Using Koranic Schools to Improve Education for Boys and Girls

April 19, 2017

While access to and enrollment in primary education is nearing universal levels, there are still countries where children do not go to a formal school, and are instead enrolled in an informal, often religious institution. In cases where it is not feasible to move children out of these institutions, one option could be working with the school to add or strengthen basic math and language classes. This evaluation, of a program in Senegal that seeks to do just that for children in Koranic schools, will provide evidence of the feasibility of such programs and the impact on student skills.


Research area: Education
Country: Senegal
Evaluation Sample:  
Timeline: 2015-2019
Researchers: Raja Bentaouet Kattan, World Bank; Jean Paul Pétraud, IMPAQ; Leigh Linden, University of Texas; Mouhamadou Moustapha Lo, World Bank


Despite decades of government attempts to increase the outreach of education in Senegal, the literacy rate is slow to improve. The average net enrollment ratio in formal primary schools is 71 percent and, according to an INEADE report (L’Institut national d’étude et d’action pour le développement de l’éducation (INEADE). (2014). Rapport Du Posttest 2013–2014. Dakar, Senegal.), reading skills among elementary school students are low. For example, only 46 percent of second grade boys and girls show minimum reading fluency in French, computed as reading more than 45 words per minute. Overall, in 10 of Senegal’s 56 school districts, less than 25 percent of students could meet this reading level. Because French literacy is often a job requirement in firms working in Senegal, students without the right skills may find it hard to be employed.

The problem is exacerbated by the prevalence of informal schools where children mainly memorize the Koran. Such schools, called Daaras, have a deep historical and social significance and they are rooted in spread of Islam to Senegal in the 11th century. Koranic schools are seen by some families and as legitimate alternative to formal state schools.

The Ministry of Education, with support from the Japan Social Development Fund, USAID, the World Bank and the Islamic Development Bank, developed the “Modern Daara” basic French and math education curriculum for Koranic schools. The SIEF funded evaluation will help the government and donors judge the effectiveness of the pilot and decide whether or not to continues the program and expand to more schools. 


The program focuses on the 20 counties in Senegal where primary school enrollment is the lowest. Koranic schools enrolling children aged 7-12, which is the age at which children are supposed to be in primary school, are offered money to pay for infrastructure rehabilitation, additional French teachers’ salaries, learning materials and incentives for the heads of the schools.


The impact evaluation will use quasi-experimental methodology with a clustered regression discontinuity design to identify the average treatment effect. Forty of the Koranic schools slated to receive the program will be measured against 40 comparison schools that were picked because they rank most closely to the treatment schools. The treatment group consists of 2000 randomly chosen children ages 7–10 in the neighborhood around each school receiving the program. The comparison group covers 1200 randomly chosen children ages 7–10 in the neighborhood of each school that doesn’t receive the program.

Primary research questions

  1. Does the program reach the most disadvantaged children?
  2. Does this program lead families to choose Koranic schools over state-run schools?
  3. What’s the program’s impact on how the Koranic schools teach?
  4. How did the intervention affect pedagogical practices in the program schools?
  5. Does the program help – or hurt – children’s literacy and numeracy?
  6. Among those whose children go to schools that qualify for the program, is there a change in how parents or children view the value of education? Is there a difference between boys and girls?
  7. How do households make decisions on where to send children to school – or even if to send them to school? And does this differ for boys and girls?