Advancing Girls’ Education in Niger

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Carolyn Perrin, MCC Senior Program Officer in the Monitoring and Evaluation Division

MCC’s investment in school infrastructure in Niger helped improve academic outcomes, especially among girls, according to a new impact evaluation by Mathematica Policy Research.

Mathematica found that MCC’s IMAGINE (IMprove the educAtion of Girls in NigEr) project in Niger raised primary school enrollment and attendance for children ages 6 to 14. Children living in villages with IMAGINE schools were 8.3 percentage points more likely to report having enrolled in school during the prior school year (2012–2013) and 7.9 percentage points less likely to report being absent more than two consecutive weeks than those living in comparison villages. Seventy-two percent of girls were enrolled in primary school in villages with IMAGINE schools, which is 11.8 percentage points higher than in comparison villages. The evaluation also revealed that IMAGINE schools had more classrooms, more finished classrooms and higher quality classrooms than schools in comparison villages.

Worldwide, there are 62 million girls who are not in school — half of whom are adolescents. Through its ongoing education work in partner countries like Niger, Georgia and Morocco, MCC supports the goals of the U.S. Government’s Let Girls Learn initiative to help adolescent girls complete their education. Historically in Niger, as in other parts of the world, boys have a much higher rate of school enrollment than girls, possibly due to cultural factors and the often significant role girls play in carrying out household chores. IMAGINE’s impacts on school enrollment, absenteeism and test scores were larger for girls. Impacts on math and French test scores for girls, for example, were consistently large and statistically significant.

The IMAGINE project was part of MCC’s $16.9 million Niger Threshold Program, and the investments covered by the evaluation were completed prior to December 2009. As part of the IMAGINE project, MCC invested in school construction using finished materials such as concrete, on-site housing for female teachers, and separate bathrooms for girls and boys. The project also included complementary activities like the provision of textbooks. The MCC-funded program was supervised by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by child rights organization Plan International in collaboration with Volontaires pour l’Integration Educative and Aide et Action. Data collection was conducted approximately three years after school construction was completed.

Mathematica’s evaluation of the IMAGINE project has several implications for interventions aimed to advance girls’ education. First, it suggests that appropriately targeted infrastructure improvements and complimentary investments can make schools more “girl-friendly,” resulting in improved educational outcomes for girls. Second, higher quality school infrastructure may be an important factor in parents’ decision to enroll their children in school as well as in encouraging more consistent attendance. And third, multi-year evaluations of education projects like this one are critical, as academic improvements may not be fully evident until years after school construction or other project-related activities are completed. In this case, the evaluation completed just one year after school construction found a small positive impact on enrollment, but no effect on attendance or test scores. Yet after three years, enrollment, attendance and test scores all showed positive change.

The U.S. Government, recognizing the importance of supporting girls’ education in Niger, continued its engagement through the Niger Education and Community Strengthening (NECS) project, implemented by USAID. The NECS project continued and complemented investments begun under the IMAGINE project and is the subject of a separate impact evaluation, with the final evaluation report expected in 2017.

Building upon the strong partnership developed under the threshold program, MCC has signed a $437 million compact with Niger designed to strengthen the country’s agricultural sector by improving water availability, infrastructure and market access.

On September 22, in honor of the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly, MCC joined with partners to co-host an event in New York City to celebrate the recently signed Niger Compact and discuss the importance of food security and the continued need for inclusive growth. The celebration included a conversation between Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou and MCC CEO Dana J. Hyde.