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Oklahoma State University

Reaching Out to Cut Poverty

Oklahoma State University associate professor Harounan Kazianga wants his research to lead to more education for girls around the world — and less poverty as a result.

Kazianga’s research looks at economic factors that prevent families in low-income countries from escaping from poverty.

One aspect of his study revolves around U.S. government-funded “girl-friendly” primary schools in rural villages of Burkina Faso in West Africa.

Harounan Kazianga

Child labor is part of life in West Africa. A startling 42 percent of children between 5 and 14 in Burkina Faso must work, according to a recent U.S. Department of Labor report.

The few lucky children who do get to attend school are usually boys. The girls work.

“They’re taking care of younger siblings. They’re working with their mothers in the field,” says Kazianga, who teaches in the Spears School’s Department of Economics and Legal Studies in Business.

Attending school had to be just about as attractive as the immediate benefit of harvesting big baskets of sorghum or corn to help the family survive, he found. His research found girl-friendly elementary schools had to be accessible to rural villagers and have separate toilets for boys and girls. More female teachers and gender-sensitivity training were bonuses.

And Kazianga’s research found the schools needed to offer extra incentives. So girls who attended school at least 90 percent of each month received about 11 pounds of rice and a half-liter of cooking oil.

“The result turned out to be very surprising,” says Kazianga.

“Not only did they enroll more girls but they enrolled more boys in school. And their learning outcomes were very fantastic,” he says.

One female student who attended a girl-friendly school even happily accepted an invitation to visit the White House a few years ago, he adds.

Kazianga is eager to return with his research team to Burkina Faso in 2015 to gather more data for the ongoing project.

“We want to see not only did they finish elementary school, what happened when they transitioned to middle school? How persistent are the gains?” he says. “It’s already significant to see some gains in two or three years. But there’s also the question to what extent will they persist over time?”