Economics serving society

Preschool and Parental Response in a Second Best World: Evidence from a School Construction Experiment

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Adrien Bouguen, Deon Filmer, Karen Macours and Sophie Naudeau

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Studies from low-, middle-, and high-income countries show that children brought up in a more favorable early environment are healthier, taller, have higher cognitive ability, educational attainment, and earn significantly higher wages. As a result, preschool construction programs are often assumed to hold considerable promise to increase school readiness while reducing socioeconomic gap in human capital development. Yet there does not exist much robust evidence of a causal relation between preschool construction and school performance in developing countries and the parental response to the introduction of new early childhood programs is understudied. Parents might be unwilling or unable to leave the child at a preschool or might believe, rightly so or not, that socioemotional development is better carried out at home. If parents with lower parental skills are more likely to keep their children out of preschool, children who may need preschool the most may not be the ones who benefit from it.

The authors study parental response to a preschool construction program, and investigate its impacts on a wide set of early childhood outcomes in Cambodia. They rely on an experimental design where treatment villages benefiting from a preschool construction are compared to control villages. Importantly, the control group in the context did not only benefit from parental care but also from underage enrollment in primary school. The research hence estimates the effect of a preschool program in a context where the intervention might trigger reallocation between preschool, primary school and parental care at home.
The results show limited overall impact on child development, and negative impacts for the cohort of children with the highest program exposure. The program suffered from poor implementation that limited exposure time and reduced service quality. An additional reason for the disappointing results comes from the parental response to the preschool construction. Higher educated parents substituted underage primary school enrollment with preschool enrollment while less educated parents withdrew children from formal education.
These findings - poor implementation, perverse parental response and disappointing results – resonate with several other articles published for developed countries. Altogether, they suggest that the design of preschool interventions should start with a good understanding of parental enrollment decision making and the availability of close preschool substitutes.


Original title of the article: Preschool and Parental Response in a Second Best World: Evidence from a School Construction Experiment

Published in: Published online before print February 17, 2017, doi:10.3368/jhr.53.2.1215-7581R1 - J. Human Resources

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