Improving Learning in Primary Schools of Developing Countries: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Experiments

Key Information


McEwan, Patrick J.

Year published


Study type

Journal article

Countries in analysis

  • Chile
  • China
  • Colombia
  • Ecuador
  • Gambia, The
  • Guatemala
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Jamaica
  • Kenya
  • Madagascar
  • Mali
  • Mexico
  • Nepal
  • Nicaragua
  • Pakistan
  • Peru
  • Philippines
  • South Africa
  • Sri Lanka
  • Thailand
  • Uganda
  • United Republic of Tanzania


The study is not subnational.


Age range

6 - 14

Analysis type

Meta-analysis / Systematic review

Intervention Description

The first category includes treatments that endow schools with monetary grants, instructional materials such as textbooks, computers or other instructional technology, and teacher training. It also includes interventions that manipulate the size or composition of learning groups within schools, via class size reduction, small-group instruction, or ability group tracking. The second category includes health and nutrition treatments administered in schools, such as iron and micro-nutrient supplements, school-provided meals or beverages, and deworming or malaria prevention drugs. The third category of treatments modifies incentives for students, parents, or school personnel to improve student learning. Some treatments disseminate information on student performance to teachers or school officials, to school management committees or parents, or directly to students, often via a report card. Other treatments link student or teacher rewards to performance measures based on teacher attendance, student test scores, or student health. Many treatments encourage the recruitment and hiring of teachers with flexible labor contracts, often locally hired contract teachers outside the civil service. In other cases, teachers are hired and trained by NGOs or work as volunteers. Finally, a diffuse subcategory of treatments attempts to improve the management and supervision of schools by providing training to school officials or local school committees in management and in the hiring, monitoring, and assessment of teacher performance.

Approaches and Outcomes

  • Computer-assisted learning / Increased test scores
  • Conditional cash transfers (including non-cash goods) to individuals/households / Increased test scores
  • Deworming / Increased test scores
  • Hiring more teachers (both men and women) / Increased test scores
  • Increased availability of learning materials / Increased test scores
  • Informational interventions (e.g. returns to education) / Increased test scores
  • In-service teacher training – pedagogy general / Increased test scores
  • Other nutritional supplementation / Increased test scores
  • School management committees / Increased test scores
  • Teacher incentives / Increased test scores