In rural countries, families often have to choose between sending their children to school or keeping them home to help with farming—often having a detrimental impact on educational outcomes. In a new study featured in World Bank Blogs, PhD student James Allen IV analyzes this overlap's impact on educational outcomes and how to mitigate the effects.
Allen uses a four-month shift in Malawi's school calendar as a natural experiment. Looking at the Malawi Integrated Household Panel Survey, he looks at the highest completed grade level of school-aged children.
"I find that, after four years, a 10-day increase in school calendar overlap during peak farming periods reduces school advancement by 0.34 grades—one lost grade for every three children—with stronger negative impacts for girls and poorer households," Allen writes. "These effects are mainly driven by overlap with the labor-intensive sowing period, in which planting for all rainy-season crops is concentrated into roughly a 45-day period. The magnitude of these effects suggests that accommodating farm labor demand should be a top priority in setting school calendars and that overlap between school and farming calendars may indeed play an important role in explaining differences in schooling across SSA (sub-Saharan Africa)."
Allen recommends setting the school calendar to align school breaks with periods of peak farm labor demand and allowing for more local adaptation of the school calendar, minimizing the overlap between school and farming.
"Taken together, these findings suggest that the school calendar itself can be an effective policy tool for increasing time in school in SSA. Rather than conceptualizing the time trade-off between schooling and child labor as a zero-sum game, policymakers have the ability via the school calendar to alleviate the constraint on total time available to both productive activities," he concludes. "By avoiding overlaps with the farming calendar, the school calendar can be used to increase school participation among those most vulnerable to missing school due to household farming demands."