Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



Committee Chair/Advisor

Devon Gorry

Committee Member

Felipe de Figueiredo Silva

Committee Member

Robert Fleck


Education has been widely recognized in the economic literature as a fundamental element in the economic development of nations and individuals. In this study, I focus on literacy acquisition for young children in poor communities in South Asia and Sub- saharan Africa. Literature on cognitive skill formation, neurobiology and psychology have found converging evidence that returns to investments in education differ by age. This is explained by the fact that neural circuits are more receptive to environmental influences at sensitive periods of brain development. Using data from a RCT experiment conducted between 2012-2016 in Bangladesh, Burundi, Ethiopia, Eswatini, Ghana, India, Malawi, Nepal and Rwanda, I seek to answer the question: did the treatment effects of World Vision's Unlock Literacy program vary according to the age that a child began receiving the intervention? I find evidence of differential effects for both letter recognition and reader tier achievement (measuring different levels of literacy skills), with larger treatment effects for younger children and smaller treatment effects for older children: the treatment effect for children age 7 and younger is 0.436 standard deviations (SDs) higher than the treatment effect for children ages 8 to 10 for reader tier achievement and 0.132 SDs for letter recognition, while children ages 11 and older have treatment effects that are 0.119 SDs lower in letter recognition. Disaggregating by country the coefficients were statistically significant only for some of them, typically the countries where the intervention was more effective (India, Nepal, Malawi). Potential implications of the results from this study include promoting initiatives that could prevent and address root causes of delayed enrollment. Further studies would benefit from measuring how much of the variation in age is due to relative age effects and delayed enrollment, as well as how this plays a role in the existence of differential effects per country.



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