Using data to improve young people’s lives

Dr Rozana Himaz

Dr Rozana Himaz’s expertise in development economics is improving young people’s education and health in some of the world’s poorest countries. Using large surveys and statistics, she provides the evidence needed for investment and action from key global organisations.

Rozana’s long-term research into the value of education underpinned the World Bank’s decision to invest $100 million in boosting children’s education in Sri Lanka, and her research into the impact of poor nutrition on young people’s growth has led to fresh thinking which is influencing how UNICEF and other agencies tackle the problem.

“An important contribution to the development of further World Bank investment in education.”

World Bank Sri Lanka Team Leader for Education

Investing in education

Rozana’s work is based on long-term research which shows that an extra year of schooling in Sri Lanka significantly boosts the welfare of everyone in the household. This is especially the case in the poorest communities. Her findings also highlight how boys have significantly lower educational attainment, perhaps due to the labour market favouring men and lowering their expectations at school.

Her findings were a key driver in the World Bank’s decision to commit $100 million to the General Education Modernisation (GEM) Project in Sri Lanka. Running from 2018 to 2024, the project supports 10,000 schools in the poorest communities, boosting the education of around 5 million school students a year.

As the World Bank Sri Lanka Team Leader for Education has said: ‘The merging of my expertise at the bank…together with [Himaz’s] expertise in conducting rigorous econometric analysis based on large household datasets helped co-create research that has made an important contribution to the development of further World Bank investment in education through the GEM project.’

The research has also helped to pinpoint where the investment should be made, offering extra funds to the poorest schools, particularly in Mathematics and English Language. It also highlights the importance of increasing awareness within the community of gender sensitivity in teaching and learning, to help change expectations of boys’ low attainment. 

A window of opportunity

Rozana’s work has also been key in challenging thinking about stunted growth, which affects more than 150 million children worldwide, according to UNICEF’s Global Nutrition Report. Most approaches to tackling the problem focus on the first 1,000 days of a child’s life after conception. In her work, Rozana took a different line, carrying out research on how patterns of growth slowed in adolescence.

She drew on data from the Young Lives project, a University of Oxford study following 12,000 children from Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam over 15 years. Rozana found that their growth faltered during adolescence, especially in girls in India, even if this wasn’t the case before. There were longer term consequences too, with their children being thinner and shorter. As the Director of the Young Lives project notes, ‘...your work on growth faltering during adolescence and especially the evidence around girls…formed an important part of our evidence on post-infancy growth dynamism.’ 

Yet with the right nutrition, Rozana’s findings suggest that there is scope for young people's growth to catch up during adolescence, rather than support focusing on nutrition during early childhood or pregnancy.

Her research has led agencies including UNICEF (the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund) to include adolescent nutrition as a key priority in reaching the UN’s sustainable development goals on good health and well being, and on gender equality. 

Sri Lankan girl

Changing lives in the poorest communities

Rozana’s painstaking statistical research is challenging thinking and delivering real change to social policy in developing countries. Combining rigour with fresh perspectives, her work has been instrumental in raising awareness amongst global agencies and policy-makers, and improving the lives and futures of countless young people.

Image credits:

Children - Photo by Gocha Szostak on Unsplash
Girl - aamiraimer on Pixabay