What’s the Latest Research on Education and Health in Africa? A Round-up from CSAE 2020

This week was supposed to be the annual conference for the Centre for the Study of African Economies at Oxford. But you’re not there! If you’re like us, you’re at home, simultaneously trying not to catch COVID-19 and constantly reading about it! But development challenges across the African continent abound far beyond the current pandemic. So take a break from coronastressing and survey the impressive array of work that researchers are doing on education and health in Africa. We summarize more than 80 studies, including many on other topics with impacts on health or education. Of course, two or three lines often can’t capture the fullness of a study, so if we’ve piqued your interest, we encourage you to follow the links to learn more. Many researchers are sharing their own CSAE papers on Twitter using the #DIYCSAE hashtag, so we encourage you to check those out as well!

Click on any section below to expand the paper summaries.


The returns to and benefits of education

  • “Using a unique sample of 1,048 market vendors in Western Uganda, I provide evidence of 7 percent returns to formal education for the non-agricultural self-employed.” (Lehmann-Uschner)

  • In South Africa, simple estimates of the returns to education may be biased downward. (Samahiya)

  • Free primary education policy in Ethiopia led to an increase in schooling of about three-quarters of a year and a reduction in poverty for those young enough to benefit during their entire educational career. (Siameh)

  • Starting school one year later in Indonesia “leads to between 0.24–0.32 standard deviation (SD) increase in cognitive abilities 30 years later.” (Gaduh and Singhal)

  • Using data from 21 African countries, the study finds that “exposure to free primary school significantly increases women’s education attainment by 1.4 years. The extra schooling substantially decreases child mortality by at least 6 percent and has a small but non-negligible protective effect on child health.” (Ayibor and Chen)

  • In Vietnam, having your child reach the age of eligibility for kindergarten “increases the probability of women having a wage-earning job by 41 percentage points and increases the probability of their having a formal job by 26 percentage points.” (Dang, Hiraga, and Nguyen)

School management

  • A program to improve the management of schools in India with assessment, school improvement plans, regular follow ups and support, and technology to make progress visible led to … no impact on teacher absence, teacher effort, or student learning. (Muralidharan and Singh)

  • Here’s a new approach to measuring school management “using existing public data,” applied to “15,000 schools across 65 countries” (plus almost every public school in Brazil). “A strong, positive relationship between school management and student learning.” (Leaver, Lemos, and Scur)


  • In India, “women disproportionately enrol in lower paying majors such as the humanities and social science, and even conditional on major, female science graduates disproportionately select into lower paying occupations… Women are much less likely to believe they will enjoy coursework in science and economics, and predicting lower grades for themselves in these courses as well.” (Dasgupta and Sharma)

  • In Somalia, some classes got a visit from a female role model, others from a male role model. Six months later, “significant effects of male and female role models on aspirations to attend college or vocational training.” And this is cool: “a significant and positive impact of female role models on boys’ attitudes toward female participation in education and the labor market.”  (Kipkech et al.)

  •  “A life-skills programme targeting adolescent girls in Rajasthan” (India) increased school attendance and reduced early marriage. (Andrew et al.)

  • For girls in India, “starting menses before age twelve decreases school enrollment by 13%... Better-nourished girls typically reach menarche earlier, and if menarche impedes schooling, their gains due to better nutrition may be undercut.” (Khanna)

  • “Having an older sister improves younger siblings’ vocabulary and fine motor skills by more than 0.1 standard deviations” in Kenya. (Jakiela et al.)

  • Going to see the movie Queen of Katwe in Uganda improved test pass rates for secondary school students, especially for girls and lower ability students. (Riley)

  • In Ethiopia, a randomized evaluation of a gender norm transformation program is underway, with different arms testing programming for girls, that plus programming for boys and parents, all those plus strengthening systems, and all those plus assets for girls. Looking forward to the results! (Jones et al.) [Registered reports are good for science but anticlimactic to report on.]

  • More education for women in Zimbabwe led them to marry more educated men. (Salcher)

  • Having kids earlier in life “had a large, negative, and significant marginal effect on literacy and educational attainment” for the mothers in Cameroon, Uganda, Ghana, and Gabon. (Burger et al.)

