Panel Paper: Assessing the Impact of Economic Empowerment Interventions and Programs on Educational Outcomes of Orphaned Adolescents

Saturday, November 4, 2017
Comiskey (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Gwyneth Kirkbride1, Proscovia Nabunya2, Phionah Namatovu3, Christopher Ddamulira3, Flavia Mulindwa3 and Fred Ssewamala1, (1)Columbia University, (2)New York University, (3)International Center for Child Health and Asset Development

Growing up as an orphan – defined as a child who has lost one of both parents – impacts on the overall health and well-being of a child, including educational outcomes. Particularly, orphans made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS (hereafter AIDS-impacted orphans) are at a high risk of poor educational outcomes compared to non-orphans or those orphaned due to other causes. Studies have shown that lack of school attainment and poverty share a reciprocal relationship with one leading to the other. In an effort to address the relationship between poverty and education, the Ugandan government implemented Universal Primary Education (UPE) – as one of the government’s main policies for achieving socio-economic and human development. While the UPE intended to make primary education accessible and affordable by abolishing school fees, families still bear the financial costs of school lunches, uniforms, books and related expenses, which can be prohibitive for the most vulnerable families, especially orphaned children.

This paper evaluates a 5-year program (2011-2016) (N=1410) with potential policy implications for strengthening UPE and improving children’s educational outcomes. The program, called Bridges to the Future, was specifically focused on addressing the impact of an economic empowerment intervention on the economic, social and health outcomes of AIDS-impacted orphans. In this paper, we compare the educational outcomes of participants randomly assigned to one of three study arms; control, and two treatment arms Bridges and Bridges Plus. The two treatment arms provided participants with an economic empowerment intervention in terms of matched savings for post primary education or microenterprise development. The Bridges arm provided a 1:1 match and the Bridges Plus provided a 2:1 match. School achievement was measured by scores from the Primary Leaving Examination (PLE), a national standardized examination taken by all students completing Primary school 7, the last grade in primary school before joining secondary school. PLE scores are divided into five groups from the highest performance (division one) to the lowest (failure) and are used to determine whether a child moves on to secondary school. School attainment was measured through participants’ transition from primary school to secondary or vocational school.

Results indicated overall higher PLE scores for treatment group participants over control. Of those participants who took the PLE (n=856), 59% of Bridges and 51% of Bridges Plus participants achieved the top two divisions compared with 34% of control group participants. School attainment was also higher in the treatment groups. Specifically, by the fifth year of the study 46% of Bridges and 44% of Bridges Plus participants had moved on to secondary or vocational school compared to 32% of control group participants.

These findings suggest that programs which target financial insecurity may have a positive impact on the educational achievement and attainment of orphaned adolescents, in particular AIDS-impacted orphans. Results point to the need to consider incorporating economic empowerment interventions within the development of educational policy.