Evaluating the Impact of Academic and Economic Interventions on Student Learning Outcomes and Attendance in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: Evidence from the Randomized Controlled Trial of VasYFille!

To respond to the economic, social and educational barriers that have kept many poor rural Congolese girls from school, the IRC, in consortium with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and Save the Children International (SCI), received funding from the UK Department for International Development’s (DFID) Girls’ Education Challenge Fund (GEC) to implement the Valorisation de la Scolarisation de la Fille (VasYFille!) project in 400 schools of five provinces in the DRC from 2013-2017. The project’s goal was to ensure that 66,303 marginalized girls across the targeted provinces stay in school and that 44,662 girls demonstrate improved learning outcomes. 

VasYFille! developed three interventions to target in-school girls: 

  1. A school-level intervention that provided professional development opportunities for teachers delivering training modules approved by the Ministry of Education on teaching reading, writing and mathematics, as well as gender-sensitive pedagogy. The program provided school grants to parent-teachers associations to develop school improvement plans that responded to girls’ safety needs in and around schools, such as construction of separate latrines, and conducted information campaigns to promote on-time enrollment, championing the importance of education for boys and girls and combating socio-cultural barriers to girl’s education. 
    1. Scholarships: VasYFille! invested about 10.5 M USD in scholarships for over 75,000 girls on the basis of financial needs to help them overcome financial barriers to education so they could pay for school fees, uniforms and textbooks. 
  2.  
  3. Tutoring sessions: VasYFille! invested 3.9 million USD to provide tutoring services for girls in grades 3-6 at risk of dropping out due to academic performance. The program trained approximately 7,000 tutors who reached at least 4th or 5th grade of education, and provided them with relevant materials and a stipend of approximately 25 USD per month to hold tutoring sessions two or three times per week after regular classes. 

VasYFille! also created Accelerated Learning Programs (ALP) for 24,600 formerly out-of-school girls to give them access to quality non-formal education opportunities. The program consisted of a 3 year comprised curriculum, designed to prepare 9-15 year old girls to take a national end-of-year exam which, if passed, would allow them to enroll in secondary school. 

To evaluate the impact of VasYFille! the University of Massachusetts at Amherst conducted a mixed-methods clustered randomized control trial (RCT), using a stratified random sampling framework where school clusters within each province were randomly assigned to receive treatment and the unselected clusters served as control. Researchers collected four waves of longitudinal data over a period of 3 years, using a replacement protocol to replace girls who they were not able to track down after baseline. The project aimed to identify the impact that VasYFille! activities had on in-school and out-of-school marginalized girls’ reading and math outcomes, and document how and why the treatment activities worked. 

With regard to the interventions for in-school girls, findings indicate that VasYFille! caused in-school girls to significantly improve their reading and math standardized scores. From baseline to endline, VasYFille! beneficiaries improved their estimated average EGRA scores by 11 points and their estimated average EGMA scores by about 7 points, relative to the increase they would have seen had they not received the treatment. Multi-level regressions that aimed to estimate the effects of the different interventions received by in-school girls showed that when compared to girls in non-treatment schools, girls in treatment schools who benefited from school-level treatment supports, but who did not receive tutoring or scholarships, obtained positive and statistically significant learning gains in literacy and numeracy. Both scholarships and tutoring alone also had positive effects on EGRA scores, but tutoring had the greatest impact. 

With regard to the interventions for out-of-school girls, findings showed that ALPs had positive impacts on girls’ literacy and numeracy learning outcomes. EGMA scores doubled on average, while EGRA scores increased as much as five times. At a cost in the region of 210-290 USD per child, ALPs represent a cost-effective opportunity to provide out-of-school children with access to quality education opportunities from which they have been excluded and to improve their literacy and numeracy learning outcomes. An unintended effect of ALPs is that in some cases, they provide an incentive for poor families to switch their children from formal schools to ALPs. 

The findings of the study suggest that: 

EA$E responded to caregivers’ and community members’ potential messaging around violence through vignettes, respondent experiences with violence, perceived incidence and prevalence of violence, and social networks in the camp. A survey of 306 parents, 320 children aged 7–12, and 36 teachers in Nyarugusu refugee camp, Tanzania, found that teachers and parents generally perceived corporal punishment as frequent and tolerated. Sexual violence was also perceived as common. Additionally, findings suggest that positive messages might unintentionally reinforce perceived norms that physical discipline is acceptable, and thus perpetuate an undesirable behavior and norm. Vignettes with a clinical message about brain development, on the other hand, were associated with higher levels of reporting and lower levels of acceptance of violence.

The Airbel Impact Lab at IRC is a team of researchers, strategists and innovators committed to the accelerated design, rigorous evaluation and cost-effective scaling of the most impactful solutions supporting people affected by crisis.