Hélène Giacobino, Executive Director to J-PAL Europe, was at the Burkina Faso seminar on education.



Tell us about J-PAL.

J-PAL is a network of 80 researchers from all over the world who use randomized evaluations to help design better policies in the fight against poverty.
Randomized evaluation is a very rigorous method to measure the impact of a program or a policy, for instance to get to know if a new program to learn to read in school is really effective or not.
At J-PAL, we believe that policies would be better and more efficient if policy makers, NGOs, etc, knew what works and what doesn’t, which is not always the case nowadays.

Do you think people living in poverty should and could be associated to anti-poverty programs/policies?

Yes definitely! The research needs to be done with the beneficiaries of the programs, the people living in poverty. We have so many prejudices and false representations of poverty that we need to get rid off before thinking to create effective policies.
When I give speeches, I am always surprised to see how people react when I explain that people living in poverty are weighed down with responsibilities. They have to decide all day long about how to get clean water, food, education, etc… People living in poverty have no security at all and this is a very heavy burden. We have to take this into account if we want to shape effective programs.
Esther Duflo &Abhijit Banerjee, co founders of J-PAL, write, in Poor Economics, that “If we listen to the poor people themselves and force ourselves to understand the logic of their choices, then we will be able to construct a toolbox of effective policies and to understand why the poor live the way they do“.

What was of most interest to you during the Burkina Faso seminar?

First I was really interested in the method put in place to make sure that every one was able to speak, that every person was taken into account. This is also a very rigorous method. And efficient as well!
Second, it was an experience for me to work in French (as we usually work in English within J-PAL) and to see the difference of understanding under the word education. In Ouagadougou it was obvious for every one that we were not only speaking about schooling but about the entire process of educating a child.
The conclusions reached are very much in accordance with what J-PAL advocates for: our main recommendation is to teach at the right level, to ensure that children will really learn something at school, as today even if many more poor children are going to school, they often don’t learn anything.. In Ouagadougou, we concluded also that school should teach what is useful, but we also emphasized the need to learn moral values, necessary to becoming an educated person, in the whole sense of the word.