Effects of a single cash transfer on school re-enrollment during COVID-19 among vulnerable adolescent girls in Kenya: Randomized controlled trial

A cash transfer program in Kenya significantly boosted school enrollment among adolescent girls and elevated expectations for completing secondary education. 


Cash transfer programs, often led by governments or NGOs, offer a potential means to maintain girls' education amidst crises like COVID-19. Cash transfers are typically either conditional, requiring recipients to fulfill certain criteria to obtain the funds, or unconditional. Cash transfers that include guidance on how to use the money are typically categorized as a ‘labeled’ cash transfer rather than a pure unconditional transfer. By directly disbursing payments to households or individuals with guidance on how the money should be allocated (e.g. to encourage school enrollment), these programs can counterbalance the rise in school dropouts among adolescent girls due to pandemic-induced economic shocks and school closures. Similar to a study from Morocco, which demonstrated increased school participation due to labeled cash transfers, this study explores the effects of a one-time labeled cash transfer on the school enrollment rates of girls in Kenya prolonged COVID-19 school closures.  

The researchers employed an individual-level randomized controlled trial design to assess the cash transfer program’s effectiveness on school enrollment rates. This evaluation involved drawing a sample from a longer-term study group that had previously been exposed to a conditional cash transfer program, and conducting a follow-up survey after the implementation of the cash transfer intervention.  


Overall, the program significantly boosted school enrollment for girls and increased their expectations for completing secondary education. Specifically, it is more effective for girls who are older and at higher risk of not completing secondary school.

  • The RCT revealed high overall enrollment rates after prolonged school closures.  
    • Among the control sample – those not receiving the COVID-19 cash transfer – 87.8% were enrolled in February 2021. Enrollment rate was even higher (93.9%) for students that had been enrolled earlier in the school year just prior to school closings. The main reasons for not enrolling in 2021 were marriage or pregnancy (42%) and being unable to cover school fees (32%).  
    • The cash transfer had a substantial positive effect on the treatment group, increasing enrollment by 7.7 percentage points (9%) to above 95%, even higher than at baseline.
  • In addition to enrollment, the cash transfer had a substantial positive impact on the girls’ expectations for their education.
    • There was a notable 9.8 percentage point (13%) increase in the number of girls who had high expectations of completing secondary school, compared to 75.5% in the control group.
    • The increase in these expectations suggest that the positive effects of the program, measured six weeks into the term after full reopening, would likely continue.  
  • The cash transfer is more effective for those at higher risk of not completing secondary school.
    • The effect on enrollment was twice as significant for older girls compared to younger ones, and five times larger for those who were not enrolled earlier in the year compared to those who were.  
    • It was therefore more effective for girls at higher risk of not completing secondary school.  

"Labeled" cash transfers, designed as a simple and scalable intervention could be a strategy to boost school enrollment rates for girls, particularly in the aftermath of global health and economic crises like COVID-19. 


An individual-level randomized controlled trial (RCT) was conducted in Kibera, Kenya to evaluate the effect of a cash transfer program on the school enrollment of adolescent girls after extended school closure due to COVID-19. The study sample consisted of 1620 girls, drawn from the Adolescent Girls Initiative-Kenya (AGI-K) cohort, who were first interviewed when they were 11–15 years old and then re-interviewed in subsequent years. In December 2020, these girls were randomized into two groups, with half receiving a COVID-19 cash transfer and the other half serving as a control group.

In early January 2021, the treatment group received a one-time cash transfer of 16,000 Kenyan shillings (~$150), representing 10-15% of the average annual household income in Kibera. Although unconditional, the cash transfer came with limited messaging about its intended purpose to encourage school enrollment, classifying it as a 'labeled' cash transfer. In February 2021, a follow-up survey was conducted with 1517 (93.6%) of the girls. The reasons for attrition included failure to make contact and interview refusals.

The primary hypothesis was that the cash transfer would boost the re-enrollment rate. Other secondary outcomes included enrollment at any point during the first six weeks of the term, parents' expectations of the girl completing secondary school, and the fraction of the girl’s siblings aged 6–20 years enrolled in school. Additionally, the study conducted two heterogeneity analyses: investigating associations with previously completed grades or socio-economic status, and probing whether prior exposure to a randomized AGI-K education's conditional cash transfer (CCT) had moderated the effects, such as households previously enrolled in CCT potentially investing more in education or misinterpreting the COVID-19 cash transfer as conditional. This study expands on earlier research showing that cash transfers in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic modestly improved economic welfare by demonstrating that cash transfers are also a viable approach for mitigating school dropout among female adolescents somewhat later during the pandemic when schools reopened. This research also indicates that while cash transfers are not generally cost-effective as school enrollment programs (especially when compared to deworming health programs), this intervention can also be viewed as a social assistance program, and is more effective than other cash transfer programs at increasing school enrollment.  

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