— Minahil Asim


Mobile Phones, Civic Engagement, and School Performance in Pakistan (2022) Economics of Education Review (with Thomas S. Dee (Stanford University))   

Abstract: The effective governance of local public services depends critically on the civic engagement of local citizens. However, recent efforts to promote effective citizen oversight of the public-sector services in developing countries have had mixed results. This study discusses and evaluates a uniquely designed, low-cost, scalable program designed to improve the governance and performance of primary and middle schools in the Punjab province of Pakistan. The School Council Mobilization Program (SCMP) used mobile-phone calls to provide sustained and targeted guidance to local school-council members on their responsibilities and authority. We examine the effects of the SCMP on school enrollment, and student and teacher attendance, using a “difference-in-difference-in-differences” (DDD) design based on the targeted implementation of the SCMP. We find that this initiative led to meaningful increases in primary-school enrollment (i.e., a 4.0 percent increase), and the improvements were sustained in the months after the program concluded.

Average vs. Distributional Effects: Evidence from an Experiment in Rwanda (2020) International Journal of Educational Development   

Abstract: Programs and policies in education overwhelmingly focus on improving the average academic achievement for students. However, educational interventions focused on literacy improvement can impact readers at different levels of the reading score distribution differently, and the distributional differences may be more pronounced by sex. In this paper, I explore data from a field experiment in a district in Rwanda that was intended to make classroom reading pedagogy more effective and engage students, families, and communities in reading activities outside of school to improve students’ reading outcomes.I study the distributional effects of the intervention on students on two higher-order reading outcomes – Kinyarwanda fluency and Kinyarwanda text comprehension, measured for students who met a basic literacy threshold. I find that a) the set of interventions had a positive and significant, albeit modest effect on students at or above the 25th percentile of the reading distributions b) the program had positive and significant effects on reading outcomes for girls only, and these effects differed along the reading achievement distribution. This work underscores the importance of tailoring programs and policies to the needs of different types of learners.

“Parenting While Food Insecure: Links Between Adult Food Insecurity, Parenting Aggravation, and Children’s Behaviors” (2019), Journal of Family Issues (with Kevin A. Gee (UC Davis))   

Abstract: Parents who experience food insecurity face not only uncertainty in obtaining food, but an invisible emotional burden, one that can potentially influence both their parenting behaviors and ultimately, their children. In our study, we investigated adult food insecurity’s link to parents’ aggravation and whether that aggravation influenced their children’s behaviors. Results, based on data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey, Kindergarten Class of 2010-2011 using first-difference regression, showed that parents (N = 7,820) of first graders who became food insecure experienced heightened parenting aggravation (0.525; p < .01). Our mediation analysis on a matched sample of food secure (n = 1,600) and insecure parents (n = 470) revealed that adult food insecurity was not directly associated with children’s behaviors; rather, it was indirectly related to lowered attentional focus (−0.062; p < .05) and inhibitory control (−0.093; p < .001) via parenting aggravation. Our findings underscore the importance of parenting aggravation in transmitting the effects of food insecurity on children’s behaviors.

Working Papers

“The Missing Middle of Education Service Delivery in Low- and Middle- Income Countries” with Karen Mundy, Carly Manion, and Izza Tahir (University of Toronto) [Revise & Resubmit – Comparative Education Review]   

Abstract: The challenge of delivering improvements in education quality involves questions about how to motivate, engage, and manage actors at all tiers of the education bureaucracy. Through a rigorous systematic review of English-language academic and grey literature, we show that research on middle-tier actors, such as subnational staff at the regional, district, or county levels of the education administration, is very limited in the discourse on education reform in low- and middle- income countries. We know little about whether, and how, the middle-tier supports improvements in school outcomes and student learning. Moreover, there is a methodological and theoretical divide in the conceptualization of, and research about the middle-tier across disciplines, such as Economics, Education Administration and Leadership, and Comparative and International Education. Our paper offers insights into how to bridge the gap between different research traditions and advance our understanding of how the study of the middle-tier can facilitate improvements in student learning. 

“How do Districts Plan and Implement Education Reforms and Policies in Ghana?” with Sheena Bell and Karen Mundy (University of Toronto), and Mike Boakye-Yiadom and Hope Nuzdor (University of Cape Coast)   

Abstract: Subnational institutions (especially districts) have been subject to many reform efforts undertaken by the government and donors aimed at strengthening the capacity of policy delivery and, ultimately, support to teaching and learning in schools. However, there is little research investigating how subnational management practices can support policy implementation and adaptation to local contexts, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. This study aims to address this gap by exploring what management practices District Education Directorates (DEDs) in Ghana use to plan and implement policy. As well, it investigates the factors which enable or constrain the ability of DEDs in policy planning and implementation. 

