Battling Rising Gender Education Gaps in Uganda


  • Schools in Uganda closed for 22 months during the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning that children missed a prolonged period of their education.
  • We partnered with Uwezo Uganda to understand why some caregivers might choose not to re-enroll their children, particularly girls, and to design ways to get more kids back in schools.
  • Our solutions led to re-enrollment rates that were 2.8 times higher in the treatment groups compared to the control group, demonstrating how low-cost behavioral interventions can help boost gender equity and education.


The Challenge

In sub-Saharan Africa, prepandemic estimates indicated that for every 100 boys out of school, there were 123 girls denied the right to education. During the pandemic, entrenched inequities in education threatened to grow, particularly in Uganda, where schools experienced the longest pandemic-prompted shutdown in the world. Once schools reopened, there was extreme urgency to encourage caregivers to send their children, especially their daughters, back to school.


Our Approach

To combat the pandemic’s harmful effects on educational equity, we partnered with Uwezo Uganda, a nonprofit that tracks Ugandan children’s learning levels and enrollment in school. Through in-depth interviews and focus groups with Uwezo Uganda staff members, volunteers, and partners, we identified two key behavioral barriers that may prevent primary- and secondary-school aged children, especially girls, from returning to school:

  1. Social Norms: Caregivers may believe that it is not common to send girls to school.
  2. Present Bias: Caregivers may focus on the short-term benefits of having their children, especially girls, help out at home or contribute to household income by working. They may not be aware of, or think about, the long-term benefits afforded by an education.



In August 2021, while schools were closed due to COVID-19, Uwezo Uganda conducted its biannual learning assessment in over 5,000 households across 29 districts. We conducted a randomized controlled trial to test the impact of two behaviorally informed messages and leave-behind materials, delivered at the end of the assessment, on parents’ decisions to re-enroll their children in school once they reopened. These interventions led to re-enrollment rates that were 2.8 times higher in comparison to the control group, which received no intervention.

More information on the interventions we designed and the results of the evaluation can be found here.



Our results suggest that when we reminded caregivers about how many other children attend school and the long-term benefits of education, they were more likely to re-enroll their children, including their daughters, in school after the pandemic slowed. These findings indicate that behavioral interventions can be a cost-effective way to encourage caregivers to engage in behaviors that are important for their children’s education and can achieve impact at scale when integrated into programs like national learning assessments.

Interested in learning more about this work applying behavioral science to a crucial social problem? Email or reach out to us on X at @ideas42 to join the conversation.