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Jishnu Das on School Choice, School Quality, and 'Zombie Schools' in Pakistan
Episode 181st December 2022 • The RISE Podcast • Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE)
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In this episode, RISE Research Fellow Jason Silberstein speaks to Jishnu Das, Professor at Georgetown University and a Principal Investigator of the RISE Pakistan Country Research Team. They discuss Jishnu and his team’s ambitious research agenda, which is not simply studying the impact of a new education policy or intervention, but trying to build a fresh description of how the education system works. They talk about what makes a good school and how to measure it; why comparing public and private schools hides more than it helps; 'Zombie Schools' that are feeding on kids brains; and why every child that doesn’t learn is the fault of a badly engineered system and the ways we can change that.

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Guest biography

Jishnu Das

Jishnu Das is a Principal Investigator on the RISE Pakistan team. He is a Professor at the McCourt School of Public Policy and the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. His work focuses on health and education in low and middle-income countries, with an emphasis on social markets, or common, but complex, conflagrations of public and private education and health providers operating in a small geographical space. He was previously a lead economist at the World Bank’s Development Research Group, where his research focused on the delivery of quality education and health services. He has authored numerous education-related works, including “India Shining and Bharat Drowning: Comparing Two Indian States to the Worldwide Distribution in Mathematics Achievement” (Journal of Development Economics), and “Teacher Shocks and Student Learning: Evidence from Zambia” (Journal of Human Resources), in addition to work co-authored with Tahir Andrabi and Asim I. Khwaja. Das was awarded a PhD in economics from Harvard University and a BA from St. Stephen’s College in New Delhi, India. He was an author of the Learning and Educational Achievement in Punjab Schools (LEAPS) report, an extensive study of the schooling environment more than 100 villages in rural Pakistan.

Jason Silberstein

Jason Silberstein is a Research Fellow for RISE at the Blavatnik School of Government. His research explores the relationship between schools and the communities they serve.

Before joining RISE, he worked as a consultant to the governments of Ethiopia and Ghana on reforms aimed at strengthening accountability in their education systems, and spent 18 months as a policy advisor in the Myanmar Ministry of Education. His understanding of international development was shaped by 3 years at Seva Mandir, a grassroots nonprofit in India. His first job was as a secondary school English literature teacher. Jason holds a Masters in Public Administration in International Development (MPA/ID) from the Harvard Kennedy School. 

Attribution

RISE is funded by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office; Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Programme is implemented through a partnership between Oxford Policy Management and the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford. The Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford supports the production of the RISE Podcast.

Producers: Joseph Bullough and Katie Cooper

Audio Editing: James Morris

Transcripts

RISE Programme:

Hello, and welcome to the RISE podcast series, where we aim to explore the stories behind education, research and practice as part of the multicountry Research on Improving Systems of Education endeavour funded by UK Aid, Australian Aid, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Jason Silberstein, Host:

I'm Jason Silberstein, a Research Fellow at RISE. And today we're really lucky to have Jishnu Das on the podcast. Jishnu is a Professor at Georgetown University, and is a Principal Investigator on the RISE Country Research Team in Pakistan. Jishnu, along with his collaborators, has a really ambitious research agenda. He's not simply trying to study the impact of a new education policy or intervention. Instead, he is building something bigger and deeper, which is a fresh description of how the education system works. That made me at least rethink some of my most basic assumptions. We talk today about what makes a good school and how to measure that; why comparing public and private schools hides more than it helps; zombie schools that are feeding on kids brains; and why every child that doesn't learn is the fault of a badly engineered system and the ways we can change them. I hope you enjoy the conversation. Jishnu Das, welcome to the RISE podcast.

Jishnu Das:

Thanks, Jason. Good to be here.

Jason Silberstein, Host:

So, I first thought we could zoom out and just set the scene for our listeners on your overall research agenda. A lot of your research focuses on private schools in Pakistan, but you're not just looking at private schools in isolation, but rather how do public and private schools fit together into this bigger and very interdependent system? So can you give us the big picture about your research agenda? A kind of what are the big questions you're asking? And why have these questions motivated you for so long?

