Research

Education Executive Summary

Published on
2019-12-20
Written by
Callum Calvert
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Education Executive Summary and Giving Recommendation

This is a summary of our cause area report on Education. The full report can be found here, and the giving recommendations based on this research are Educational Initiatives, Iodine Global Network and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition's Universal Salt Iodization

In the US, only religion receives more philanthropic funding as a sector than education. This is due not just to the area’s popularity with donors, but also because the cause area of education is incredibly broad. There are many forms of education, but all of them share the same fundamental goal: provide people with skills and knowledge, which will then provide a host of benefits both to students and to others. In this report we aim to find the best donation opportunities within education and compare them with the best opportunities in other areas.

Cause overview

The first section provides an overview of the main forms of education, levels of education around the world, the main skills education can bring about, and the main sources of funding.

Levels of funding and education around the world

Unsurprisingly, education levels and spending are both lowest in low-income countries. Whereas virtually everyone in high-income countries can read and write, literacy levels in low-income countries are around 60%. Around 10–100x more money is spent on each student in high-income countries than in low-income countries. Given this, we think it usually makes sense for donors to focus on low-income countries.

The benefits of education

The second section examines the main benefits of education. The most commonly proposed benefits of education are increased productivity, improved health, reduced crime, improved citizenship and female empowerment. Each of these is beneficial to both the recipient of education and to others in society. We judge income from increased productivity and reduced child marriage to be the most important of these, although the benefits of education are hard to assess because they occur so long after schooling takes place, and because education is correlated with lots of other important traits, such as socioeconomic status, that might be the true cause of the benefit.

The best interventions

The third section looks at which interventions are most cost-effective. We include interventions that increase intelligence even if they are not conventionally educational, because the benefits of intelligence overlap so heavily with the benefits of education. Overall, the interventions that we think stand out are salt iodisation programmes, which increase IQ by reducing iodine deficiency, and ‘Teaching at the Right Level’ interventions, which aim to teach to the current level of the student rather than their age or class.

Other particularly promising interventions are:
• Building low-cost schools in areas where access to education is very low
• Merit-based scholarships
• Providing households with information on the returns to education
• Low-cost ways of encouraging additional stimulation for young children
• Iron supplementation
• Research to find and evaluate new approaches to improving education

Salt iodisation programmes

Iodine deficiency, which affects around 250 million children, reduces IQ by around four points. Salt iodisation programmes, which consist of salt manufacturers fortifying their salt with iodine, are a cheap and effective solution to this problem. Our analysis of salt iodisation programmes is based heavily on the work of our research partner GiveWell in the area.

Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL)

Many pupils in low-income countries learn very little even when they are in school. One reason for this is because teaching is often mis-calibrated to the student's level of education: a student who has not yet mastered addition might sit through a class on multiplication and learn nothing. Teaching at the Right Level is a pedagogical approach that solves this problem by teaching to the current education level of the student, rather than the level laid out by the curriculum. This can take the form of tracking pupils by ability for small parts of their education, remedial classes for underperforming pupils or personalised software that targets content to the user’s level.

Charity recommendations

The charities we recommend within education are:
• Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN)’s Universal Salt Iodization (USI) programme
• Iodine Global Network
• Educational Initiatives

Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) - Universal Salt Iodization (USI) programme

What do they do?

GAIN carries out a wide range of activities to try to achieve universal salt iodisation. These include advocacy, technical assistance, supplying equipment, training government officials and salt producers, and monitoring.

Does the intervention work?

Salt iodisation programmes effectively increase iodine levels. A systematic review found that nearly all programmes featured increased iodine levels. GiveWell has investigated the evidence and believe there is a reasonably strong case that countrywide salt iodisation efforts have successfully reduced iodine deficiency.

Do they effectively deliver the intervention?

GiveWell reviewed GAIN’s work in Ethiopia and concluded that GAIN's activities likely played a role in the increase in access to iodised salt in the country, but they do not yet have confidence about the extent of GAIN's impact.

Are they cost-effective?

We estimate that GAIN is more cost-effective than the best conventional education charities we know of, though these calculations are uncertain.

Is there room for funding?

GAIN believe they could use an additional $2 million per year. This would most likely be used to focus on high-burden countries including Nigeria, Egypt and India.

Iodine Global Network (IGN)

What do they do?

Iodine Global Network (IGN) aims to reduce iodine deficiency globally by advocating for national salt iodisation programmes, tracking progress, and providing global and country-specific guidance on related issues.

Does the intervention work?

Salt iodisation programmes effectively increase iodine levels. A systematic review found that nearly all programmes included increased iodine levels. GiveWell has investigated the evidence and believes there is a reasonably strong case that countrywide salt iodisation efforts have successfully reduced iodine deficiency.

Do they effectively deliver the intervention?

Organisations that partner with and fund IGN claim that the organisation’s work is often important to achieving the implementation of iodisation policies. GiveWell has not been able to fully document demonstrable impact but believes they may have had significant impact.

Are they cost-effective?

We estimate that IGN is more cost-effective than the best conventional education charities we know of, though these calculations are uncertain.

Is there room for funding?

IGN have told us they could use an additional $1.2 million in 2020. This would likely be used mainly to engage with food industry groups, convene large salt producers and recruit additional national coordinators.

Educational Initiatives (EI)

What do they do?

Education Initiatives (EI) produce an ‘adaptive-learning’ software program called Mindspark that tailors questions to the user and deploys it in low-income government schools in India.

Does the intervention work?

One completed experimental study has shown that Mindspark improves learning outcomes. A second on-going experimental study has shown that placing Mindspark in schools improves learning outcomes, though the full results have not yet been released.

Do they effectively deliver the intervention?

EI provide the intervention effectively, is highly focused on ensuring its programme leads to learning outcomes and is sophisticated in the way it monitors and evaluates its impact. EI have achieved political buy-in for the programme and are well placed to scale the intervention within India.

Are they cost-effective?

We estimate that EI’s low-income school programme is about as cost-effective as the best conventional education charities we know of but less cost-effective than our recommended salt iodisation charities.

Is there room for funding?

EI believe they could absorb an additional $10 million in the next 12 months, and $30 million in the subsequent year. This would be used to scale Mindspark in five states where they have agreements in place with the government, covering roughly 100,000 government schools.

Callum Calvert

Author

Callum joined the research team in spring 2018. Before joining Founders Pledge, Callum worked as a quantitative analyst at a hedge fund. He holds a First Class MMath in Mathematics from the University of Warwick.