"The good news is that these programs
seem to be having some success, though major challenges remain,"
said Mary Arends-Kuenning, an assistant professor in the Department
of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, who has focused her research
on the AID programs and the problems confronting Bangladesh.
Bangladesh ranked 139 out of 175
countries in terms of human development, though this ranking has
improved in recent years as a number of countries in sub-Sahara
Africa have plunged into famine, poverty, illness and violence. The
per capita GDP in Bangladesh in 2001 was $1,610.
In Bangladesh, portions of U.S. food
aid are targeted toward addressing the lack of education,
particularly for girls. Participating families are given extra
allotments of wheat as an incentive to send their children to school
and keep them out of the labor market.
"There has been quite an increase in
school enrollment as a result, especially for girls," said
Arends-Kuenning. "However, there are strong cultural pressures
toward early marriage for girls, usually at 13 or 14. These girls
don't have any say in who they are to marry or when they marry, and
the fact that the bride's family has to pay a dowry, which is huge
and increases with the age of the bride, discourages the
continuation of girls in school."
To address this part of the problem, a
World Bank loan to the government of Bangladesh offers families
financial incentives to send their daughters to secondary school.
Additionally, the Bangladesh government is trying to curtail or
eliminate the dowry system.
"We are finding that the secondary
school program, too, is having some measure of success in keeping
girls in school," said Arends-Kuenning.
[to top of second column in
She points out that the incentives are
not paid merely for school attendance; the students have to earn
passing grades to remain in the program.
However, now that Bangladesh's schools
experience increasing enrollment, problems of overcrowding and
student performance have emerged. Along with Ahkter Ahmed of the
International Food Policy Research Institute, Arends-Kuenning is
studying the effects and possible means of alleviating problems.
"At first glance, class size seems to
be a problem. The government has not been able to afford to build
new schools, and it is not unusual to find 75 to 80 students in one
classroom," she said. "We are looking at the impact of the
enrollment-increasing programs on school quality."
Arends-Kuenning and Ahmed have used
school achievement test results to measure the effects of the
programs on the schools, the aid students and the students whose
families do not receive aid -- usually families who are better off
"We found that, interestingly, class
size doesn't seem to matter," she said. "However, the percentage of
students who receive the aid in the fourth grade has a negative
spillover effect on the students whose families do not receive aid.
There are negative peer effects."
recommend that the government should invest more in the quality of
its schools and consider instituting carefully designed minimum
[University of Illinois news release]