Researcher receives early stage award from British journal

Stephanie Simmons Zuilkowski, a researcher at FSU's Learning Systems Institute.

Florida State University faculty member Stephanie Simmons Zuilkowski, a researcher at FSU’s Learning Systems Institute, received an Early Stage Career Research Prize from the British Journal of Educational Psychology for her paper on malaria prevention and school dropout in the Gambia.

The award is given each year for the best paper published in the journal by an author no more than three years from receipt of the doctoral degree. The journal published Zuilkowski’s paper in its September 2014 issue.

“I am honored by this award and pleased that the journal found my study to be significant,” said Zuilkowski, who holds a doctorate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

In addition to her work at LSI, Zuilkowski teaches international and comparative education courses in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies in FSU’s College of Education.

Zuilkowski’s research focuses on improving the quality of basic education in sub-Saharan Africa and on the long-run relationships between health problems and educational outcomes.

In her paper for the British Journal of Educational Psychology,she looked at early childhood malaria in the Gambia and sought to determine if efforts to prevent infection influenced whether children stayed in school or dropped out.

Zuilkowski drew upon data from a 2001 follow-up of an earlier malaria-prevention randomized controlled trial in the Gambia, Africa’s smallest nation. Malaria is a constant concern among its population of 2 million.

“In this study, we looked at the long-term educational effects of preventing childhood malaria,” said Zuilkowski, who co-authored the paper with Matthew C. H. Jukes of Harvard. “Does it reduce the risk of dropout? We found that it has a strong positive impact. In government schools, the odds of dropout in the treatment group were one third those in the control group, a striking difference.”

Malaria, which is caused by parasites transmitted by mosquitoes, can lead to cognitive impairment in young children before they even enter school.

“Children with poorer cognitive skills perform less well in class and become more likely to drop out,” Zuilkowski said.

Zuilkowski’s paper argues for effective use of malaria treatments as a means of improving the educational attainment of children in Gambia and other sub-Saharan nations.

“Our findings suggest that preventing early childhood malaria may reduce dropout at a relatively low cost,” Zuilkowski said. “These results support the conclusion that any type of effective malaria-control program protecting young children, such as consistent and correct use of bed nets, could improve educational attainment in areas where malaria is prevalent.”

The Learning Systems Institute conducts education research and service in Florida, the nation and around the world.