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Holy alliances: public subsidies, Islamic high schools, and female schooling in Bangladesh


  • Mohammad Niaz Asadullah
  • Nazmul Chaudhury


This paper documents the experience of incentive-based reforms in the secondary Islamic/madrasa education sector in Bangladesh within the context of the broader debate over modernization of religious school systems in South Asia. Key features of the reform are changes of the curriculum and policy regarding admission of female students. In return to formal registration and curriculum modernization, madrasas receive financial aid from the government towards teacher salary. Using a cross-sectional census data-set (containing current and retrospective information) on formal secondary schools and madrasas, we first point out that a significant fraction of the existing post-primary registered madrasas today comprises of 'converts'; that is, formerly all-male, unregistered religious schools that previously offered traditional, religious education. Furthermore, these madrasas have embraced female students in recent years following the introduction of yet another incentive scheme, namely a conditional cash transfer scheme for secondary girls. Drawing upon school enrolment data aggregated at the region level, we show that regions that had more (modernized) madrasas were more likely to achieve gender parity in secondary enrolment during 1999-2003, holding the number of secular secondary schools constant. This finding highlights the previously undocumented role played by religious schools in removing gender disparity in rural Bangladesh.

Suggested Citation

  • Mohammad Niaz Asadullah & Nazmul Chaudhury, 2009. "Holy alliances: public subsidies, Islamic high schools, and female schooling in Bangladesh," Education Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 17(3), pages 377-394.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:edecon:v:17:y:2009:i:3:p:377-394 DOI: 10.1080/09645290903142593

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Leigh, Andrew, 2010. "Estimating teacher effectiveness from two-year changes in students' test scores," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 29(3), pages 480-488, June.
    2. Carneiro, Pedro & Heckman, James J., 2003. "Human Capital Policy," IZA Discussion Papers 821, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    3. James J. Heckman & Jora Stixrud & Sergio Urzua, 2006. "The Effects of Cognitive and Noncognitive Abilities on Labor Market Outcomes and Social Behavior," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 24(3), pages 411-482, July.
    4. Eric A. Hanushek & Steven G. Rivkin, 2006. "School Quality and the Black-White Achievement Gap," NBER Working Papers 12651, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Steve Bradley & Mirko Draca & Colin Green & Gareth Leeves, 2007. "The magnitude of educational disadvantage of indigenous minority groups in Australia," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 20(3), pages 547-569, July.
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    Cited by:

    1. Murata, Akira & Nishimura, Naoki, 2016. "Youth Employment and NGOs: Evidence from Bangladesh," Working Papers 124, JICA Research Institute.
    2. M. Niaz Asadullah & Rupa Chakrabarti & Nazmul Chaudhury, 2015. "What Determines Religious School Choice? Theory And Evidence From Rural Bangladesh," Bulletin of Economic Research, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 67(2), pages 186-207, April.
    3. Asadullah, M. Niaz & Chaudhury, Nazmul, 2011. "Poisoning the mind: Arsenic contamination of drinking water wells and children's educational achievement in rural Bangladesh," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 30(5), pages 873-888, October.
    4. Asadullah, Mohammad Niaz & Chaudhury, Nazmul, 2010. "Religious Schools, Social Values, and Economic Attitudes: Evidence from Bangladesh," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 38(2), pages 205-217, February.
    5. repec:bla:ausecr:v:49:y:2016:i:4:p:432-452 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Mohammad Niaz Asadullah, Nazmul Chaudhury, 2013. "Primary Schooling, Student Learning, and School Quality in Rural Bangladesh-Working Paper 349," Working Papers 349, Center for Global Development.
    7. M. Niaz Asadullah, 2016. "The Effect Of Islamic Secondary School Attendance On Academic Achievement," The Singapore Economic Review (SER), World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd., vol. 61(04), pages 1-24, September.
    8. Niaz Asadullah, Mohammad & Chaudhury, Nazmul & Dar, Amit, 2007. "Student achievement conditioned upon school selection: Religious and secular secondary school quality in Bangladesh," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 26(6), pages 648-659, December.
    9. Asadullah, M. Niaz & Savoia, Antonio & Mahmud, Wahiduddin, 2014. "Paths to Development: Is there a Bangladesh Surprise?," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 62(C), pages 138-154.
    10. Asadullah, M Niaz & Chaudhury, Nazmul, 2016. "To madrasahs or not to madrasahs: The question and correlates of enrolment in Islamic schools in Bangladesh," International Journal of Educational Development, Elsevier, vol. 49(C), pages 55-69.
    11. M. Niaz Asadullah, 2016. "Do Pro-Poor Schools Reach Out to the Poor? Location Choice of BRAC and ROSC Schools in Bangladesh," Australian Economic Review, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, vol. 49(4), pages 432-452, December.
    12. Antoninis, Manos, 2014. "Tackling the Largest Global Education Challenge? Secular and Religious Education in Northern Nigeria," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 59(C), pages 82-92.


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