Jishnu Das:

So I was I was about to let out an audible groan when you said it's about private schools. I was like, ah, not really. No. So let me let me tell you why it is and is not about private schools. So I think the biggest change that's happened in education landscapes in low and middle income countries is the growth of the private sector. I mean, there are 30% of the enrollment in primary schools by now. The issue is the following, here's what people don't get, or I didn't understand for the longest time, which is the moment there's a private school there. It's not that the private school is there in isolation. It's there with the public school, there's always going to be a public school close by. Now, the issue is the Secretary of Education, or the Minister of Education, is the Minister of Education, not the Minister of Public Schools. And anytime you make a change in the public school, the private school who's going to be worried about losing students, gaining students, doing something, is going to react? So the point we've been making is, well, it's not that it's 30% of enrollment. It's that 80 to 90% of children in low income countries are living in environments where there are public and private schools together. So the issue that I keep coming back to is you cannot have public policy for the public sector that does not affect the broader swathe of education available to all children. There is no more, in this world, there is no more the possibility of public sector policy that only affects public school children. And if we want to be careful about saying, what should policy look like in this new environment, we have to study entire markets, by which I mean not in the sense of, you know, things that become a bizarre and a market, but really in terms of saying how do we look carefully at parents and children at schools and how they're all working together in this broader ecosystem. So that's what our work has been about, which is, we think that 80 90% of kids in many, many, many countries now live in environments with what we call significant choice and diversity in schooling. And we need to think both about the challenges and the opportunities of policies in this new environment.

Jason Silberstein, Host:

Yeah, that's so interesting, right? So it's not about private schools. It's not even just about the 30% of kids that are now going to private schools. Almost every kid lives in one of these education markets. And so we got to understand how they work.

Jishnu Das:

That's That's exactly right. That's way better than what I could have said. And that's the line I want to start with.

Jason Silberstein, Host:

Great. So all right, let's zoom in a little then and talk about a new paper that you're just about to put out with some pretty provocative findings that are, you know, to this point of how do these education markets work. It's titled, I believe "Heterogeneity in school value added and the private premium" and co authored with Tahir Andrabi, Natalie Bau and Asim Khwaja. And, as the paper's name suggests, I don't think we can really understand it without first talking about this idea of school value added. So maybe we can start with what is school value added?

Jishnu Das:

Sure. So we all went to schools and maybe in different countries. And one of the questions. So when, when maybe our parents were choosing schools, or maybe we also had some choice in it, depending on where you grew up. I don't remember my parents saying, "Should we send? You know, Do you want to go to a public school in a government aided school or a government school?" I think they said, you know, "What's a good school for you?" So we have, you know, and we're doing the same thing for our kids, right? We don't think about these broad categories, we think about schools. The moment you think about schools, what you're saying is schools themselves are different. So it's not about whether it's public or private. We all, as parents, as kids, as you know, have this intuitive sense that it's differences across schools that matter. So the question we have been trying to get at is, well, if we give up these kinds of labels of public, private NGO charter, and just say, schools, can I tell you something about whether one school is, you know, is, I'm going to use the word "better" in a very precise sense, which is to say, "Does it improve your test scores in Urdu, mathematics and English?" This is not better, you know, we should always keep at the back of our mind that schools have multi dimensional kinds of things. And foremost as a parent, for me is safety. Right? I mean, you know, nowhere are schools more unsafe than in the United States. So safety is a huge issue for parents, and I don't want to downplay that. So very specific sense of better, which is, are they, you know, do children improve their test scores in the schools. And then I want to say, I'm going to call a school better if I can find evidence that at this was the hard part, a randomly selected child placed in that school, would see a larger gain in their test scores, relative to being placed in another school. So a school value added now we can define precisely, is the gain in test scores in Urdu, mathematics and English in our case, because those were the subjects we tested, that a randomly selected child would experience after one year of being in that school, and that now is the school specific measure of quality.

