Education is an important focus in many countries’ aid policies. Research shows that education is a good investment in the future on all levels, also to promote gender equality.

Magnus Hatlebakk, senior researcher at the Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI) has done a review of the existing literature on aid interventions. Read our short Q&A with Magnus on the effect of aid interventions in the education sector. 


-Why does it pay off to invest in the educational sector in developing countries?

-A number of studies conclude that returns from investing in education are substantial on a private level, even more for women than for men. We lack robust estimates for the overall effects on the economy. But we know that investment in education is necessary for long run development. Any level of education, including primary education, increases productivity and incomes when the children grow up.  An educated population is a prerequisite for future economic growth.

People in developing countries know the importance of education and are increasingly prioritizing investments in their children’s education, including for girls. Donors have at the same time increased their contributions to education. This makes it hard to separate the effects of aid from domestic and private efforts. Nepal is a good example. There has been a dramatic surge in the number of girls attending school, a clear objective in aid policies worldwide. Targeted aid might have had an effect, but a combination of public spending and private investments is undoubtedly a crucial factor. Still; more will to invest in education on a private level should not rule out continued aid. Education yields positive results, in particular for girls as education empower women both in the labor market and within the family.


-Which aid interventions are the most efficient?

-In some countries and regions, there is still a need for basic investments in infrastructure like school buildings and libraries. For others, investments in further training for teachers and pedagogical quality is the most effective. Absentee teachers is also a problem in some countries. In order to deal with such challenges, it may help to establish local monitoring systems, such as local school boards. But this does not necessarily imply that money should follow, there is a risk of local elite capture if donors become too active at the local level. At present it appears that investment in the quality of teacher training and incentives for girls to go to school are effective ways to spend aid money.


-Direct cash transfer programmes have turned out to be successful in combating poverty. Are they also efficient in the educational sector?

-Yes, ongoing programmes in several countries show that cash transfers to families who cannot afford to send their children to school are effective, especially for girls. Cash transfers do not necessarily affect the children’s grades and exam results, but increase school attendance. The lack of robust impacts on school results may reflect the low quality of education in many countries.

Magnus Hatlebakk

Senior Researcher; Coordinator: Poverty Dynamics