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If you build it, will they come? School availability and school enrolment in 21 poor countries

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Increasing the supply of schools is commonly advocated as a policy to promote schooling outputs and outcomes. Analysis of the relationship between the school enrolment of 6- to 14-year-olds and the distance to primary and secondary schools in 21 rural areas of low-income countries (including some of the poorest countries in Sub-Saharan Africa) suggests that the two are often statistically significantly related. However, the magnitudes of the associations are small: simulating large reductions in distance yields only small increases in average school participation, and only small reductions in within country inequality. There are a number of reasons why this result might hold. Average effects might mask heterogeneity in the impact by initial distance to the nearest school, as well as by economic status; the existing quality of schools might be low and the simulation assumes that this would be the average quality of new schools; and the cross-sectional nature of the data make it hard to rule out that schools might be placed where they are 'most needed' which would bias the results towards zero. Sensitivity analysis suggests none of these drive the result: the results suggest that expectations for large overall increases in enrolment as a result of school construction should be tempered. They also suggest areas for more research to guide policy: in particular on the interaction between school quantity and quality; the potential importance of demand side subsidies; and the cost effectiveness of different approaches.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: The World Bank, Washington, DC, USA

Publication date: 2007-07-01

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