PhD defence: Essays on the Economics of Education in Sub-Saharan Africa

PhD defence

Julie Buhl-Wiggers


Increasing levels of education has been especially important in the quest for reducing poverty and have accordingly been a high priority for both international organizations and local governments. However, some doubt have been cast on extent to which these increases in the level of education will lead to economic growth. One of the most concerning factors is that academic skills remain low despite increases in the access to education. In Africa, 15-20% do not have full competencies in reading or basic math when they leave primary school. Shedding light on how to improve learning is a central topic of this dissertation and three of the four main chapters focus on different aspects of learning disparities. While the first three main chapters focus on the determinants of learning, the last chapter is more concerned about the non-pecuniary effects of the recent expansion of the educational system in Africa. The dissertation contains four self-contained chapters that all address questions central to the African context: Gender, infectious diseases, teacher quality and ethnic vs. national identity.
The main finding of Chapter 2 is that new challenges are emerging as boys are now starting to under-perform in academic tests compared to girls. We argue that it is time to shift the research agenda from girls to gender, recognizing the vulnerabilities of boys and girls. Chapter 2 finds that that exposure to malaria in early childhood has significant negative effects on performance in English literacy during primary school. This corroborates the view that malaria is a public health challenge to educational achievement and that impaired academic performance is the likely channel linking early life malaria exposure with economic outcomes in adulthood. In Chapter 3 we find that even in a resource-constrained context as northern Uganda variations in teacher quality do explain a significant part of the variation in learning. This suggests that shifting the worst performing teachers to the level of the best performing could have a large impact on learning. The last Chapter points to the complexity of public education and how power and political interests are important elements of the provision of public education. I find that increased education as did increase national identity. However, the extent to which this also increased national cohesion is more doubtful as the reform did not increase the tolerance towards non-co-ethnics.


John Rand, Professor, Department of Economics, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Assesment Committee

Arne Henningsen, Associate Professor, Department of Food and Resource Economics, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Paul Glewwe, Professor, Department of Applied Economics, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis

Youdi Schipper, Senior researcher, Amsterdam Institute for International Development, Netherlands

If you are interested in a full copy of the thesis, you can contact the PhD student or the supervisor.