Augmenting State Capacity for Child Development: Experimental Evidence from India
Despite growing interest in improving early-childhood education in developing countries, there is little evidence on cost-effective ways of doing so at scale. We use a large-scale randomized experiment to study the impact of adding an extra worker focused on pre-school education (for children aged 3-5) in the world’s largest public early-childhood program: India’s Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS). Adding a worker doubled net instructional time and led to 0.29 and 0.46 standard deviation increases in math and language test scores after 18 months for children who remained enrolled in the program. Rates of stunting and severe malnutrition were also lower in the treatment group, likely reflecting the effect of freeing up time of the incumbent worker to focus more on nutrition-related tasks. A cost-benefit analysis suggests that the benefits of the program are likely to significantly exceed its costs even under conservative assumptions.
We thank the Government of Tamil Nadu especially S. Krishnan, L. Manivasan, and R. Kannan for their support for this project. We also thank Aparna Krishnan, Gautam Patel, Megha Pradhan, and Prakarsh Singh for their support at various stages of this project. We thank Larry Aber, Prashant Bharadwaj, Gordon Dahl, Jishnu Das, Purnima Menon, Jayashree Raghunandan, Mauricio Romero, Abhijeet Singh, Sharon Wolf, Hirokazu Yoshikawa, and several seminar participants for comments. Shruti Agarwal, Tanay Balantrapu, Aditi Bhowmick, Sharnic Djaker, Smit Gade, Nandini Gupta, Putul Gupta, Murali Mallikarjunan, Nihal Ranjit, Dhananjay Singh, Sivaranjani Sivamohan, and Anuja Venkatachalam provided excellent research assistance and field support. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.