Can Communities Take Charge? The Assessment of Learning Outcomes and Social Effects of Community-Based Education: A Randomized Field Experiment in Afghanistan

Dana Burde, Matthew Lisiecki, Joel Middleton, Otgonjargal Okhidoi, and Cyrus Samii

2019 Phase Two Endline Report

Steinhardt School, New York University


This report presents the Phase Two results for the Assessment of Learning Outcomes and Social Effects of Community-Based Education in Afghanistan (ALSE) project. ALSE is a multiyear, mixed-methods set of randomized controlled trials that assess strategies to improve community-based education (CBE) in Afghanistan. CBE is an education service delivery model that aims to improve access to and the quality of primary education in remote or otherwise hard-to-reach areas. ASLE focuses on the outcomes of the Community-Based Education Enhancement Program (CBEEP) implemented by two non-governmental organizations (NGOs), CARE Afghanistan and CRS Afghanistan, in 195 villages in six provinces of Afghanistan.

 Outcomes from ALSE’s Phase One (2014-2015) demonstrated the positive effects of CBE. CBE increased attendance among girls aged 6-11 by 16 percentage points, from 58 percent in villages without a CBE class to 74 percent in those with a class. For boys of the same age range, attendance grew by 11.7 percentage points, from 69 percent to 80 percent. The presence of a CBE class also improved children’s learning outcomes by 0.28 standard deviations overall for both boys and girls. Phase One found that living in communities with CBE substantially increased people’s trust in and the legitimacy of public service providers, including both the NGOs that run the CBE classes and the national government.

 International NGOs set up and run most CBE classes, and their operation is highly dependent on donors’ funding decisions, which affect the duration of their operations in a village. Once NGOs end their programming, the central and most challenging issue arises: how to sustain the gains achieved in education through CBE and prevent them from reverting to a situation of no access to education in rural communities?

 ASLE Phase Two tested the efficacy of a CBE sustainability model that involves village-level community institutions in managing the CBE classes inside their villages after NGOs withdraw. The sustainability model involves village institutions (shuras) and district/provincial education offices taking up joint administrative responsibility for CBE classes after NGO programming ends. The model includes capacity training for village shuras, the facilitated handover of CBE classes to village shuras, and dedicated funds for teacher salaries, textbooks, and other supplies. Village shuras take up daily administrative responsibilities, and the district and provincial education staff provide occasional monitoring, facilitated by ALSE.

Researchers evaluated whether the sustainability model could achieve outcomes that meet a benchmark set by the exemplary NGO implementation, or whether it is inferior to a degree that is not acceptable. They also assessed the effects of the sustainability model on primary education access, learning, school quality, and villagers’ confidence and trust in and the legitimacy of local and national government institutions.

 Main findings:

  • The sustainability model of CBE, which involves village community institutions and local government bodies, costs almost half of what NGO administration costs. The CBE average cost per village under the sustainability model is about 53.7 percent of what the NGO model would spend on running CBE in a village. The average cost per eligible child was estimated to be US$80 for the sustainability model and US$154 for NGO management of CBE.
  • Community administration of CBE under the sustainability model is as effective as under continued NGO administration in terms of promoting access to education and children’s learning, significantly outperforming what was expected, given the cost difference.
  • The sustainability model may be more beneficial for girls’ education attendance. The sustainability model provides access and learning opportunities for both boys and girls; the model performs slightly more effectively for girls than for boys in increasing access to education, although this difference is not statistically significant.
  • The confidence in village community institutions among heads of households and CBE teachers did not differ from their confidence in those institutions under NGO administration. However, under the sustainability model, community leaders’ confidence in local institutions was lower than their confidence in these institutions under NGO management. Moreover, CBE teachers’ confidence that CBE classes will continue under the sustainability model was weaker than that of their peers in communities under the NGO model. Additionally, the CBE teachers under the sustainability model were less likely to remain CBE teachers than their counterparts in communities under NGO administration. The absence of mechanisms, including funds to ensure long-term access to the CBE classes, likely influenced this decline in confidence.
  • The level of villagers’ trust in and the legitimacy of local and national government institutions under the sustainability model of CBE were not significantly different than the level found in areas under continued NGO administration.

 The researchers conclude that, with basic funds provided for teacher salaries and textbook supplies, it is possible to mobilize village community institutions and local education offices to sustain CBE classes in villages upon the departure of NGOs. Moreover, community-managed classes perform at a level comparable to classes under continued NGO management. The authors emphasize that the sustainability model is not a substitute for the NGO programs that initially set up the CBE classes. Rather, the sustainability model is appropriate for sustaining such efforts after they have been set up to run effectively.

The report also identifies several ways in which the sustainability model can be improved before it is scaled up. In particular:

  • Village-level community institutions can provide an effective institutional infrastructure for delivering primary education. However, training is necessary to ensure these institutions’ management capacity. Moreover, to ensure complete buy-in among community leaders, it may be necessary to couple the handover of administrative responsibilities to community institutions with other benefits, such as access to development funds.
  • For the sustainability model to work, well-coordinated support from national, provincial, and district government authorities must be made available, along with a reliable funding mechanism.
  • The sustainability model should not be viewed as a substitute for NGOs that initiated CBE classes. Instead, it must be seen as an effective model to sustain the gains those NGOs created. NGOs should plan on involving the village shuras increasingly throughout their CBE program implementation to facilitate the transfer of administrative responsibilities. Such a plan may include shura capacity-building, joint management and monitoring of CBE classes during the NGO administration, and close collaboration throughout the transition/handover process.
  • CBE programs need to expand to serve multiple cohorts and grades simultaneously. Only then will CBE meet ongoing education needs, rather than serving as a temporary system. The switch from single cohort-based enrollment to multi-grade annual enrollment will require financial and programmatic modifications that should be taken into account by NGOs and the donors who support them.