Maximizing the Female Education Subsidy Program in Bangladesh

Improving access to education is helping women land better jobs and delay their age at marriage. Photo credit: ADB.

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Published: 11 February 2022

The student assistance program may be expanded to cushion the pandemic’s impact and enable more poor students, regardless of gender, to complete school.

Introduction

Gender disparity in education was widespread in the early 1990s in developing countries, particularly in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia.  Although this existed for all ages, it was more prevalent at the secondary than the primary level of schooling.

Bangladesh was one of the countries with high gender disparity specially in the 1980s and early 1990s.  The adult literacy rate for women was only 26% in 1991, compared to 44% for men. Although the situation has improved over time, this issue is still a major policy concern.

In 1994, the Government of Bangladesh, with the support of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and other development partners, introduced the Female Secondary Stipend and Assistance Program (FSSAP) to increase rural female secondary school enrollment and completion, as well as discourage early marriage.

Impact evaluation suggests that this low-cost program successfully improved educational, employment, and social outcomes for women. It also provided policy insights on how to address gender-specific fallout amidst the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic as well as improve enrollment and school completion of poor students, regardless of gender.

This article was adapted from the working paper The Female Secondary Stipend and Assistance Program in Bangladesh: What Did It Accomplish? published by ADB.

Stipend and Tuition Subsidy Program

The FSSAP is Bangladesh’s pioneering stipend and tuition subsidy program for female secondary school-level students in rural areas who have attained academic proficiency (45% in class-level test scores), attended 75% of school days, and remained unmarried until completion of secondary school.  

All female students at a participating school satisfying these criteria will receive a grade-level specific stipend amount and other allowances transferred directly to their own bank accounts. 

The subsidy, costing about 6% of Bangladesh’s per capita income, supported over two million girls each year. In its first phase, the cost of FSSAP from academic years 1994–1999 was $71 million, which was only 1.3% of the education budget.

Both school enrollment (Figure 1) and educational attainment of secondary school-level girls exceeded that of boys in the years following the introduction of the stipend. Aggregate statistics suggest that girls’ enrollment increased at a rate of 13% per year since 1994, while the rate for boys was only 2.5% per year. In addition, women’s age at first marriage rose by a full year since the program was introduced (Figure 2). One might think that this trend was achieved because of the impressive economic growth of Bangladesh, but this ADB working paper attributes this transformation to the FSSAP intervention.

Figure 1: Secondary Enrollment Distribution of Boys and Girls (%)

Sources:

Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics. 1998. Statistical Yearbook of Bangladesh, 1998. Dhaka.

Bangladesh Bureau of Education Information and Statistics. 2018. Bangladesh Education Statistics, 2017. Dhaka.  

Figure 2: Mean Age at Marriage of Females

Source: World Bank. Data Catalog. (Accessed 20 July).

The program increased the probability of self-employment and nonfarm employment among stipend recipients. Likewise, it also increased their chances of marrying men who are more educated and employed in the nonfarm sector. It also increased contraceptive use and increased preference for daughters.

The FSSAP has been replicated in Pakistan and some sub-Saharan African countries, such as Rwanda and Ghana.

Policy Implications

Achieve more with modest financial support in education.

The stipend program is worth supporting as its development benefits outweighed its cost by more than double. Specifically, the completion of one year of education costs the government $35 per student. That 1-year stipend or support yields 1 year of additional education at the secondary level for each girl enrolled. This means that to support 2 million girls each year, the government should spend $70 million—for a yield of 2 million years’ worth of education. Each year of secondary education implies an increase of $110 in future income. Thus, the benefit–cost ratio is 3.14, which means that the returns outweigh the financial cost by over 200%.

Since the calculated return to education considers income effects only, the total benefits of education must be even higher.

Moreover, a comprehensive female stipend program has far-reaching effects on society. It can change social behaviors persistent in societies as shown in the increased preference for daughters unlike the norms in many developing countries. 

Introduce more programs that can improve the quality of learning.

Governments can maximize the increased number of enrollments by introducing more school-level interventions, such as enhancing the quality of teachers and teaching materials to raise the overall quality of education. This can help students pass the secondary school certificate examination and raise the secondary school completion rates, as well as the overall school grade attainment rates.

Extend the scope of the stipend.

Government support may also be directed toward poor students—girls and boys alike—to help maintain higher learning outcomes. The recent program design of the Government of Bangladesh for a “harmonized” stipend program at the secondary level is a targeted program to reach the poor.

FSSAP as Pandemic Response

The FSSAP program can be designed to address the gender-specific fallout during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Education and training systems have experienced unprecedented disruptions due to the pandemic. Given the gender disparity in household resource allocation, girls could be disproportionately affected by the crisis. For many girls at the secondary school level, dropouts may mean leaving the school system permanently and getting married away, a consequence that FSSAP and other incentive programs are meant to stop.

Policy makers should ensure that the benefits accrued through FSSAP are sustained. Additional incentives must be built into the recovery package to prevent dropouts and expand the coverage of the learning activities through the internet, TV, or other media during lockdown.

Ryotaro Hayashi
Social Sector Economist, South Asia Department, Asian Development Bank

Ryotaro Hayashi works on improving the education sector in South Asia, particularly Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. Before joining ADB as a Young Professional in 2015, he worked for 10 years in international development organizations, including the World Bank, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, and Japan Bank for International Cooperation.

Asian Development Bank (ADB)

The Asian Development Bank is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty. Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members—49 from the region. Its main instruments for helping its developing member countries are policy dialogue, loans, equity investments, guarantees, grants, and technical assistance.

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