Session 3: Human Development: Education and Health (Part 2)

Chair: Ravi Srivastava (Jawaharlal Nehru University)

Presentations:

  • Christianity and child health in India – Nidhiya Menon (Brandies University)

  • Double for nothing? Experimental evidence on the impact of an unconditional teacher salary increase on student performance – Karthik Muralidharan (University of California, San Diego)

Discussants:

  • Amarjeet Sinha (Ministry of Rural Development)

  • Rathin Roy (National Institute for Public Finance and Policy)

Nidhiya Menon (Brandeis University) presented Christianity and Child Health in India, a paper that explores the relationship between religious identity and child health outcomes.  Despite rapid economic progress, India shows higher levels of child stunting and wasting relative to the African economies with lower income levels.  Menon and colleagues trace an impressive historical record of religion and foreign missions in India to systematically better health outcomes among Indian Christian children, controlling for a broad set of characteristics. The study supports existing consensus on investments in maternal education and health having broad positive consequences for human capital development.  Specifically, the project finds that improvements in health and welfare of mothers during pregnancy is linked to improvements in female child height, an outcome more sensitive to in-utero inputs. Much of the discussion of the paper focused on the importance of education in supporting many of these welfare outcomes, including in-utero health of the mother. As noted by Menon, many of these early stage environmental factors may have long-reaching, inter-generational impacts on individual welfare.  

Menon’s presentation was followed by a lively discussion on teacher performance and government policies around incentive pay, sparked by Karthik Muralidharan’s (University of California San Diego) research, Double for nothing? Experimental evidence on the impact of an unconditional teacher salary increase on student performanceThe randomised control trial, implemented in Indonesia, evaluated the impact of the government’s policy to effectively double teacher salaries, following the satisfaction of a relatively undemanding certification process.  When implemented, this scheme worked exactly as it was designed and was associated with declines in teachers’ self-reported levels of financial distress and hours worked at second-jobs, or moonlighting.  However, the researchers, despite numerous checks for robustness, find exactly zero effect of the programme on student on test scores. Given that when nationally scaled up this policy added $5 billion to Indonesia’s annual wage bill, the results offer a cautionary tale for other large economies, such as India, that may be exploring large-scale policy redesigns.  Furthermore, the findings evoked a spirited debated about the design and motivations of India’s public service and public wage policy in general.  Muralidharan’s final remarks suggested that his future research will pursue effects of changes to pay structure, which he believes is a driver of employee performance. The discussion of the paper focused the applications of the Indonesian experience to the Indian civil service, particularly with respect to public sector teachers. In concluding, the discussants noted that it was not the level of pay that was important at improving performance, but the structure and potential for merit-based career progression.

Summary written by Anne Laski, Country Economist – IGC Tanzania