Jason Silberstein, Host:

Right, right. So, so if a school has a higher value added, it's it's not because you know, all the kids going to that school are, I don't know, rich and privileged, and they're already doing better at school. It's kind of like accounting for selection, as as we say, right? Like this is trying to get at the true value of the school for the randomly selected kind of average kid. If you put them in that school.

Jishnu Das:

That's exactly right, Jason. And you would be right. Let me preempt your next question, which is "How do we know that this measure actually works?" Did you just draw this from a hat and claim it? So we have to spend a lot of time in the working paper actually trying to convince ourselves and our readers that we have a good measure. And I wasn't sure myself, right. I mean, these are not measures that, you know, it's a bit of rocket science, but not not too much, you know, you can we can, we can do it pretty easily. It requires a lot of data. So I think, you know, you have to be careful that we collected four years of data on test scores and things to be able to do this, but technically, it's not that hard. And I wasn't totally convinced about it. What convinced me was the following, which is, we see children switching schools in our sample. So about 5% of kids switch every year. So I could do the following, which is, so imagine that there's one school with a value added of five. Suppose I mean, five is whatever metric, right? I mean, you know, think about that, right? I could say, "Hey, I'm observing, Jason. I hope you don't mind my using your name. I'm observing Jason switching from school A to school B? If the school value added measures, right, I don't need to know Jason's test scores. But I should predict that he will gain five. And then observe a second kid Joe, switching to a school with value added two. And I say, if my measure is right, Joe should gain two by switching to that school, even if I don't know his test scores. So now look at what we have. I know, I actually can see the test calls. So what I'm going to put on my left hand side is I'm going to say Jason actually gained X, he should have gained five, Joe actually gained y and he should have gained two. Right? If my measure is right, that x should be five and that Joe should be two. The gains that they actually observe. And that's exactly what we find. More specifically, we show that the gains we observe among Jason and Joe, correlate one for one, with the gains we would have predicted just from the school value added that we had computed. And that convinced me because it actually said, more or less a randomly selected child, without knowing their test scores before or after the switch, I can completely predict how much they're going to gain just from the school value added. So that kind of got us back on saying, "Hey, I think we really have something here. That's working." And, you know, hopefully, readers and others will be able to assess the evidence because we feel if they agree that it's working, it opens up a really powerful tool in our arsenal.

Jason Silberstein, Host:

Great, so okay, I trust you, I trust you that this measure of school value added is pretty close to the real thing. So let's talk about, you know, what's, what's the payoff? Like, what's what can you do with this measure? Right? So one thing that I know you do in the paper is compare the this underlying quality of public and private schools, and not just the quality of the average public school and the average private school, which is what we usually hear about, but you're looking at the quality of all the schools, like you were saying before, you know, like, that's what parents really care about is like, there's different schools out there, what's the quality of these different schools, it doesn't really matter if they're public or private. I mean, that's part of it. But and I've seen you present a graph of this, that after I saw it anyway, it totally changed my mind about what I thought was true. And so I want to ask you, what do you find about this public versus private school value added quality?

Jishnu Das:

You know, I still remember when I joined my PhD, there was one lecture where the professor said, "You guys are probably confused right now, the aim of this class is to leave you profoundly confused by the end of the semester." So I want to move us, so what this paper is trying to do is to move us from confusion to profound confusion. In a serious, in a way. So let me try and explain that a little bit. I'm going to take two parts of that. So first, let's just start with this idea that test scores in low income countries are really pretty low. Right? And that there's a learning crisis. Okay, let me ask you. So let me let me push a question back to you. How do you interpret that statement? When I tell you that statement? How would you interpret it in terms of school value added, for instance? What does that statement mean for you?

Jason Silberstein, Host:

Hmm. I guess I would interpret it that most schools have low school value added.

