Understanding Human Capital Accumulation in Developing Countries: A Field Experiment with Adaptive Technologies

Investigators: Supreet Kaur, Heather Schofield, and Sidra Rehman

Building human capital is essential to the process of growth and development. While developing countries have made tremendous gains in boosting school enrollment, the quality of education remains dismal. For example, in India, 53% of third to fifth graders cannot do basic subtraction (first grade math) (ASER 2011). The problem of low attainment of basic skills is common across poor countries, leading to low human capital levels despite high school enrollment (World Bank 2007).

In partnership with Pixatel and USAID Development Innovation Ventures, this project introduces a ​novel inexpensive tablet-based learning platform​. Specifically, the platform is personalized and adaptive, providing students with dynamically tailored content to match their achievement level and enabling them to achieve mastery in a topic before proceeding to more difficult content, regardless of initial achievement or teacher engagement. This feature of the intervention enables it to address two major challenges in poor countries: classrooms with very diverse student ability and achievement levels, and low teacher quality. The software will be deployed in schools in both rural and urban India to improve learning in primary school mathematics, an essential labor market and life skill.

This intervention enables us to evaluate the effectiveness of data-driven adaptive learning approaches in a developing country context. In addition, it forms the basis for a series of projects aimed at better understanding the process of human capital accumulation. For example, we will use the intervention to test for the presence of dynamic complementarities in education. This has relevance for understanding the distribution of labor market outcomes, inequality, and intergenerational mobility.

This project is part of CDEP’s Human Capital Initiative.