Education technology

  • What happens when you give Wikipedia access to secondary school kids in Malawi (who otherwise don’t have internet access)? “A small positive impact on Biology and English exam scores, and no impact on other subjects. The average treatment effects on both Biology and English are driven by a large impact for low achievers.” (Derkson, Leclerc, and Souza)

  • An education technology program in Angola increased student motivation and their familiarity with technology. It may even have reduced teacher absenteeism, but it doesn’t seem to have boosted test scores. (Cardim, Millán, and Vicente)

  • Education technology together with teacher professional development and community involvement improved student learning in rural Zambia. (de Hoop et al.)


  • Pay-for-performance contracts for teachers in Rwanda improved student test scores, both from selection of better candidates and increased effort. (Leaver et al.)

  • Some teachers in South Africa participated in traditional on-the-job training and others in a coaching program. A year later, both remember what they learned, but only coached teachers still do that they learned. (Cilliers et al.)

Socio-emotional skills

  • Two kindergarten programs in the Philippines: one dramatically improved primary school academic performance, the other—not so much. Why? The effective program improved measures of “grit, self-identity, openness, and conscientiousness.” (Bloem and Wydick)

  • A 90-minute growth mindset intervention for secondary school students in Peru showed strong test score impact for students outside the capital, but not for those in the capital. (Outes-León, Sánchez, and Vakis)

  • “Children attending an additional hour of school and studying outside school instead of work or leisure significantly improve their non-cognitive skills” across four countries: Ethiopia, India, Peru, and Vietnam. (Chang)

Post-secondary and getting jobs

  • In South Africa, “training workseekers to join and use” an online professional networking platform “increases the end-of-program employment rate from 70 to 77% and this effect persists for at least twelve months.” (Wheeler et al.)

  • A program that blends training in competencies valued in the local labor market with traditional university curriculum in Rwanda increased short-term employment, although students from traditional universities eventually caught up. But earnings and hours remained higher for participant students. (Bier et al.)

  • Entrepreneurship training for underemployed Rwandan youths “has positive effects on employability and employment in the short term” but “after two years we only find modest effects…marginally significant.” (Alcid et al.)

Electricity and education

  • “In Kenya … no evidence that electricity affects test scores or enrollment in the short run. However, offgrid electrification increases completion by 1%.” (Koima)

  • “While household electrification” in Tanzania “significantly increases the time spent watching TV, it has a small effect on the time spent studying and doesn’t decrease time spent on household chores and work.” (Choumert-Nkolo)

Other topics

  • In Rwanda, “a positive impact of the school feeding program on student test scores.” (Mensah and Nsabimana)

  • India’s school feeding program “improved the nutritional intake of urban households but not for rural households.” (Law and Fraser)

  • In Angola, visiting parents at home increased parent involvement with their students at home. Holding parent meetings at school increased involvement at—you guessed it!—school. (Di Maro et al.)

  • Kids from Ethiopia, India, and Vietnam who migrate at older ages may have lower test scores, although it’s not true for Peru. (Gavonel)

  • A reading catch-up program in South Africa may exacerbate inequality among learners. (Schöer and Oyenubi)


Child health and nutrition

  • A community-based parenting program in Sierra Leone “reduced the incidence of wasting by 3.4 percentage points.” The intervention also improved parenting practices, increased fathers’ participation and reduced incidence of violent and physical punishments. (Chandra et al.)

  • Positive income shocks in oil-rich countries do not translate to significant improvement in child mortality. What reduces child mortality? Female labour participation. (Animashaun)

  • In Kenya, “weather shocks experienced early in life reduces a child’s height for age and weight for age.” However, “receiving a cash transfer buffers the negative effects of weather shocks.” (Ongudi)

  • In Uganda, receiving remittances through mobile money transfers during droughts and floods “encourages the utilization of facility delivery and skilled birth attendance.” (Egami and Matsumoto)

  • Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Program did not improve “household food insecurity and child chronic undernutrition despite its positive impact on child acute undernutrition.” (Bahru et al.)

