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Learning under Conflict: Effects of political violence on the educational attainment of Palestinian students in the West Bank

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - CSPIWB (Learning under Conflict: Effects of political violence on the educational attainment of Palestinian students in the West Bank)

Reporting period: 2017-07-05 to 2019-07-04

Conflicts can have long-lasting adverse impacts on individual and aggregate human capital accumulation. One particularly important aspect of human capital accumulation in conflict-ridden societies is educational attainment and performance which are important stepping stones for future labour market outcomes. Unfortunately, empirical evidence on the effects of conflict on educational outcomes is limited due to the poor quality of data in conflict-ridden settings. Most existing studies use conflict-related fatalities as the only measure of conflict, overlooking the role of conflict infrastructure such as wall, buffer zones, and checkpoints which often restrict mobility and result in social and economic divisions.
This project examines the causal effect of the Israeli-Palestinian (IP) conflict on the achievements of Palestinian high school students in their final exams (the Tawjihi General Examination or TGE) that conclude the high school degree. A defining feature of the IP conflict is the pervasive system of physical barriers put in place in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and the construction of the separation wall since 2002. The most prominent of these physical barriers are checkpoints, infrastructures manned by security personnel who conduct checks on commuters. Figure 1 below shows the evolution of physical barriers from the start (2000) and end (20006) of the sample period. The maps indicate the location of checkpoints in red circles and other physical barriers (roadblocks, earth mounds, gates) in smaller yellow circles. The maps indicate the increase in the number of physical barriers over time across the West Bank. Figure 2 provides further evidence on how the number of physical barriers changed over time. For example, the number of checkpoints increased from 30 to 69 over the sample period.
The objectives of this project are as follows. First, using a wide variety of novel data sources, this project examines the causal impact of the IP conflict on the education of Palestinian high school students in the West Bank. Second, this project investigates whether these impacts are heterogeneous. For example, the impacts might differ by gender and the educational track of the student. Third, this project aims to understand the mechanisms through which this effect occurs. The mechanisms of interest include the school learning environment and the psychological wellbeing of the students.
Overall, the empirical findings of this project will be informative to policymakers, academics, and the public. The novel data sources provide new insight on the impact of one of the longest-lasting conflicts. By understanding the mechanisms driving such effects, this project will be informative about potential routes and policies to mitigate such effects. Moreover, learning about the effects of conflict on high school achievements is crucial to better understand the impact of a violent conflict on the development prospects of an economy, since high-school students represent a substantial part of the future human capital of the country.
The work performed for the project, throughout the term of the Fellowship, consists of the following steps. First, a wide variety of data was gathered for the purpose of the analysis. This data includes (a) data on the educational performance of students, school characteristics, teacher characteristics, (b) data on various measures of conflict including physical barriers and measures of conflict-related violence, (c) data on various geographic level characteristics that might be correlated with conflict intensity. Second, this data was cleaned and harmonized to create a merged dataset. This merged dataset allows the researcher to observe student performance in all localities in the West Bank and measures of conflict and mobility restrictions in that locality. Third, using this merged dataset, various econometric models were estimated to analyze the impact of conflict on educational performance. This includes binary choice models for binary education outcomes (e.g. whether the student passed the exam) and high-dimensional fixed effect models where the fixed effects are for the locality of residence and the locality of the school. Fourth, to ensure that the estimates capture the effect of conflict, various robustness and placebo checks were conducted. This includes checking whether the sample of students who sit for exams is affected by exposure to conflict and whether students move endogenously in response to exposure to conflict. Fifth, to examine the mechanisms driving the baseline results, additional data sources were used to investigate the impact of conflict on the school learning environment and the psychological wellbeing of children.
The baseline results indicate that mobility restrictions in the form of checkpoints have adverse impacts on educational performance. Each additional checkpoint 5–10 km away from the school vicinity reduces the probability that a student passes the exam by over 2.5 percentage points (pp) and reduces the overall exam score (out of 100%) by 1.36 pp (Table 1). The results also suggest that the impact of mobility restrictions is fairly similar across genders, although the estimated impact on the probability of passing the TGE is more negative for female students compared to male students (Table 2). Examining how the results differ across subjects, the results indicate large variation across subjects. Mathematics scores are most adversely impacted, especially among female students (Table 3). Importantly, the impacts of mobility restrictions operate through a distinct channel to conflict-related violence which has been the focus of the previous literature. Evidence of the three mechanisms at play was found: First, each minute increased travel time due to delays at checkpoints reduces the probability of passing by 0.6 pp (Table 4). Second, mobility restrictions significantly increase the probability of students suffering from a lack of concentration (Table 5). Third, mobility restrictions impact the labour and capital supply at schools, potentially worsening the school learning environment (Table 6).
Beyond the data and econometric analysis discussed above, a further component of this project is to present this research and to produce papers for publications. The findings of this project will be presented to academic and non-academic audiences. Given the relevance of this topic, great potential exists for successful outreach activities targeted at scholars, policymakers and NGOs. A freely and publicly available report will be published in the final year of the project. Lastly, the final research paper will be presented in a conference and submitted for publication in top academic journals with high impact factor in the social sciences.
The potential impacts of this project firstly include improving our understanding of the impact of an important and modern conflict. Given the length and relevance of this conflict, such results are likely to be of interest among the international community. Second, by disseminating the findings through various organized seminars and workshops, this project has the potential to bring together scholars, policymakers, and NGOs with interests in similar fields. Lastly, by initiating a dialogue between scholars and policymakers, this project has the potential to impact the types of policies implemented.
number of checkpoints, other physical barriers, and fatalities
Impact of checkpoints (CPs) near school on educational performance
Temporal and spatial variation in physical barriers
Mechanisms – Impact of mobility restrictions on school learning environment
List of subjects and maximum grade for each subject
Mechanisms – Impact of mobility restrictions on cognitive, psychological, and behavioural problems
Calculation of total score by stream of study
Impact of checkpoints (CPs) near school on educational performance, by gender
Mechanisms – Time loss due to mobility restrictions
Impact of checkpoints (CPs) near school on exam scores for different subjects, by gender