Jishnu Das:

Excellent. Right. So you would say as I would say that, you know, most schools, let's not be diplomatic here suck, right? They're really not good. And now, let me give you one statistic that we cite right up front in the paper, right? The villages we work in have about 600, they have about 678 households on average, and they have about eight schools on average. Okay, the statistic I'm going to give you is the following. The difference between, the average difference between the best and the worst school in the same village is 0.4 standard deviations a year, right? Let me convert that. That's roughly saying that, if you go to the best school in the same village, versus the worst school in the same village, after five years in primary school, your test score difference will be the same as the average difference between low and high income countries.

Jason Silberstein, Host:

Wow, just within within one small village?

Jishnu Das:

Within the same village of 600 households, that takes me 10 to 15 minutes to walk across.

Jason Silberstein, Host:

Wow.

Jishnu Das:

So now where we have started to, to touch the profound confusion, we suddenly say, hey, if all the kids were just going to this best school, they would be at high income test score levels. Right? And if all the kids were going to the worst school, we'd be in really bad shape. Right? So you start to see, the moment you unpack this, right? You know, we are going to start facing very difficult and troubling questions of the overall structure of schooling in these contexts, right. So that, for me was, you know, that first graph that we present in this paper, let me just visually describe it to you: we put all 112 villages on the horizontal axis, every single village in our sample is there. And then for each village, we show the range of school value added within the village. And we show in every village, the difference between the best and the worst school is just absolutely massive. So the real statement that one could make is that despite having schools that are very, very good, the allocation of children across schools is such that test scores in low income countries are low. That's a very different statement to me. And I feel it's a statement that gives us traction into policy.

Jason Silberstein, Host:

Wow, no, this is really powerful stuff. You know, it's reminding me of one of these sayings about statisticians or economists. So like, a parable, where, you know, the economist drowned trying to cross the river that was, on average, two feet deep. Yeah. You know, it's not about the averages at all. It's about this range of schools and who's, you know, why are kids going to going to worse schools or better schools, and which schools are they going to? That seems to be one of the implications of these findings, I guess yet. So can you can you talk us through a little more of the implications of this? Does it?

Jishnu Das:

So let me talk then to the question you were talking about, which is, as these private schools came up, I think researchers and policymakers became very interested in, you know, which one's better. And we say, Well, look, my village has eight schools. And we're not only working in one village, right, we have these 112 villages. So instead of asking which one is better, I can say construct piece by piece ones I can say if you move from private school one to public school two, what would happen? If we move from private school three to public school five, what would happen? Right? And I show, you know, what we show in the paper is you can get. So here's here's how I want you to think about it. The best public schools are just as good as the best private schools. So that top end of the distribution is very similar across the public and private sector. At the bottom, there are some absolutely terrible public schools and I want to come back to them later. But the worst public school, private schools seem to be much better, there isn't this really bad group of private schools equivalent to really bad public schools, right. So what we show in the paper, is, depending upon how your policy moves children across schools, if your policy moved children from the best public schools to the worst private schools, you could get a private school effect that's negative and quite big. Right? Alternatively, if your policy moved children from the worst public schools to the best private schools, you would get an effect that's very positive, large and significant. So the big point we make is really there isn't a single private school effect, the effect of your policy is going to depend upon specifically which children moved from which school to which school. Right. So now, we know again, you can say, well, that sounds great from an ivory tower, kind of, you know, let's compute these different reallocations. What does that mean, in reality, and we shall look, depending upon what method I use, to think of public private school differences, I'm going to get different answers. That's what we show in the paper. And I can rationalise those different answers by looking at the value added of the different schools, and how my policy moved children across the schools. So this is the second big point I want to make, which is this variation in school value added is not just across schools within village, it's within the private sector. Within the public sector, there are great schools in the public sector and terrible schools in the public sector. There are great schools in the private sector, there aren't terrible schools in the private sector, but there's some pretty bad schools in the private sector. So let's just move away if we can from this public private dichotomy, right? And really start thinking about specific reallocations across different schools. So that's number one. Number two, you could tell me, "Hey, look, great, you know, you guys computed this over four years of test scores between 2003 and 2006. Maybe that's what it was in 2003-2006 maybe these things are not stable." So what we look at is we go back five years later in 2011, and we again, collect test calls. Now think about this. In the private sector, there's massive churn. By the time we go back, more than 80% of the teachers have left the exact numbers in the paper, I can't remember what it exactly was, but more than 80% of the teachers have left, right? The kids are all new. Right? In fact, I think it's more than 90% of the teachers have left. Kids are all new. But the correlation between the school value added in 2003 - 2006. And the test scores in 2011 is 0.8. Which means the schools that were good, remained good, despite teachers all churning over, children moving and the schools that are not so good remain not so good. I want to stress that last point, because we missed it the first time around. This is saying that private schools are choosing their market positions. The guy who is has not that great quality is saying I want to stay there. I am a school that doesn't produce great quality, but I am really cheap. Where do we see that? Well, and you say hell, that's so weird, right? Why would they do that? Well, where do we you know, think about let me give you an analogy. There are some restaurants that are cheap, not great, and they remain cheap and not great throughout. There are some restaurants that are great and very expensive and they remain great and expensive throughout. So these are market positions. This is not that every private school saying I want to become great. There are some schools that say, "we are trying to create schools that are good but high priced." And we see this in the data, the others who are saying, "Hey, I'm all about making sure that I can charge a low fee." But as a result of that, I can't provide super high test scores. And that's what we see in this in this private market.

