Research projects

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Many of my research projects grow out of observations that I made on the ground or in interactions with NGOs or staff from international organizations. In many cases they involve impact evaluations, that is a scientific assessment of whether specific policies or projects are effective. Over the years, I have acquired extensive experience in collecting data in an African context. During my doctoral studies I was involved in the Kagera Health and Development Survey (KHDS). The children who were orphaned between the different rounds of the KHDS formed the basis of my dissertation fieldwork on orphan children and family networks in Tanzania in 2004-05.  

Since then, I have conducted a number field projects, some of which I describe here. For some of the research projects the research outputs are ready and there is more information on the research page.

Ongoing fieldwork projects

Ghana Youth Transition Survey

Together with Kim Lehrer (University of Sherbrooke) I have been collecting data on a random sample of 6 cohorts of Ghanaian senior high school students, as they transition from senior high school into the labor markets. We first conducted an in-school survey and have now also conducted a labor market survey of students who have left high school and are in the labor market. 
Using three rounds of data in schools, we will investigate the determinants of learning in senior high school, in particular how this is linked to management practices. We also evaluate the impacts of a change in the duration of high school on learning. Lastly, we have implemented activities to study the impact of learning in groups on learning.   
Using the two transition surveys, we are studying the inefficiencies in the school-to-work transition, due for example to administrative constraints. We also investigate how students make choices in applying to university. 

Quite a number of high school leavers
retake the high school leaving exam
called WASSCE remedial. 
Ads can be found all over Accra.
(Thanks to William Seitz for the photo.)


MGCubed is an interactive distance-learning program implemented in 70 primary schools in Ghana, where classes are taught via satellite feed from a central studio in Accra. Classes that are taught cover English and Math. In the afternoon, there are additional girls empowerment classes. Together with Jamie Johnston (Stanford), I am evaluating the impacts on learning outcomes, as well as girls' aspirations.

For more information on MGCubed, 
check out this YouTube video.

YouTube Video

Project Sankoré

Project Sankoré is named after one of the oldest places of higher learning in the world, founded in the mid-15th century in Timbuktu, Mali (Click here for the Wikipedia page). Project Sankoré uses interactive whiteboards in teaching in schools in Senegal. Together with Samba Mbaye (University of Gaston-Berger) in Senegal and Kim Lehrer at the Université de Sherbrooke, I am investigating the impacts of this project on educational outcomes and changes in teachers' pedagogy 

Project ABC - 2

After the successful completion of Project ABC (see below for more information), we were awarded funding to implement a follow-up project. In the follow-up project, we implement a variety of different elements to improve learning (from sending literacy related SMS messages, to monitoring the presence of literacy teachers). 

Separately, we also investigate the long-term effects of project ABC.

An evaluation of the Tara Akshar literacy program

New: Our project webpage is now online. Please click here for more information! 

Tara Akshar+ is the name of a computer-based literacy and numeracy program, that was designed by Readingwise UK and is implemented by the Indian NGO Development Alternatives among illiterate rural Indian populations. I am collaborating with Ashwini Deshpande at the University of Delhi, Alain Desrochers, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Ottawa,  Annemie Maertens at the University of Pittsburgh, and Abu Shonchoy at the University of Tokyo on understanding the impacts of Tara Akshar on literacy outcomes as well as wider socio-economic outcomes. For more information, you can watch the youtube video, or visit the research project pages.

YouTube Video



Completed fieldwork projects

Evaluating Cell-Ed 

Cell-Ed delivers literacy teaching entirely via mobile phones. Together with Jenny Aker (Tufts) Danielle Miller and Karla Perez, (both at UCLA), I am investigating whether Cell-Ed is effective at increasing literacy skills among Hispanic illiterates in the Los Angeles community. We are also interested in understanding whether this increases learners sense of empowerment. Our fieldwork took place in 2012 - 2013.  

To get a better idea of how Cell-Ed works,
check out this Spanish language YouTube video.

YouTube Video

Project ABC in Niger

Project ABC started with the simple idea that using mobile phones in literacy classes could improve learning, as this enables students to practice outside of classes, and motivates them more because they can immediately use their skills. We implemented this idea together with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in Niger, by providing mobile phones to a subset of the literacy classes that CRS had put in place. We conducted fieldwork in Niger between 2009 and 2011, and this fieldwork has been by far the hardest episode of fieldwork I have been through, losing close to 8kg in weight on one trip - certainly a good diet trip.

We have received funding to go back to Niger to implement an improved version of the program, that we hope can be scaled up to the whole country. 

In some villages in Niger, a stairway to heaven 
is the only place to get mobile phone reception.

Village Savings Groups Evaluation in Malawi  2008-11

Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA) are community led and managed savings groups that follow a fairly standardized protocol. The exciting novelty is that VSLAs really create a financial market in the village which is reliable (through a locked safe-box) but does not rely on outside finance and organization. VSLAs were first developed by CARE in Niger, and have since spread to much of Africa. This research is joint work with Helene Lilleor, Rockwool Foundation of Denmark, Jonas Helth Lønborg, and Ole Dahl Rasmussen, University of Southern Denmark.

One of the reasons VSLAs work is that the money 
of the savings group is kept in a locked cash box 
at the house of one member, but locked with three
 locks to which other members have the locks.
(Thanks to Ole for the photo.)

Orphans and Family Networks in Tanzania 2004-05

My doctoral dissertation involved spending a year in Tanzania, where I first worked (for free!) for the Kagera Health and Development Survey (KHDS). This is one of the very first long-term panel studies in a developing country, quite a visionary project actually, conducted to study the impact of HIV/AIDS on households. This was the early 1990s!  In 2004, Stefan Dercon, Joachim DeWeerdt and Kathleen Beegle organized KHDS II, to study the long-term impacts of adult mortality.  My own study followed orphan children more closely.

This photo speaks for itself!