We are implementing a stratified randomized controlled trial (RCT) to analyze whether an eight-week customized life-skills curriculum will allow madrasah-going girls to reshape their understanding of adversity and, without changing external factors, attain more favorable education outcomes. Adolescent adversity in a resource-constrained environment is recognized as a potent risk factor for mental health, and often lead to high levels of school dropout. We have already designed a customized curriculum to address the needs of these marginalized students.
Previous experiments have shown that programs that attempt to improve education outcomes by cultivating attitudes, and beliefs about school and learning associated with positive academic outcomes can help adolescent and vulnerable students develop a growth mindset and improve motivation and school outcomes . Our life-skills curriculum has been developed by specialists in the field of psychology and education, in collaboration with practitioners in Leaping Boundaries, a non-profit aiming to increase visibility and improve life chances of women and girls from the most marginalized populations of Bangladesh. The curriculum is focused on adopting mindfulness to create a deeper understanding of the self. The curriculum tackles topics of loneliness, inner critics, boundaries, anxiety, and anger - which contribute to feelings of exclusion within the self.
The eventual objective of our study is to gather experimental evidence on the efficacy of this intervention. We want to examine if non-cognitive skills of encountering adversity, which is a form on non-financial resource, will allow vulnerable girls to better equipped to overcome the constraints of their environment and obtain better schooling outcomes. If the key objectives are met, we hope to scale up the delivery of similar initiatives across larger school systems through the dissemination of the customized module.
Our study's population will consist of 472 adolescent students in three madrasahs attending grades 6 to 10 in Dhaka City. It is estimated that madrasah-based education system provides education to more than 1.5 million female students in Bangladesh (Badrunnesha and Kwauk, 2015). Madrasah students face multiple challenges stemming from poor-quality education and uncomfortable classroom environments which inhibit open dialogue and interaction (Ahmad, 2009). Students enrolled in these institutions suffer from exclusion and low visibility at multiple levels. This sense of exclusion can hence develop a sense of prolonged identity crisis, feelings of vulnerability and lack of confidence. Adolescent adversity in a resource-constrained environment is recognized as a potent risk factor for mental health challenges (Kuhlman et al, 2019), and often lead to high levels of school dropout.
We have conducted a baseline survey of all students belonging to both the treatment and control groups. The key indicators for which information baseline has been obtained is elaborated in the section above. We also collected data on household income and labor outcomes, and other individual characteristics e.g. social media usage and attitudes towards gender and social norms. Our stratified randomized design implies that students from each of the three participating madrasahs will be randomly assigned to the life-skills treatment. Students in the control group will continue as originally planned, without any seminar or intervention. Our unit of analysis is an individual student.
We will begin administering eight workshops on life skills in the final week of August 2022 at the three institutions. The treatment sample consists of a total of 235 students (104 boys and 131 girls) from grades 6 to 10. The control sample consists of 237 students from the same grades and a similar gender composition. Table 1 provides summary statistics on a wide variety of outcomes from our baseline surveys, as well as balance tests across the treatment and control groups. Table 2 provides a breakdown of all students by Madrasah, grade, and treatment assignment.
Each workshop will last for an hour and will be delivered weekly, and therefore the intervention will involve a total of 8 days of delivery spanning eight weeks. The follow-up (post) intervention survey will be conducted with both the treatment and control students after the curriculum delivery has been completed.
The workshops will be delivered by five trainers, who themselves have already undergone three training sessions on the delivery of the life-skills curriculum. The curriculum and the delivery modes will be standardized across all five trainers. We will account for trainer fixed effects in our specification, to account for any unobserved heterogeneity in the quality of training provided.