Lessons from a Nobel Prize to improve access to education in Colombia

Michael Kremer, Nobel Prize in Economics in 2019, during the event “How to transform education in Colombia? A collective challenge

Photo: Santo Domingo Foundation

Yesterday Colombia had an unusual visit. At the EAN University, in Bogotá, an event was held with the participation of Michael Kremer, Nobel laureate in Economics who has gained popularity for having devoted much of his research to seeking alternatives to alleviate poverty and conducting randomized experimental trials in educational settings. It was an approach for which, in part, he was awarded the prestigious award in 2019 and with which he has conducted studies in countries in Africa and Latin America.

Kremer, an American and today a professor at Harvard University, came to Colombia invited by the Santo Domingo Foundation. In our country, as he recalled yesterday at the event entitled “How to transform education in Colombia? A collective challenge”, he also carried out important work in the 1990s. Together with a work team made up of Juan Esteban Saavedra, Colombian economist and PhD in public policy; Eric Bettinger, Ph.D. in economics, and Maurice Kugler, Ph.D. in economics, developed a plan that has become very popular: the Program to Expand the Coverage of Secondary Education (PACES). His results are still outstanding among the academic community.

Without going into many technical details, the objective of this initiative was for fifth-year primary school students from strata 1 and 2 to access some bonuses to pay the tuition in a private school in the country. “We supplied more than 125 thousand bonds and we renewed them every year. The beneficiaries had to demonstrate that they had passed the school year and we gave out some incentives to get good grades”, explained Kremer. Each of the bonds was worth $244 at the time. (You can also read: THE PAE, a valuable program that requires adjustments. Can Petro make them?)

As the budget for this program was limited and there were several families interested in accessing a bonus, then, Kremer added, the Government decided to distribute them by lottery. “At that time that lottery, which was computerized, did not have the purpose of investigation, but rather its purpose was to improve equity. Unintentionally, with randomization we end up performing an experiment similar to the one used to determine the effectiveness of medicines, ”he pointed out.

This methodology allowed them, over time, to compare students who agreed to the bonds with which they had not achieved it. The results, published in 2002 in the journal American Economics ReviewThey showed good news. The team found that access to higher education had increased by 10%, the retention and graduation rate increased by an increase of 25% and the monthly income of the beneficiaries grew by 10%. In addition, the rate of desertion and there was a lower possibility of child labor.

“The data analysis is carried out 20 years after the person received the benefit. In addition to studying access to secondary educationwe observe the impact on higher education and on the labor market”, commented Juan Saavedra, professor of public policy at Harvard University.

Four years later they conducted another study to measure the impact of the program. They were also published in the magazine American Economic Review. They found that students performed better on tests HFs, compared to non-beneficiaries and a 20% increase in graduation rates. (You may be interested in: What are the legislative priorities in education? This said Minister Gaviria)

For Kremer, these figures proved that the investment in this program has a great return for the Government. “It was beneficial, even from a tax and tax point of view, because these people ended up earning more money and today they pay more taxes. For example, if the government took an international loan, it was paid for with these taxes,” he said.

Although this program caught the attention of researchers at MIT, the world Bank or the Asian Development Bank and was taken as an example of anti-poverty education policy successful, in Colombia it was not carried out. Saavedra highlighted some of the lessons left in the education of the country, such as “learning to design programs that can be rigorously evaluated, use the data that Colombia has to follow up over time and be patient, because come in a short time. In the case of PACES, it happened 20 years later; as a social investment it was a very attractive initiative”.

An economic initiative to reform education

One of the announcements made yesterday at the U.EAN event was good news for Colombia: thanks to an alliance between Harvard University and the Santo Domingo Foundation, they will encourage this type of project. The idea is to go to different areas and measure if the initiatives have a positive impact to close the gaps in education at all levels.

For example, one of the problems that they have identified, as Saavedra said, in addition to the financial gaps (which they noticed with the PACES program), has to do with access to information. “We found that the students who attend 11 are very uninformed. They did not know the financing opportunities they had to access higher education”, commented the Colombian researcher. (We recommend: These are the 25 Colombian universities in the ranking of the best 1500 in the world)

As Saavedra showed, in a preliminary survey they had found that about 73% of 11th grade students did want to obtain more information about higher education, but they did not have adequate channels to provide it. How to solve that difficulty? One of the paths was to make an alliance with Icfes and the Icetex. “The then director of Icetex, Manuel Acevedo, told me that he had noticed that many of the students took these lines of credit without understanding their amortization. So he wanted us to help them understand the financial consequences of those decisions,” Saavedra noted.

Similar initiatives have already been carried out in other countries, such as USA and Canada, where evidence has been compiled that proves that providing relevant information to students who are making the decision of what to study and where to do it promotes access to education. higher education. The main channels they consult, added Saavedra, is the Internet, with 60%.

“We know that digital channels are important, but we find that portals are difficult to navigate. In the survey we did, 55.7% of the students told us that it was very difficult to understand the page. That gap in the data persists,” she pointed out.

To solve this problem, they carried out a pilot test in 2017, with chats that appeared randomly to students who went to check their test results. know 11. In the conversation, a piece of information about higher education in Colombia appeared and, if the person was interested, then they saw a link to the Banco de la República where they could find more files. They could even leave an email to receive more information. Then, in 2021, they integrated the financial support explorer. (You may be interested in: In the world, 244 million children and young people will not start the school year)

This explorer explained to the students the line of credit of the Icetex which you could access if you require funding for higher education. “With the stratum and the group of the Sisben to which it belongs, we could already explain what that credit offer was that it had, ”explained Saavedra. In addition, in this exercise the students could see a payment scheme simulator. “It allows students to have expectations of what the payment and amortization are going to be like,” she added. The tool is still in the testing process, while some adjustments are made.

As the program continues to progress, Saavedra showed some of the data that they have identified in the investigation process. For example, they have noticed that students seek careers that have higher returns and job opportunities, or that they can go to universities more because they find financing lines with which they were not so familiar before, “helping to reduce the gap in access to education.” higher education”.

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Lessons from a Nobel Prize to improve access to education in Colombia