  • Should cash transfers go to mothers or to both parents? In Tanzania, “mothers allocate more to children than do couples,” driven by food and clothing spending. But “couples allocate more to children’s health expenditures.” (Almås et al.)

  • In Guatemala, a program providing nutrition information to mothers alongside health worker visits and food supplementation reduces probability of children being underweight. (Milovich and Villar)

  • In India, a community-based social accountability intervention led to “improvements in immunization rates, treatment of childhood diarrhea, and institutional delivery rates, with some evidence of improvements in child nutritional outcomes, but no effects on child mortality.” (Mohanan et al.)

  • Lesotho’s Child Grants Programme and partner project “improved nutritional status of young children” through “expanding … homestead gardening activities,” attendance to nutrition sessions and access to microfinance schemes. (Daidone, Pace, and Prifti)

  • “When offered a pure discount on child investment goods, all parents, rich and poor, respond rationally by spending more on them. However, triggering financial concerns leads to a divergence in their response: richer parents continue to demand more of child investment goods, but poorer parents shift purchases to household necessities, away from child investment goods and also personal goods.” Evidence from the UK. (Burlacu et al.)

Fertility and sexual health

  • Hearing sex education-related information from near-peers reduced “pregnancy by over 40 percent” whereas having “government teachers” as messengers had “a null effect and potentially” increased pregnancy of teenagers in Botswana. (Angrist)

  • In Madagascar, a community-based health worker program “decreased the probability of conception among women in treated areas,” but it didn’t work for women in remote areas. (Herrera-Almanza and Rosales-Rueda)

  • In Africa, fertility rates drop by as much as 5.1 percent after natural disasters (e.g., droughts or floods). (Norling)

  • In Namibia, extending social pensions “substantially reduced fertility, especially in late reproductive life.” (Rossi and Godard)

  • In Mozambique, “simply (and effectively) informing women about underlying pregnancy risk increases stated intentions to use contraception substantially.” (Miller, de Paula, and Valente)

  • Providing free contraceptive vouchers to women in Burkina Faso without the husband in attendance increased use of the vouchers by women in monogamous unions but not by women in polygynous unions. (d'Exelle et al.)

  • HIV testing appointments are effective in getting high-risk men in Malawi tested. Financial commitment devices also work, but are less effective than appointments. (Derksen et al.)

More Gender Issues

  • “Globally the number of missing women is underestimated by about 30%.” (Wilde)

  • Women who were adolescents in Taliban-administered provinces in Afghanistan “show greater acceptability to wife-beating” while men in the same provinces “are more likely to justify wife-beating.” (Maity)

  • In Nigeria, one year after cash transfers were given to women, intimate partner violence increased by 6 percentage points. But providing both cash transfers to women and a community livelihoods program decreased intimate partner violence by 13 percentage points. (Cullen, Gonzalez-Martinez, and Papineni)

  • In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a program aimed to engage men and reduce intimate partner violence improved “quality of relationship” and reduced some “negative male behavior” but did not reduce intimate partner violence. (Vaillant et al.)

  • Locations most affected by the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria have “higher rates of controlling behaviors from husbands/partners and reductions in women’s agency, proxied by women’s decision-making” than locations not affected by the insurgency. (Ekhator-Mobayode and Hanmer)

  • In Africa, “women belonging to ethnic groups whose ancestors were traded in the Red Sea route” are more likely to have experienced female genital cutting. (Corno, Ferrara, and Voena)

  • In Malawi, increasing women’s bargaining power can decrease “the likelihood that a family member contracts malaria by about 40%.” (Klein, Barham, and Wu)

  • In Malawi, when you ask women how good the quality of their health care, they tend to report it as being better than direct observations suggest. (Mchenga)

Health spending

  • “The overall benefits of public health spending on health care providers are pro-poor in Cameroon.” (Fambon, Mbiagzi Ndjeudji, and Kanwa)

  • If you’re from the part of the country that the health minister was born in, your region gets more health aid, and your newborn is more likely to survive. Based on data from 45 African countries. (Widmer and Zurlinden)

Household food, nutrition, and health

  • In Kenya, households spent most of their cash transfers on food even when food prices rose. Families’ food baskets diversified, but the real value of the food they consumed didn’t go up. (Dietrich and Schmerzeck)