Jason Silberstein, Host:

Right. So let's go back to a point that you raised like there is this one really big difference, though, between the public and the private sectors in terms of school quality, which is this long tail of the really low performing public schools, right? And these guys are there and they seem to stick around. So why why is this there? And why is that, that important?

Jishnu Das:

So we call them zombie schools. The reason we call them zombie schools is because they satisfy the three rules of zombie nests. They feed on people's brains. Okay, children's brains. They don't die. Okay. And the third one, they wouldn't be very dangerous if they were small. Right? I mean, if it was one kid, two kids going to them, but some of them are really big. So the surprising bit is why? So flip the question and say, "Why are parents sending their kids to zombie schools--to schools that are very low quality when there's a better public school also available?"

Jason Silberstein, Host:

A better public school, not just a private school, better public?

Jishnu Das:

Better public school that's also available.

Jason Silberstein, Host:

Wow, yeah.

Jishnu Das:

And now, you know, we don't have an answer. So let's so I have two parts of this answer. So let me give you both. One question is, why don't they die? And you could say, hey, public schools never closed down. Right? Turns out not to be true. So the government of Punjab, Pakistan has been working on this school consolidation programme, because many, many, many schools are very small in the province. And in the period of our data between 2003 and 2011, about 10% of public schools closed down. What criteria do you think they use to close down the schools? Well, they said the schools that are really small should be the ones that we close down. But interestingly, size and school value added are not correlated in the public sector. So unfortunately, and they would have been right if they said, hey, if it's really small, given that there's so many schools, it must mean that it's really bad. But if that turns out not to be, and that was empirically, a perfectly good guess. But it turns out not to be true. So the reason they don't die is because the government closure policy is not oriented towards quality. So that part is fine. Now you move it one step back, and you say, "Hey, sure, you moved it one step back. But why are parents sending their kids to the schools that are really bad?" Part of it seems to be that public schools are sex segregated in Pakistan, and maybe you're the only public meal school, or you're the only public school. But at the end of the day, those kinds of administrative restrictions only account for kind of 6% of the variation we find in enrollment. So, so let me be super truthful with you here. We don't know. We don't know why parents are sending their children to schools that are not that great when there are viable and equally inexpensive, better schools in the neighbourhood. And let me add one more bit to that confusion. The surprising part of our data is that that result doesn't hold in private school. So what do I mean? The surprise here relative to the literature, is that for large swathes of parents that are going to private schools and all of that, you know, the private schools, they recognise the quality, they know what's going on all kinds of things we expect happened in the data. The data from the US, you know, so Parag Pathak and Chris Walters and Joshua Angrist have really been the people developing the school value added measures in the US and looking at all kinds of things. And they show that parents cared about selectivity. They don't care about school value added, they are not being able to find parent or demand for school value added in a place like New York, right? Similarly, you know, Ainsworth, Rajeev Dehejia, Cristian Pop-Eleches, and Miguel Urquiola have this great paper based on Romania similarly showing that parents are leaving a lot of school value added on the table when it comes to school choice. And it's not just lack of information. So, so the puzzle that's developing here is for a large for a swathe of children, and perhaps parents, you know, school value added doesn't seem to be a huge part of the choice, the surprise in Pakistan? Is that for a lot of parents, it is.

