School Support for Adolescent Girls in Zimbabwe

Updated: Feb 27, 2020
Evidence Rating:
Near Top Tier


  • Program:

    A school support program in rural Zimbabwe for adolescent female orphans, defined as children under 18 years old with one or both parents deceased. For five years — during grades 6-10 — the program paid the girls’ school fees and provided them with free school uniforms and supplies, as well as a school-based female “helper” who monitored their attendance and followed-up with girls who were absent. The support was conditioned on the girls’ remaining enrolled in school.

  • Evaluation Methods:

    A well-conducted randomized controlled trial (RCT)[1] with a sample of 25 primary schools in rural Zimbabwe. The schools contained a total of 328 grade 6 orphan girls.

  • Key Findings:

    At program completion five years after random assignment, the study found that the program (i) increased the average years of schooling from 8.7 years for girls in the control group to 9.5 years for girls in the treatment group; (ii) decreased school dropout rates from 29% for girls in the control group to 11% for girls in the treatment group; (iii) decreased marriage rates from 24% for girls in the control group to 11% for girls in the treatment group; and (iv) decreased pregnancy rates from 22% for girls in the control group to 12% for girls in the treatment group. The above effects were all statistically significant. The study found no significant effects on rates of HIV or Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2 (HSV-2) infection.

  • Other:

    A study limitation is that all outcomes other than HIV and HSV-2 infection were self-reported. This could have potentially caused the study to overstate the program’s effects — for example, if the girls in the treatment group exaggerated their outcomes in the belief that doing so would yield additional school support (as the prior support had been conditioned on positive schooling outcomes). Additionally, the study was conducted in a single country — Zimbabwe. As a next step in the research, a replication RCT in another country, using more objective outcome measures, would be desirable to confirm the validity of the results and establish that they generalize to other settings.

Arnold Ventures’ Evidence-Based Policy team continuously monitors and reviews the evaluation literature in international development, as we do in domestic U.S. social policy, to identify programs with credible RCT evidence of important effects on people’s lives. However, given our organization’s focus on U.S. social policy, we only provide “highlights” of our evidence reviews for most international development programs (as shown above), without the accompanying detailed PDF summaries that we provide for U.S. programs.


[1] For example, the study had successful random assignment (as evidenced by highly similar treatment and control groups), minimal sample attrition, and an analysis that appropriately accounted for the fact that whole schools rather than individual girls were randomly assigned.

Hallfors, D.D., Cho, H., Simbarashe, R., Mapfumo, J., Iritani, B., Zhang, L., Luseno, W. & Miller, T. (2015). “The Impact of School Subsidies on HIV-Related Outcomes Among Adolescent Female Orphans.” Journal of Adolescent Health, 56(1), 79–84.