  • In Sudan, “households affected by floods/ droughts experience a 5.3 percent decrease in consumption per capita relative to those not affected by shocks. They also experience a significant decrease in their assets and are more likely to be poor and have a low dietary diversity.” (Etang and Touray)

  • The impact of microcredit in Ghana “is extensive, heterogeneous and high on health, food, and overall welfare.” (Amanor)

  • Privatization of copper mines in Zambia led to higher rates of chest infection. Communities living near underground mines experienced worse health indicators than those living near open pit mines. (Kalunga)

Health workers

  • In South Africa, when doctors “no longer have an incentive to recommend efficient treatment” (because patients have insurance), “they choose inappropriate drugs more frequently, and choose drugs that are more expensive, resulting in significantly more expensive treatments.” (Lagarde and Blaauw)

  • In Guinea-Bissau, a program giving non-financial incentives to community health workers show that increasing social status via “an honorific award for good performance” increases knowledge of health practices, increases household visits and improves vaccination rate for children under five. (Fracchia, Molina-Millán, and Vicente)

User fees and prices

  • Abolition of user fees in South Africa during the early years of an individual “reduced the likelihood of mental distress by 13 percent” when they became adults and “increased prenatal and early life parental investment in newborn children.” (Nwokolo)

  • In a surprising result, user fees for health care in Nigeria are associated with higher demand for health care (and longer wait times). (Olasehinde, Osakede, and Adedeji)

  • “Applied to the South African health care market our analysis strongly recommends policy measures that would increase the competition on the supply side. In contrast, policy measures that aim at a further concentration on the demand side–as the implementation of a National Health Insurance currently discussed by South African policy makers–do not have any positive price effect in our model.” (Picard and Zimper)

Health crises

  • During the Ebola crisis in Liberia, “having access to [cell phone] coverage leads to a 10.8 percentage point reduction in the likelihood that a village has an Ebola case. Results are driven by villages affected by Ebola after a hotline was introduced for citizens to obtain help and report cases.” (Gonzales and Maffioli)

  • In Côte d’Ivoire, “a medical emergency decreases the likelihood that a smallholder farmer cultivates cocoa by 3.9 percentage points, drives them into poverty, and decreases the productivity by 10.5 percentage points… Medical emergencies can decline cocoa exports by $922 million and tax revenues by $135 million.” (Picone, Kimou, and Kanga)

Mental health and stress

  • In Kenya, “cash transfers increase investment, revenue from investment, and proxies for economic welfare.” A psychological intervention designed to increase aspiration increased “household labour supply, technology adoption, and revenue” but did not change financial investments. (Orkin et al.)

  • Some households received cash, some received psychotherapy, and some received both. Cash transfer recipients had “higher consumption, asset holdings, and revenue, as well as higher levels of psychological well-being and mental health.” The psychotherapy had “no measurable impacts … at this time horizon” (one year later). (Haushofer, Mudida. and Shapiro)

  • Adolescents and young adults in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have very high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, but that doesn’t predict a higher likelihood of subsequently committing violent acts. (Carleial et al.)

  • In Kenya, “stress decreases competitiveness among men” and “stress of high-stakes environments is unlikely to account for men’s high taste for competition.” (Esopo et al.)

Water, sanitation, and waste management

  • Effective collection of waste and waste management in Ghana “reduces the number of days hospitalized due to ill health and health expenditure.” (Martey)

  • A “transnational water transfer project” in South Africa “increased water availability and reduced hot-season mortality in receiving districts.” (Hyde)

  • In Mozambique, “using a better-quality toilet was associated with substantially higher… sanitation-related quality of life” and mental well-being. (Ross et al.)

  • Providing community toilets and hygiene information in slums in India increased individuals’ awareness of health risks and improved hand-washing practices, but did not increase willingness to pay. (Armand, Bancalari, and Augsburg)

Something different

  • In Cameroon, regulating “noise emitted by the revival churches” increases well-being of the surrounding community. (Bodjongo)

Author order for this blog post was determined randomly.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.