Job Market Paper

Can Schools Teach Innovation? Experimental Evidence from India (Manuscript here)

Innovation plays a pivotal role in fostering economic growth, yet there is a limited understanding of whether it can be taught. I conduct a randomized evaluation of an education program implemented by a state government and a nonprofit organization,  providing an opportunity to 6,224 8th-grade students from disadvantaged backgrounds to develop frugal innovations for global and local problems. To assess students' innovative ability, I created a novel scale with inputs from experienced inventors and used a lab-in-the-field game from experimental economics. The program consistently has a positive impact on students' innovative ability, as demonstrated by improvements on both the novel scale (0.20 standard deviations) and in a lab-in-the-field game (0.12 standard deviations). Notably, the ability for innovation is not correlated with academic achievement or IQ.   On the contrary, the gains in the ability for innovation came at the expense of interest and performance in math, declining by 0.30 standard deviations and 0.13 standard deviations, respectively. These results have significant implications for governments around the world in their capacity to impart an important higher-order skill in schools that strongly correlates with long-term economic growth.

Partners - Inqui-Lab Foundation, Telangana Social Welfare Residential Educational Institutions Society, Telangana Tribal Welfare Residential Educational Society

Coverage - The World Bank's Development Impact Blog

Conferences and Workshops: NHH Nordic PhD Workshop in the Economics of Education 2024 , Paris School of Economics and Center for Economic Policy and Research (CEPR) - Policy Forum 2023 , NBER Innovation Research Bootcamp, 2023, Advances of Field Experiments, 2022 and 2023, Association for Education Finance and Policy, 2023, Economics and Education Student Colloquium, Teachers College, 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023, Applied Microeconomics Methods Colloquium, Economics Department, Columbia University, 2021, Development Colloquium, Economics Department, Columbia University, 2022, Experimental Research Workshop (INCITE, Columbia University), 2021

Awards: NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship, 2023-2024, The Weiss Fund for Research in Development Economics at University of Chicago , 2023-2024, American Association of University Women International Dissertation Fellowship (declined), 2023-2024, Dean's Grant for Student Research 2022-2023, Teachers College, Education Policy Dissertation Research Fellowship 2022-2023 , Teachers College, Vice President’s Grant for Student Research in Diversity 2023-2024, Teachers College, Institute for Humane Studies Expense Support for Conference Presentation 2023, AEFP Roe L. Johns student grant award 2023, NAEd Spencer Dissertation Fellowship Semi-Final Round 2022

Working Papers

Going All In: Simultaneously Breaking Down Barriers for Women in the STEM Workforce

(with Ashutosh Bhuradia)

This research aims to measure the impact of a program for women engineers in India, an 18-month STEM training initiative designed for first-generation women engineering students. Deployed nationwide by an education start-up, the program employs a holistic strategy to overcome multifaceted barriers faced by women in STEM fields. By fostering a women-only environment, providing online accessibility, and emphasizing self-directed learning, the initiative seeks to address cultural, institutional, and psychological challenges hindering women's success in STEM. We aim to evaluate the WE program's efficacy in enhancing participants' technical and higher-order skills, ultimately influencing their labor market outcomes. With an underrepresentation of women in STEM persisting globally, this research contributes valuable insights into designing targeted interventions for breaking down barriers and fostering inclusivity in STEM education and careers.

Funding Support: $75000 from the Digital Harbor Foundation

Do Better Emotional Skills Lead To More Team Productivity?

In the modern economy, the significance of teamwork is on the rise. To explore this aspect, I conducted a cluster randomized control trial, wherein 6226 students were randomly assigned into 1241 teams based on their emotional skills. This stratified randomization ensured that the teams fell into two categories: above average and below average in terms of emotional perceptiveness. The study was conducted within the setting of government secondary schools in India, and the impacts of this arrangement were evaluated across multiple dimensions, including math and science performance, IQ, the Big 5 personality traits, career aspirations, and the structure of students' friendship networks.

Can phones be used for measuring foundational literacy and numeracy? Experimental evidence from India

Using a crossover randomized design with 1603 government primary school students in Uttar Pradesh, I report two key results about phone-based assessments (PBA) for measuring foundational literacy and numeracy skills. First, PBA is valid, reliable, and equivalent to currently prevalent in-person assessments (IPA). Second, in the specific case of literacy assessments, reliability on WhatsApp for sending literacy prompts is better than using students' school textbooks. Consider these results along with two other important possibilities - PBA are more cost-effective and operationally easy and they are better representative of the student population today due to accelerated penetration of phones and internet in the rural areas. These outcomes offer policymakers an additional assessment mode to measure students' learning outcomes for formative purposes. This could also potentially address the principal-agent problem that is currently prevalent and leads to huge distortion in the reporting of learning outcomes.

Read articles about this study: Ideas for India and Central Square Foundation

Funded by: Central Square Foundation

Presentations: AEFP 2022, GEEZ Seminars 2022

Workshop: Economics and Education Students Colloquium, Teachers College, Columbia University

Awards: Teachers College - The Provost's Grant For Conference Attendance & Presentation, Education Policy and Social Analysis Department Research Grant AY21-22

No Gender Bias? Results from Experimental Research in India

Addressing gender disparities in education is a global priority, endorsed by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. A proposed strategy is to increase female teacher representation, assuming potential benefits for girls' education. To examine this assumption, I analyzed teacher grading practices in Andhra Pradesh, India, considering student gender and prior academic performance. Using a 3x3 randomized experiment design, teachers assessed student essays, unaware of the true authors, but informed of varying characteristics, including gender (female, male, none) and prior grades (high, low, none). Surprisingly, the results showed that, on average, girls received higher grades than boys. While not statistically significant, female teachers tended to assign lower scores to essays attributed to girls, challenging conventional wisdom. In summary, this study suggests that government teachers in Andhra Pradesh do not demonstrate gender bias in grading. 

Partner: Directorate of School Education, Andhra Pradesh

Funding: Student Grant $10000 by Prof. Prashant Loyalka