The Effect of Village-Based Schools: Evidence from a Randomized Controlled Trial in Afghanistan

Proximity to schools in rural areas increases enrollment and achievement, especially for girls.


Progress towards universal primary education in developing countries has been slow. In Afghanistan, schools are scarce in rural areas, and school attendance is costly, both in terms of time and transportation. Distance barriers are particularly difficult for girls. Parents in rural regions of Afghanistan already have fewer incentives to educate their girl children, as women are less likely to work outside the home. In addition, sending a girl to school also implies she is not available in the home to participate in domestic activities. Many Afghani parents also believe that girls are more likely to face threats to their safety and security while attending school, which makes the cost of educating girls higher than educating boys. This study evaluates the impact of introducing community-based schools on student participation and academic achievement in rural Afghanistan, focusing particularly on educational outcomes for girls.


Introducing community-based schools in villages reduced the average distance from a student’s home to school from three miles to less than half a mile. This reduction in distance not only significantly increased enrollment rates and academic performance among all children, but also eliminated the gender gap in enrollment and reduced the test score achievement gap between boys and girls by one-third in just a year.

  • Introducing community-based schools increased formal school enrollment by 34.9% for boys and 50.2% for girls.
  • Enrollment rates and test scores were strongly affected by decreasing the distance from school. Community-based schools reduced the average distance to school from 2.9 miles to 0.3 miles.
  • There was a sizeable increase in test scores: girls’ test scores increased by 0.63 standard deviations and boys’ test scores increased by 0.38 standard deviations. Larger increases in test scores were observed in math than in language.
  • Enrollment drops considerably, by 13.2% for boys and 19% for girls, for each additional mile a child has to walk to school.

Proximity to schools has a dramatic effect on children’s academic participation and performance and has great potential for closing the gender gap in education in rural areas.


The study evaluates the Partnership for Advancing Community-based Education in Afghanistan (PACE-A) program, which was implemented in rural, northwest Afghanistan. This program uses a sequential rollout design to provide community-based primary schools and teacher training to villages that are underserved by traditional schools. The researchers randomly selected groups of villages into the treatment and control groups. The treatment group, comprised of 13 villages, received the program first in 2007, while the control group of 18 villages received the program in 2008.

The researchers conducted two rounds of surveys in fall of 2007 and in spring of 2008. Researchers asked parents about their children’s current educational status as well as parental preferences or expectations for school attendance. They also directly tested children on their math and language skills.

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