“Teacher Expectations and Student Outcomes” (with Ronak Jain (Harvard University) and Vatsal Khandelwal (Oxford University))   

Abstract: We study whether conveying student-specific teacher expectations of high effort and achievement affect student motivation, performance, and non-cognitive outcomes at a time when student engagement was particularly low due to a prolonged absence of daily in-person teaching because of COVID-19. Working with over 280 classrooms, we elicit the current math teacher’s expectation of student performance and randomize whether students in a classroom (a) receive individual-specific teacher expectations, (b) are additionally randomly paired with a classmate and asked to encourage each other, (c) simply receive a reminder about their last
test score, or (d) receive no message at all. We test the impact of high teacher expectations in two waves – short-term impacts after ∼ 2-4 weeks and longer-term impacts after 3 months of follow-up reminders.

“Local Governance of Schools – a Double-edged Sword? Evidence from Pakistan”   

Abstract: An optimal policy design in service provision requires trading off the efficiency advantages of decentralization, with the capacity disadvantages at the local level. The School Council Mobilization Program (SCMP) in Punjab, Pakistan aimed to do exactly that: through regular and targeted phone calls, the program informed and nudged school management committees to utilize their allocated budget for school improvement activities and strengthen local governance of schools. Using multiple datasets and a difference-in-differences estimation strategy, I find that schools where members received the SCMP calls were 7 percent more likely to spend money and spent 50 percent more funds in absolute terms, compared to non-SCMP schools. However, outcomes on which members were encouraged to spend the money, such as improvement of school facilities and hiring of contract teachers, remained unchanged. Worse, students in SCMP schools scored lower in Math, English, and Urdu by approximately one-tenth of a standard deviation than students in non-SCMP schools. I argue that local governance interventions that do not focus on learning, and/or fail to include teachers in the design, make schooling worse-off for students.

“How do Students Respond to Early Signals of College Readiness?” (with Briana Ballis (UC Davis), Scott Carrell (UC Davis), Michal Kurlaender (UC Davis), and Paco Martorell (UC Davis))   

Abstract: California has been at the forefront of the efforts to align K-12 assessments with indicators of college success. All 11th grade students in the state receive a ‘college readiness’ signal based on their performance on the state’s standardized tests for accountability. Students fall in four categories: 1-Not Ready, 2-Not Yet Ready, 3-ConditionallyReady, or 4-Ready for college, based on their performance on mathematics and English tests. Students deemed ready are exempt from any further developmental coursework in college and avoid any additional summer remediation. Students ‘conditionally ready’ are provided with information about what courses they can take during their senior year to become ready and be exempted from remediation. Using a Regression Discontinuity Design, we study the impact of the college readiness signal on students’ math course taking patterns and post-secondary outcomes, i.e., enrolment in college. Our preliminary results suggest there is no significant impact of the light touch signal on students right above and below the ‘conditionally ready’ score cutoff on students’ post secondary trajectory.

Work in Progress

“Education System Diagnostics in Malaysia” with Dewi Susanti and Gautam Anand (Global School Leaders)   

Abstract: This project is a diagnostic study of Malaysia’s education ecosystem. We adapt the RISE systems framework to study relationships of accountability in the education system from the vantage point of public school leaders. We also aim to understand whether and how the government’s investment in school leadership supports teaching and learning at the school level. The RISE systems diagnostic will help us to: (1) identify key actors in the Malaysian education system who interact with school leaders and influence their decision-making; (2) specify the principal-agent relationships between key actors across the educational hierarchy; (3) unpack the primary alignment(s) as well as the incoherences within the system; and (4) explore ways to address the misalignments that hamper improvements in teaching and learning.

“Remediation in English and Post-secondary Outcomes” with Ijaz Bajwa (National University of Singapore) and Zarak Sohail (University of California, Irvine)   

Abstract: This evaluation seeks to address the overarching research question of how we can improve transitions from secondary to post-secondary institutions for students in low- and middle-income contexts. Specifically, we partner with a private school chain in Pakistan that designed a set of interventions to increase transition rates to higher education and employment. These include a 2-year college, the Alumni Development Programme (ADP), and paying for students to go to private test preparation and coaching centres. We study the effectiveness of these programs on application and enrolment behaviour in post-secondary institutions.

“Transitions to Post-Secondary Education in Low- and Middle- Income Countries” with Zarak Sohail and Areej Tayem (University of Ottawa)   

Abstract: The aim of this work stream is to document research on post-secondary education (2 and 4-year colleges) in mainstream academic research across different disciplines in developing countries. Through a systematic review we will analyze what interventions and programs are successful at improving transition/college readiness of students from high school to post-secondary educational institutes in low- and middle- income countries. Our study will offer a framework for studying post-secondary education in low- and middle-income countries.