Solar electrification of schools: Achievement impacts and the efficiency of private and public investments into education

Over one quarter billion children each year fail to attain basic numeracy and literacy skills before reaching secondary school age, and the annual cost of this learning failure is estimated to be US$129 billion (UNESCO, 2014). To what extent are resource constraints responsible for this low productivity, versus a lagging underlying demand for performance on the part of educational participants? Using several new data sources and results from a natural experiment, a field experiment and an experimentally validated structural estimation from Tanzania, we explore which schools tend to face binding resource constraints and which schools do not. Furthermore, using a strategic model of joint effort decisions of students and teachers in the classroom, we estimate how much cash incentives it would cost to generate the same increase in knowledge production that providing schools with a given set of facilities does, and solve for the optimal combination of school support given a budget that would generate the greatest amount of learning. In doing so, we suggest a framework for uncovering the structure of underlying supply and demand in the way of optimally achieving a social objective.

The project consists of three parts.

  1. Part 1 uses spatial-panel variation in grid expansion across Tanzania over the past decade to estimate the impact of electrification on national secondary school examination performance. Data include 1. individual-level secondary school national examination scores (7th, 9th, 11th, 13th grades, 2004-2014); 2. information relating to the grid expansion process during this period (inventory tables of plant / transmission line locations, as well as topographical factors that influence the installations); and 3. a phone survey of registered secondary schools in Tanzania (to be conducted under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Office) to obtain school-level covariates including grid connection date, type of school (boarding or day), and per student expenditure.
  2. Part 2 involves a field experiment with 172 secondary schools that implements a randomized, staggered rollout of solar panel installations interacted with performance scholarships across three years. The solar panels are being provided by the GivePower foundation through the operations of Off Grid Electric. The study is conducted under the leadership of Tanzania’s Prime Minister’s Office and Youth Shaping and Sharpening Movement, an NGO dedicated to youth development, in consultation with researchers from the University of Chicago. The research is being generously funded by the International Growth Centre.
  3. Part 3 involves a structural estimation of a coordination game at the school level, extending upon Todd and Wolpin (2013), based on survey data of sample students and teachers in the field study. The model delivers a detailed decomposition of observed score changes into a breakdown of various contributing factors including student/teacher effort, preference for education, prior levels of preparation and school technology. The model provides deeper, structural insights into the determinants of educational performance and their interactions, offering suggestions on how best to use available public resources to optimally achieve a given social objective, such as learning, in a coordination environment.