. 

Sadly in the education sector not everyone seems to be on board with this message. Hugh Evans, the CEO of the Global Poverty Project, is fundraising for the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) this year.
Why? While achieving universal schooling by 2015 is a noble goal in and of itself, it must also be emphasised that investing in education is perhaps the most effective and quickest way to reduce poverty.
Uh oh... that sounds like a very confident statement. Does he have evidence for that? He has some:
Investing in education produces enormous yields. For instance, each additional year of schooling raises average annual gross domestic product growth by 0.37 per cent. Also, where the enrollment rate for secondary schooling is 10 per cent higher than the average rate for the population, the risk of war is reduced by around 3 per cent. And there is more and more evidence that proves increased access to education has significant flow on effects. Like the promotion of girls’ and women’s rights, falling infant mortality rates, and increased crop yields.
BUT. I'm pretty sure that all of that evidence he is referring to doesn't actually say anything about causality, and only really tells us something about correlations. There are no national-level experiments here. Countries that have higher rates of schooling may also have slightly faster growth, but we have known since the penis paper that looking at correlates of economic growth at the national level is mostly stupid. Countries with more schooling might indeed be less likely to be at war, but this DOES NOT prove that it was the schooling wot done it. The individual-level "micro" studies are generally more persuasive than the country-level "macro" studies, but even there most of them are looking at correlations rather than real or natural experiments.

Second - to make a statement that "education is perhaps the most effective and quickest way to reduce poverty" implies that you have also looked at the cost-effectiveness of all the other possible anti-poverty interventions. No discussion of that here.

And finally, no discussion at all of learning outcomes (see for example Schooling is not Education!). Keep up Hugh. 

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