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

Introduction of village-based schools closer to children increases enrolment and achievement, especially for girls.


Primary school participation rates in Afghanistan are very low. In rural areas, school attendance is often costly, both in terms of time and transportation. There is also a substantial gender gap in primary school enrollment, with girls being 17 percentage points less likely to be enrolled as of 2007. Parents in rural regions of Afghanistan also have fewer incentives to educate their girl children, as girls perform different domestic tasks, are likely to marry early and join a husband’s household, lack labor force opportunities, and face wage discrimination, all of which reduce the returns to the education of girls. This study evaluates the impact of introducing village-based schools on student participation and academic achievement in rural Afghanistan, focusing particularly on the increase in enrollment and test scores for girls.  


Introducing village-based schools 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 village-based schools increased formal school enrollment by 52 percentage points for girls and 35 percentage points for boys.
  • There was a sizeable increase in test scores where village-based schools were instituted: girls’ test scores increased by 0.65 standard deviations and boys’ test scores increased by 0.40 standard deviations. Moreover, test scores for those girls who attended school as a result of the experiment increased by 1.28 standard deviations due to enrollment. 
  • The gender gap in enrollment at the age of six is negligible. However, for each year a boy ages after 6, he becomes 7.8% more likely to go to school while girls’ enrollment remains constant – resulting in the widening of the gender gap after age six. 

The study evaluates village-based schools in the Ghor Province in northwest Afghanistan, run as part of the Partnership for Advancing Community Education in Afghanistan (PACE-A) program. This program provides educational materials (notebooks, pencils, etc.) and official government teacher training programs from the Catholic Relief Services (CRS), which run the 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, which collected basic demographic information and the self-reported enrollment status of each child between ages 6 and 11 in the household. They also directly tested children on their math and language skills. 

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