Jishnu Das:

And it seems, you know, so almost at first glance, you would say the parents in Pakistan seem to be a lot more savvy and a lot more concerned about how much their children are learning in schools, then the parents are in Romania, or in New York, which might well be the case, right? I mean, the benefits of you know, getting educated education is one of your key ways out of poverty. So maybe, maybe that's true, maybe they are lot more careful. And they're saying, "Hey, these kids who really have a chance I'm going to very carefully align schools. But here are these other kids that, you know, whatever school I send them to, it's not going to work. So I don't really care." And we don't know. I mean, just we really don't know how you know, what that part of the puzzle or how it will be resolved.

Jason Silberstein, Host:

Yeah, this is fascinating. These, these market dynamics are fascinating. So I was just trying to think through what then are the kind of policy levers that we could use to change how families choose between these different schools? And like, I know you already mentioned one really interesting one is that maybe the government should shut down schools in a different way, and actually care about quality. Right? So that's kind of one on the supply side. And then I'm just trying to think, are there other supply side policy options we should be thinking about? Or scores? Or I guess, you know, you're just talking about we don't know how parents make decisions, really. And maybe that's the other direction, we need to think about how do we change the demand side thinking of how the families are, you know, what information they have about these schools? Is that the right way to be thinking about the different kinds of policy directions we go from here?

Jishnu Das:

So I like to think about this as a measurement paper. And as a measurement paper, I want to argue that this is, you know, this is very much like saying, "Hey, you know, here's something about a comet or a planet, that doesn't make sense with existing theories." And I think we now need to start waiting and allowing many, many flowers to bloom, to understand what exactly is going on. Having said that, let me think, let me tee up kind of three pieces to you that I'd love your reaction on actually and make this a bit of a con, you know, get your sense of this. You know, I've been reading a lot about a wonderful branch of work coming from sociology in the United States, that are kind of deep ethnographies of schools. Right, so there's a there's a great book by Annette Ferguson in 1980 called, you know, Bad Boys, which is about the making of criminality in a single San Francisco School. Right. You know, there are wonderful, there's classrooms and corridors. There's a any number of, you know, fantastic ethnographers and sociologists working in the schools. We don't have that yet, in low income countries, right? A lot of what we think about as qualitative work turns out to be you know, two, three days visit and then some quotes, instead of, I'm going to spend a year in that school and really understand how this culture of excellence or culture of non performance is created. For me, it's such a puzzle in a public school where 50% of the teachers are churning over in these eight years. What creates persistence and quality? The head teachers gone, the teachers are gone. Why is it that the school that was good before is also good today? What passed on, you know, what was that genetic transference like, right? So I feel we need a a lot of work on kind of deep ethnography. And we need the sociologists and the anthropologists to step up on that. So that's kind of one big agenda. I feel I was not, you know, at RISE, I think every three years, we sit down and say, what did we do? And where did we mess up? And, you know, I don't think we got this right. And let me be clear that it's not also easy to get right. We have searched for 10 years for people, you know, and we constantly put out a call saying, hey, we need somebody to go and live in this village as a trained anthropologists. We're not even going to tell you what to research, apart from its own education, live there for a year and tell us, you know, we'll tee up some questions to you, they may be of interest to you or not, but it'd be great if we can get your [thoughts] and we haven't had any takers. So, you know, that's something we need to think about. Second piece, look, I, here's a number that I didn't know. Parents in London, want to stay one kilometre closer to their school, even if it means giving up one standard deviation in test scores. Right, I can't remember whether it's a kilometre or a mile. But the numbers are crazy. So we actually have, you know, Pedro Carneiro, Hugo Reiss and I have a paper in the Review of Economics and Statistics looking at parental demand. And it makes sense, the thing is, they really care about distance. Right? Now, how do I view that? So care about distance to the extent that a school is, every 100 metres away a school is the likelihood that it will choose it plummets by 10 percentage points or something? Right, every 100 metres? I mean, how do I think about that? Right? So we are making progress on the parental demand side, this, you know, I think we have to start thinking about what are the experiments there that we need to think about. And, you know, we don't have a good sense of how to meld these two literature's together. But I genuinely feel we're at this area, where we need a lot of deep ethnographic work first that tells us about these cultures about these choices. And without that, it's going to be kind of hard to inform the quantitative work that we are trained in moving forward. So I would almost flip it and say, "Hey, you know, we need to get the stories first, before we we can move forward on a better understanding."

