In July 2020 the Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) published a Policy Insight, Providing Information to Students and Parents to Improve Learning Outcomes, that looks at the learning gains that can be achieved through overcoming information asymmetries. This briefing is especially useful given our current climate where many schools remain closed and learning has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic; it is a time when information dissemination and parental engagement is even more important than ever.
In this article, REAP’s five cited publications help shape the discourse around learning barriers children face globally. REAP studies that contributed to this Policy Insight include REAP’s work on anemia in school children and the analysis of drop-out rates in middle- and high-school students in rural China. However, like REAP’s approach, the Policy Insight highlights the need to address multiple barriers to improve learning outcomes across the world.
Many children struggle to master basic skills despite a rise in school enrollment around the world. For instance, India’s 2018 Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) found that only about half of all grade 5 students in rural India could read a grade 2 text . Assessments showed similar results in many other countries . Programs providing information—about parents’ roles in education, school quality, students’ academic levels, students’ health problems, financial aid, and wage returns to education—attempt to address this lack of learning by making relevant information more available to parents and students.
Results from 23 randomized evaluations from low-, middle-, and high-income countries show that overcoming a gap in knowledge about education often increases parental engagement, student effort, or both, leading to improved learning outcomes. Almost all of the programs in this insight led to an increase in parental involvement or student motivation, which led to small to medium increases in learning. However, disseminating information has not improved learning levels when key health, financial, or structural barriers persist that information alone cannot overcome or when the information is discouraging, rather than encouraging, to students.
Because information-based interventions are typically very low cost and have been effective in many contexts, policymakers interested in increasing learning outcomes should consider if there are gaps in parent or student knowledge that they can overcome.