a literature review?

While EAC will be monitoring and evaluating the implementation of its current and future funded activities, there is an immediate need to summarize the current literature identifying key factors that affect access, retention and quality. This literature review responds to that need.

primary education

A number of countries have come very close to achieving universal primary education (see How did they do it?).

Unfortunately, the majority of poor countries and several others have yet to mark this achievement.

This review, authored by Dr. Mark Ginsburg and Pragati Godbole of FHI 360, points to 15 policy and programme interventions that the research literature has identified as key for access and retention.  It is important to focus on retention as well as access because, without retention, desired learning outcomes will be significantly reduced due to lack of participation in planned educational programmes.  And, learning outcomes are, at least partially, dependent on the quality of the education offer.  Thus, the literature that was reviewed addressed all three concepts:  access, retention and quality.

To clarify, access and retention can be analysed by focusing on rates of enrolment at a particular level of education. For example, the primary net enrolment rate is defined as the number of students divided by the number of children or youth of primary school age (Engel & Rose, 2011a and 2011b; Engel et al., 2011; Wils & Ingram, 2011). Alternatively or in combination, one can focus on the number and rate of out of school children and youth (Omoeva et al., 2013; UNESCO/UIS, 2005).

Educational quality has been defined in a variety of ways, focusing either on:

(e.g., financial resources, teachers and other human resources, instructional materials and physical facilities);

(nature of interaction in educational activities involving students, teachers, administrators, materials and technologies);

(knowledge, skills and attitudes being transmitted through the curriculum);

(relatively short-term consequences, such as students’ cognitive achievement, skills and attitudes); and

(longer-term consequences, such as school leavers’ employment, earnings, and civic participation) (Adams, 1993; Lockheed & Verspoor, 1990).

The relationship between access/retention and quality in education is also complex. For instance, increasing enrolment without a commensurate increase in educational inputs (e.g., classrooms, teachers) may lower the quality of education, whether defined in terms of processes, outputs, or outcomes (World Bank/IEG, 2006).

Additionally, improving educational quality – however defined – may increase enrolment, by encouraging families to send their children/youth to school and encouraging children/youth to remain in school (UNESCO, 2005).

Literature Review: Policy and Program Interventions

The following sketches the rationales and summarizes evidence of the impact of 15 policy and program interventions designed to increase primary school access and retention. The interventions include:


The world is fast approaching the 2015 deadline for achieving universal primary education—a target identified by both UNESCO in the World Declaration for All (2000) and the United Nations (UN) in the Millennium Development Goals (2000)1. This goal is important because education is a human right (CREATE, 2011; UNICEF and UNESCO, 2007)2.

Education is also valued because it helps develop citizens, foster national identification, build social cohesion, and promote the political development of nation-states (Green, 1997; Pritchett, 2003; Ramirez and Rubinson, 1979; Sehr, 1997; UNICEF and UNESCO, 2007).

An additional rationale asserts that education builds human capital thus contributing greatly to individual earnings and societal economic development (Burnett et al., 2013; Levinson, 2002; Meyer & Hannon, 1979; Psacharopoulos & Patrinos, 2004; Schultz, 1961; Woodhall, 1997).

Universal education is also prized because it can improve the quality and longevity of life, contribute to sustainable social development (Kazeem et al., 2010), and enhance human capabilities and freedoms (Sen, 1999, 2005).

>>> See all references here.