Jason Silberstein, Host:

Yeah, no, I'm a big fan of of that. I mean, it's funny, because you usually think of, oh, the qualitative, deep qualitative work, will throw up these questions and tell us what we should be looking at. And then the quantitative economist guys will come in and do a really rigorous study that will kind of, you know, settle the issue. But I really like this opposite kind of dialectic that you're talking about where while the quantitative, the data has thrown up these real mysteries and puzzles, and now we need to look at, you know, yeah, what is the culture that is lying behind this stuff? And, I mean, yeah, one thing that occurs to me, too, is like, what are the different kinds of families that are out there, you know, like, a family is totally had a genius in society, right? And so we need maybe a better explanation of different kinds of families and how they make different kinds of decisions in totally different ways.

Jishnu Das:

Let me just emphasise how important what you said was, and put it in another way. The way I put what you just said, Jason was you cannot understand heterogeneity in schools, unless you're willing to understand heterogeneity in parents, and heterogeneity in children. Right, at that's a really difficult point, because it's saying, Not only does this ethnography have to be about the schools, it has to be about the parents and the children as well. Right. And at the same time, we have to be really careful, right? Because so I've talked to lots and lots of parents in these villages elsewhere, right? One simple answer we could give is something like, look, my kid doesn't and I've heard this so many times. You know, my kid is not learning anything in school. Right? You know, Fine, let him go to school. He'll drop out at some stage. I don't really care where he goes to school. You know, the closest one is fine or whatever, right? I want to emphasise for you just how big a resignation from life, that statement really is, right? Because children more than anybody else, place their trust in us. Right. And I am a firm believer that when a child is not learning, it's not the child, it's the system. So what I want you to interpret what that parent is saying, as the system is so bad, or the parts of a system are so bad, that they are not geared to help my child learn. Maybe my child, it doesn't sit without moving in class at age seven, I can't understand why anybody expects children to do that, right? Maybe my child will speak up, when they don't understand something. My system, the system is not geared for this kind of kid to understand. So I never want our readers or you or anybody to think that the parents are not expressing this as a statement of deep frustration and resignation. Because we must move away from the idea that the, you know, unlike the fault, do you know, Brutus, in this case does lie in the stars. It's not within us. You know, in genuinely that, look, I mean, our usual line, that politic that we've we foisted on is that it's the fault of the parents, or the kid who's not, you know, think about economics models, it's the child's abilities, this external influence that's driving everything. And what and I want to claim that no, you know, we have to create systems that are inclusive, if a child is not learning in the system we have created as a democratic society, it is incumbent upon us to change that system, not change the child, right. So I just want you to always have that emphasis and deepness of empathy at the back of our minds as we think about this.

