Primary Schooling, Student Learning, and School Quality in Rural Bangladesh-Working Paper 349
Using a primary school curricular standard basic mathematics competence test, this paper documents the low level of student achievement amongst 10-18 year old rural children in Bangladesh and tests the extent to which years spent in school increases learning. Our sample includes children currently enrolled in school as well as those out of school. About half of the children failed to pass the written competence test, a finding that also holds for those completing primary schooling. Even after holding constant a wide range of factors such as household income, parental characteristics, current enrollment status, and a direct measure of child ability, there remains a statistically significant correlation between schooling attained and basic mathematics competence above and beyond primary school completion. This pattern is more pronounced for girls who have lower competence compared to boys despite higher grade completion. We further show that the schooling-learning gradient and the gender gap therein are not explained by common differences in family background. Aggregate institutional indicators of school quality matters for overall learning outcomes, however, does not mitigate against the gender gap. These findings have wide implications for anti-poverty policies that emphasize on quantitative expansion of education in developing countries, without concurrent improvements in learning.
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