  • 1. We should recall the World Declaration of Education for All (Inter-Agency Commission, 1990) as well as similar earlier statements: the International Conference on Public Education (in 1934), four UNESCO regional conferences during the 1960s, and the International Development Strategy for the Third UN Development Decade (in 1980) (see Clemens, 2004).
  • 2. In addition to Article 26 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations, 1948), this right has been articulated during UNESCO-organized regional conferences on “Free and Compulsory Education” in Bombay (1952), Cairo (1955), and Lima (1956) (see Benavot and Resnik, 2007, p. 137) as well as in declarations such as the UNESCO Convention Against Discrimination in Education (1960), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1981), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) (Spring, 2000; Tomasevski, 2006).
  • 3. Corrales (2007, p. 275) suggests other indicators of political will: “high levels of ministerial turnover, intra-cabinet disagreement, failure to incorporate technocrats into the ministry, and weak ties between the ministry of education and multilateral organizations …”
  • 4. As Al-Samarrai (2006, p. 4) argued in the wake of the World Education Forum in Dakar: “achieving primary education for all will require between $9 and $28 billion of additional resources to education annually. This is equivalent to increasing the proportion of GNP spent on education from an average of 3.9 per cent to between 4 and 4.3 per cent in the less developed regions of the world.” Of course, the question of what constitutes sufficient government funding is a complicated one, in part because of the large differences in wealth among countries (Braun, 1997). Thus, while in the late-1990s public expenditure on education ranged across nations from three to six percent of GNP, “how much education this buys, in both quantitative and qualitative terms, depends upon national wealth” (Colclough & Al-Samarrai, 2000, p. 15).
  • 5. Kozack (2009) argues that what predicts the level of political will of governing officials is not their adoption of sound economic policies (Burnside and Dollar, 2000; World Bank, 1998) or their commitment to democratic institutions (Svensson, 1999). Rather, based on his study of Brazil, Ghana, and Taiwan over a 50-year period, he concludes that “governments in each country invest in primary education only when either employers demand it or a political entrepreneur has successfully organised the poor such that the government depends on their support for power” (Kozack, 2009, p. 497).
  • 6. See also Bray (2003), Henkel and Stirrat (2001), and UNESCO (2000).
  • 7. See also Altschuler (2013), Bray (1999), Cheema and Rondinelli (1983), Davies et al. (2003), Ginsburg et al. (2010), Hanson (1998), Lauglo (1995), McGinn (1992), McGinn and Welsh (1999), Winkler (1989), and World Bank (1999).
  • 8. For example, see Abu-Duhou (1999), Barrera-Osorio et al. (2009), Burde (2004), Caldwell and Spinks (1992), Edwards and Klees (2012), Harber and Davies (1997), Pryor (2005), and World Bank/IEG (2010).
  • 9. Advocates for decentralization and parental/community participation in school governance have based their proposed reforms on different rationales. These include the discourse of democracy or the inherent value of participation and/or power sharing (Bray, 2001; Fantini, 1968; Kamat, 2002; Lopate et al., 1970; Weiler, 1989); the belief that community involvement will help mobilize financial and other resources (Barrera-Osorio et al., 2009; Bray, 1999 and 2003; Burde, 2004; Carnoy, 1999; Fantini, 1968; Inter-Agency Commission, 1990; Lopate et al., 1970; Lynch, 1997; Phillips, 2013; Schubert and Israel, 2000; UNESCO, 2008); and the notion that parental and community participation will lead to increased efficiency, effectiveness, and relevance of schooling (Altschuler, 2013; Barrera-Osorio et al., 2009; Bray, 1999; Carnoy, 1999; Flórez et al., 2005; Weiler, 1989; Winkler and Sevilla, 2004; World Bank, 2003).
  • 10. Alvarez-Valdivia (2012, p. 2) summarizes a range of studies showing a positive relationship between parental involvement and student outcomes, such as higher school attendance, lower grade repetition and dropout rates, and better academic performance. However, other studies reported either no or negative associations, and even the positive associations may represent spurious relationship (i.e., they can be explained away when controlling for other variables, such as parents’ cultural or economic capital) or even reflect an opposite causal direction (i.e., student outcomes influence parental participation) (see Altschuler, 2013; Barrera-Osorio et al., 2009; Bruns et al., 2011; Jimenez and Sawada, 1999; Krishnaratne et al., 2013; Leithwood and Menzies, 1998; Nielsen, 2007; UNESCO, 2003 and 2008). These findings should be considered in light of various methodological limitations of the reviewed studies (e.g., Barrera-Osorio et al., 2009; Bruns et al., 2011; Edwards, 2012) as well as the diversity of reform actions that come under the umbrella of SBM. Furthermore, we should keep in mind that “implementation of SBM (school-based management) involves a lot of steps and takes from 5 to 10 years” and, thus, it is “premature to pass final judgment on the reform in most countries” (Abu-Duhou, 1999, p. 116).
  • 11. For example, see ILO (2008), IMF (2004), OECD (2008), United Nations (2000), USAID (2006 and 2011), World Bank (2011), and World Economic Forum (2005).
  • 12. Bowman (1984, p. 566) defines opportunity costs as “the cost values of children’s time devoted to schooling.”
  • 13. At the same time, Krishnaratne et al. (2013, p. 20) remind us that increased access and retention may reduce educational quality: “Increasing demand can lead to overcrowded schools, and increasing the number of schools, teachers or classes available may mean that overall quality of education is low, as there are not enough trained teachers. Overcrowding has negative effects either as learning outcomes fall as the pupil-teacher ratio rises or because the new intake are less academically able and pulling down average test scores in the school.”