Professor Todd Pugatch examines how curriculum and administrative training in low- and middle-income countries affects student outcomes

Todd Pugatch

Todd Pugatch

By Colin Bowyer, Communications Manager - March 13, 2024

For low- and middle-income countries, education access is a powerful driver for reducing poverty and improving livelihoods. Developing countries have made huge progress over previous decades to open schools and get children into the classroom. Now, the focus is on identifying effective curriculum to assist students in their education journey, whether it ends after secondary school or continues into university. Administrators also play a key role in creating a welcoming environment with effective school management practices that touch all children enrolled in the school.

In two recently published studies, OSU economist Todd Pugatch examined how school curriculum, particularly focused on entrepreneurship, affected students’ economic outcomes, as well as how administrator training affected academic performance.

Pugatch’s research on entrepreneurship in Rwanda, with University of Toronto professor Moussa Blimpo, is derived from the Rwandan government’s realization that a majority of students in Rwanda will end their academic studies during or after completing secondary (high) school. Thus, a large young adult population enters the job market with a high school education in a country with few job opportunities, leading to persistently high employment (72 percent) in the informal sector.

Equipping students with business skills is essential to facilitate their transition from school to economic activity. Rwanda introduced entrepreneurship as a required subject in secondary schools in 2009. As part of its 2016 curriculum reform, all secondary school students in Rwanda were required to take a modified entrepreneurship course focused on providing students with skills to succeed in the labor market. The new curriculum included key pedagogical guidance designed to move classrooms away from rote learning (memorization) and towards the practical application of skills.

Using a randomized controlled trial, Pugatch and Blimpo evaluated a three-year intensive training for entrepreneurship teachers, finding pedagogical changes as intended and increased entrepreneurial activity among students. The researchers followed two sets of students for three years after graduating, a group whose teachers were randomly selected to receive the training and a group who did not. One year after graduation, in 2019, the entrepreneurship skill training proved to be promising. Students who participated in the secondary school training were more likely to start revenue-generating businesses and clubs, as well as more likely to enter university and migrate out of their home district. By 2021, income and profits were lower in the cohort that took the entrepreneurship training, however outcomes were overall marginal between the two groups.

“The entrepreneur skill-building program could be seen as a success,” explains Pugatch, “in that it got students interested in entrepreneurship, but that may have steered some participants away from their comparative advantage and resulted in lower than average quality of entrepreneurs.”

Pugatch was “surprised” that by 2021, there wasn’t much difference between the two groups, however when considering that the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020 and the disruption it caused on the African continent, “it makes sense in retrospect, but empirically, it’s hard to pin down.”

In addition to studying entrepreneurship training for students, Pugatch is also focused on the effects of school management training programs for administrators. Schools with strong management practices often have better student learning outcomes than schools with poor management practices, a trend that typically holds during major school disruptions such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Improving school quality in low- and middle-income countries is a global priority and teachers are a crucially important input on student outcomes,” said Pugatch. “A new frontier in understanding how schools influence student outcomes is school principals and management practices, where a small amount of literature currently exists. If you can improve student outcomes from adjusting principal management practices, you have a really powerful lever at your disposal. Teachers can only affect students in a singular classroom while principal performance can affect the entire school.”

In research published in December 2023, Pugatch and his co-authors, including School of Public Policy alumnus Gautam Anand, Ph.D. ‘21, conducted a systematic review of school management interventions in low- and middle-income countries. On average, management training practices for school administrators improved student learning.

“We saw test scores go up, but with a few caveats to the research we studied,” explained Pugatch.

Principal take-up was low and incentives were weak, which limited the effectiveness of the programs. Pugatch and his co-authors also found that effect sizes were not related to program scale or intensity, potentially leading to more promising results if the training programs were scaled up.

To test this hypothesis further, Pugatch has partnered with Anand again to conduct a study in India, funded by Agence Française de Développement and the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, about the impact of school leadership training in India. Anand will be part of the research team implementing the management training in schools. Pugatch hopes to see preliminary results from that study in winter 2025.