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A Down Payment on a Brighter Future

School stipends in Bangladesh have led to more girls in secondary school

01 July 2011
Girl at a blackboard (Courtesy of Shehzad Noorani/World Bank)

By providing money to families to cover school fees, the Female Secondary School Assistance Program in Bangladesh has led to an increase in girls’ secondary school enrollment.

By Dr. Mohammad Niaz Asadullah

Dr. Mohammad Niaz Asadullah is a lecturer in economics at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom and a visiting researcher at the ESRC Centre at the University of Oxford.

In the 1980s, the U.S. Agency for International Development funded the Female Education Scholarship Program (FESP) to encourage girls to attend secondary school.[1] Following the FESP, multiple iterations of the Female Secondary School Assistance Program (FSSAP)[*] in Bangladesh have continued the work of increasing female enrollment. These stipend programs have inspired other gender-targeted monetary interventions in the developing world, such as in Pakistan.

Under the FSSAP, stipends were given to girls irrespective of household wealth to cover school fees and came with three conditions the girls had to meet: attend school for at least 75 percent of the school year, obtain at least 45 percent marks on average in final examinations, and remain unmarried through completion of secondary education.

The gender-targeted school subsidy scheme was launched nationwide in the early 1990s in all of the country’s subdistricts by the Bangladeshi government in partnership with four international donors, including the World Bank. The FSSAP paid girls’ tuition directly to the school for all secondary school female students attending grades 6–10 in formally registered rural schools (both nonreligious and religious schools).

The FSSAP both encouraged parents to send their daughters to secondary school and motivated schools to seek female students. The FSSAP also provided additional funding to all registered secondary schools, including registered Islamic schools (madrassas), depending on the number of female students enrolled. While rigorous impact evaluation of FSSAP has been difficult, the program is associated with an exponential increase in female enrollment, reversing the gender gap in secondary education in Bangladesh.[2] Between 1990 and 2008, the share of female students in registered secondary schools in Bangladesh rose from 34 percent to 54 percent.[3]

The FSSAP also led to a dramatic increase in female enrollment in madrassas and transformed the country’s registered Islamic school system from a predominantly all-male institution to a largely co-educational system.[4]

Furthermore, there was a decline in the number of female dropouts due to marriage in the post-intervention period.[5] The delay in marriages induced by the stipend subsidy arguably contributed to lower fertility rates and child mortality rates in Bangladesh. Despite these gains in school participation and access, however, the rate of completion of the secondary school cycle remains low for girls.

Overall, the inclusion of girls within the secondary schooling system through the stipend subsidy has the potential to bring about a major social transformation, with direct implications for three of the Millennium Development Goals: reduce child mortality, improve maternal health and promote gender equality. A recent study by Asadullah and Chaudhury (2010) in Bangladesh indicates that school and madrassa teachers serve as a conduit for norm transmission to pupils, above and beyond the influence of their parents and the socio-economic environment. The institutional changes brought about by the FSSAP have been successful in improving access to education for girls in Bangladesh.

Despite these gains, as in other countries, more work needs to be done to ensure that the girls who participated in the FSSAP are able to continue to pursue their education beyond the secondary years.

* The original FSSAP scheme ended in 2001 and FSSAP II was then introduced, which ended in 2008. A modified version of the FSSAP, SEQAEP, is now in operation. Back to Article.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. government.

[1] Xiaoyan Liang, 1996. “Bangladesh: Female Secondary School Assistance.” Washington, D.C.: World Bank. Back to Article.

2 Khandker, Shahidur, Pitt, Mark, & Fuwa, N., 2003. “Subsidy to Promote Girls’ Secondary Education: The Female Stipend Program in Bangladesh.” Washington D.C.: World Bank. And. Asadullah, Mohammad Niaz & Nazmul Chaudhury, 2009b. “Reverse Gender Gap in Schooling in Bangladesh: Insights from Urban and Rural Households,” The Journal of Development Studies, vol. 45(8), pages 1360-1380. Back to Article.

3 Asadullah, Mohammad Niaz & Nazmul Chaudhury, 2009a. “Holy Alliances: Public Subsidies, Islamic High Schools, and Female Schooling in Bangladesh,” Education Economics, vol. 17(3), pages 377-394. Back to Article.

4 Asadullah, Mohammad Niaz & Nazmul Chaudhury, 2009a. “Holy Alliances: Public Subsidies, Islamic High Schools, and Female Schooling in Bangladesh,” Education Economics, vol. 17(3), pages 377-394. And. Asadullah, Mohammad Niaz, Nazmul Chaudhury & Syed Rashed Al-Zayed 2009c. “Secondary School Madrasas in Bangladesh: Incidence, Quality and Implications for Reform.” Washington D.C.: World Bank. Back to Article.

5 World Bank, 2003. “Bangladesh Female Secondary School Assistance Project,” PROJECT PERFORMANCE ASSESSMENT Report No. 26226. Back to Article.

(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://iipdigital.usembassy.gov/iipdigital-en/index.html)