The effect of transfers and preschool on children’s cognitive development in Uganda

Publication Details

Gillian, DO and Roy, S, 2016. The effect of transfers and preschool on children’s cognitive development in Uganda, 3ie Impact Evaluation Report 32. New Delhi: International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie).

This report is one of the two produced under this grant award. A link to the Ecuador report is href=">

Link to Source
Daniel O. Gilligan, Shalini Roy
Institutional affiliations
None specified
Grant-holding institution
None specified
Sub-Saharan Africa (includes East and West Africa)
Social Protection
Social Assistance
Gender analysis
Social Assistance
Gender analysis
Equity Focus
None specified
Evaluation design
Randomised Control Trials (RCT), Mixed Methods
3ie Series Report
3ie Funding Window
Social Protection Thematic Window


This study by Gilligan and Roy examines the impacts of two transfer modalities linked to school enrolment on children’s cognitive and non-cognitive development in Karamoja, Uganda.


In northern Uganda, UNICEF has supported early childhood development (ECD) centres since 2007. The caregivers at these centers are volunteers from the neighbouring communities and the centres rely on donations from the community. WFP selected three particularly food insecure districts in Northern Uganda in which to work, which were also covered by the UNICEF ECD centres.


Transfers of different modalities were made to households enrolled at a UNICEF sponsored ECD centre roughly every six to eight weeks. Though delivery did not remain contemporaneous across the two modalities throughout the study, both intervention groups received a similar number of transfers. The intervention lasted for approximately one year. Across all modalities, the amount of the transfer was approximately 70 per cent of households’ baseline reported value of food consumption. Cash transfers delivered as cards were redeemable at local mobile money agents. The food transfer consisted in large part of a multiple micronutrient fortified corn soya blend, as well fortified cooking oil and sugar. 

Within districts or sub-districts, 98 ECD clusters were randomised to receive food transfers, cash transfers or to the comparison group. The analytic sample consists of 2,461 households reached at the endline (March – April 2012). ANCOVA on single- and double-differences is used for analysis.

Main findings

At baseline, households across treatment groups reported a caloric intake of around 2070 calories per day, with limited consumption of meat/eggs, dairy, and vegetables other than green leafy ones. In a bad monthchildren would receive 1.6 meals per day and ECD centres were found to be open for about four days out of the past seven days.
In this context, the study found that cash transfers, but not food transfers, led to gains in cognitive scores. Limited impact on non-cognitive scores occurred with either modality. Improved quality of diet was found to have contributed to improvement in cognitive scores. Among those receiving cash transfers, meat or egg and dairy consumption increased significantly and moderate and/or severe anemia decreased (with weak significance). Additionally food rations, and the corn soya blend in particular, were not locally perceived as valuable for consumption or as a donation to the ECD centres.
The researchers also found evidence of increased stimulation (play, mental engagement, education) through increased participation in the ECD centres. Cash transfers also led to significant increases in number of days the ECD centres were open and the number of days children attended. Further, cashrecipient households were found to increase the value of gifts they gave to volunteer ECD leaders.

Policy influence

Findings from the study are being used to support institutionalisation of ECD.

Media coverage

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