Jason Silberstein, Host:

No, absolutely. Absolutely. And this, I mean, I, this also relates a little bit, I think, to a point that you made earlier, which I thought was a great point, which is that, you know, school quality is also a super heterogeneous, diverse thing, right. And, you know, maybe the way that we study schools, and even the, the systems that we've created are really overvaluing, this narrow dimension of test scores on academic subjects, like, you know, we're doing math and English or whatever, and, and maybe we're really ignoring these other dimensions that that we need to be nurturing and helping kids, you know, grow in. So, alright, let's, um, well, let me just ask you, is there anything else you wanted to share about where you and the leaps team are kind of heading in your research on school quality? That we haven't touched on yet?

Jishnu Das:

So I mean, just very quickly. So the big thrust of papers, there are two papers we've already published in one that will be coming out, hopefully, the next month is to say, what if we flip it and we say, hey, maybe schools have some idea what to do. Maybe parents have some idea what to do. But they're really stuck in systems where their constraints, maybe they don't have information, maybe the schools don't have money, you know, maybe a bunch of stuff is going on, right? Can we fix institutions, so that the schools fix themselves? Right. So our big agenda here is to say, once we are in this system, where there are public and private schools, and we are the ministers of education, not the ministers of public schools, what can we do to fix the institutions that fix the pipes, rather than fix the pipes ourselves? And, you know, there'll be one paper that will come out in the next month. I won't divulge too much about it, but hopefully we can follow up on that. And then a paper that won't come out for another eight months, where we show that eight years after we gave information to parents and schools, we find eight years later, massively sustained improvements, which will make it by far, by far, by like factors, the cheapest and most cost effective intervention ever in education. I mean, we were shocked by the results, and we have a good reason why those results happened. You know, we'll have more on that. So keeping you kind of on the hook or posted on these two things that we think we are now on to something pretty serious in ways of changing these institutions that can help the schools improve.

Jason Silberstein, Host:

Yeah, great coming attractions. And we'll definitely come back and see those movies. Let's conclude with a question that we ask on every episode of the RISE podcast, which is, can you kind of boil down one thing that you wish other people knew about the education system in Pakistan, or education systems more generally?

Jishnu Das:

Just what we talked about two minutes back. I mean, I think I want people always to start with two pieces. One is, I genuinely believe that every child is a learner and can learn. And I think when children don't learn, we have been we, we foster a narrative that it's the school, it's the parents, or it's the children, you know, that gets fostered in many different ways. Maybe, you know, parents didn't invest properly, or maybe the child's ability is too low. I don't think those are right. I mean, I think those are essentially saying that our systems are built for certain types of children and families. And we need to think hard about how to rebuild them, for the families and children for whom they're not working. I mean, I've talked to so many children, and it's heartbreaking, Jason, when they will make excuses for the wrongs that adults perpetrate on them. Right, I have gone to schools around the world where the windows are broken, the textbooks are old. And the kids instead of saying, "look, what are you doing to us, we placed our trust in you." They will make excuses. They'll be like, "Oh, I'm so sorry. The window is broken, it's just yesterday, there was a storm." I know it's alive. But think of what this kid is doing this protecting the adults who are infringing on their rights. How dare we put children who are seven years old in that position? Right at that's what I want to leave with. Let's not ever forget that these kids have placed their trust in us. And every time we hear a child make an excuse for an adult or a system that has not worked for them. I mean, we have nothing but shame when we hear that.

Jason Silberstein, Host:

Jishnu Das, thank you so much for joining us and for these powerful lessons. Thank you.

Jishnu Das:

Absolutely, Jason, a pleasure as always, and I look forward to interacting more on these important issues.

RISE Programme:

Thank you for listening to our podcast today. And if you liked it, be sure to check out our research at riseprogramme.org or follow us on social media @RISEProgramme. You can find links to the research mentioned and other work shared under the description for this podcast episode. The RISE Podcast is brought to you by the Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE) Programme through support from the UK's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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