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Copenhagen Consensus Center

Bangladesh Priorities: Education, Rabbani

Research by economist Atonu Rabbani of the University of Dhaka suggests several worthwhile strategies that could improve public education in Bangladesh, and one is most promising of all: so-called psychosocial stimulation to help young children overcome stunting.


Strategy Takas of benefits per taka spent
Psycho-social stimulation for stunting 18
Group and teach according to ability 12
On-the-job management training 5

The analysis examined a 20-year study launched in 1986 in Jamaica. At the beginning, stunted children lagged behind in both learning and productivity compared to non-stunted kids. During the course of the program, stunted children were visited weekly by education social workers, who led play sessions to develop cognitive, language, and psychosocial skills. The visits lasted for two years, and the social workers also taught the mothers of the children how to do the same stimulating activities with their children.

After 20 years, the psychosocial activities had helped children in the program completely make up the gap to their non-stunted peers, as demonstrated by their equal wage and earnings levels. Stunted children who were not part of the program, however, earned 25 percent less than the wages of the treated and non-stunted groups.

When translated to Bangladesh, the cost of such a program is one hour per week for a social worker for each child, which would equal Tk 12,450 per child each year. And the benefits turn out to be incredible. An estimated wage increase of nearly 20 percent is worth more than Tk 1.5 million (Tk 15 lakh) for each child over their working career. Each taka spent on psychosocial stimulation programs for early education of children would do 18 takas of benefits.

Other strategies that the research examined held promise to do good as well. “Streaming,” or reassigning students into groups according to their levels of educational attainment, has shown promise to increase student achievement in a cost-effective manner. The expert conservatively estimates that in Bangladesh, every Tk 7,800 spent on reassigning students according to their achievement levels could increase student test scores by nearly two standard deviations, which is correlated with earning higher future wages. Each taka spent toward these efforts would do about 12 takas of good.

On-the-job training for managers could also help increase firm productivity and the wellbeing of employees, especially in sectors like the readymade garment industry, where schooling levels are actually lower for many new supervisors and managers. Each taka spent on this sort of training would do 5 takas of good.

Bangladesh could pursue various investments in schooling, but concentrating on early childhood education in particular holds great promise for her future.