Peru: If You Think You Can Get Smarter, You Will

April 25, 2017


Peru faced wide gaps in test scores between students from high- and low-income households. Instead of investing more in teacher training and learning materials, the team designed a growth mindset intervention to change beliefs and mental models on the part of educators and students alike. An impact evaluation showed that this simple, one-time 90-minute session increased test scores by 0.2 standard deviations. The cost of the intervention was $0.20 cents per student, which allowed the pilot to reach 50,000 students.


Student attitudes toward learning and their own abilities can influence their performance. If a student believes he or she is not smart enough, there is nothing to be done. But the good news is that recent studies have shown that intelligence is not immutable and unalterable, instead it can be trained by practice.

As with many other countries, Peru is worried about the academic outcome students are showing in standardized test, especially the increasing gap between those students from high and low income households.  



The usual approach to address this problem is through cognitive-based interventions, which is to invest more on teacher training and learning materials. 

Researchers from the World Bank, the University of Oxford and the Group for Analysis for Development (GRADE) from Peru decided to take a different approach.  They developed a project called “Expand your Mind" which focused on developing non-cognitive dimensions such as motivation and perseverance. 

The project relied on insights from Dr. Carol Dweck’s work on how individuals perceive their learning goals and intelligence and the impact it has on their motivation and effort. Individuals who believe that their abilities were fixed, tend to avoid challenging work and have a hard time dealing with failure. While individuals who believe their abilities (growth mindset) were malleable, embrace challenges and see failure as a learning opportunity.

In Peru, through this growth mindset interventionstudents and teachers in 800 selected public schools and high schools in Ancash, Junin and Lima were asked to read an essay titled "Did You Know You Can Grow Your Intelligence?" This was followed by a 90-minute session that let students and teachers discuss the article on how brains can grow. And then they were asked to write a letter to a friend to demonstrate that they understood the content of that essay and give advice how they could practice and grow their mind.



An impact evaluation of the project showed an average of 0.2 standard deviation increase in student test scores, roughly equivalent to having a parent with two to three more years of education. The intervention reached more than 50,000 students and was implemented at a cost of only $0.20 per student.


  • 50,000 students aged between 11 and 14 years old.
  • A 90-minute session were students and teachers discuss a specialized article on how brains can grow.
  • Schools in departments of Ancash, Junín and Lima - Peru.


  • Experimental impact evaluation.
  • 800 public schools were randomly assigned to treatment and control groups.
  • Results were measured by comparing standardized test on math and Spanish literacy.


  • 0.2 standard deviation increase in test scores.
  • Equivalent of having a parent with 2-3 more years of education.
  • Cost-effective! $0.20 per student


Moving Forward

The Ministry of Education in Peru is currently scaling up the experience and is implementing new trials to test the efficacy of additional teacher tools and video modalities. Given its promising results, eMBeD, the behavioral science team at the World Bank, is also replicating this work in other countries to test its scalability and reliability.