How do you help girls thrive in school?

You’d think the best way to get girls to succeed in school would to be design programs specifically for them – offer them mental health support or free menstrual pads.

But a new study, published in May in the journal World Bank Economic Review, begs to differ. Researchers David Evans and Fei Yuan reviewed 267 studies of education programs from 54 low- and middle-income countries to find the most effective ways to get more girls in school and improve their learning. Globally, more than 130 million girls remain out of school, according to the World Bank, due to poverty, child marriage and violence.

Instead of only examining girls’ education programs, they looked at all kinds of programs. To measure access, they analyzed enrollment rates, attendance, drop-out, graduation and completion rates, and to measure performance, they looked at test scores.

Their biggest finding is that gender-neutral programs – such as handing out cash aid to families of school-aged children – can be just as effective at improving girls’ education as programs designed just for girls.

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