Researchers Kyra Hanemaaijer, Olivier Marie and Marco Musumeci of Erasmus School of Economics recently published a working paper in which they investigated the effect of Ramadan observance during the final secondary school exams. PhD candidate Kyra Hanemaaijer was interviewed by the Algemeen Dagblad to discuss the findings of this study (13 May 2023).
Study and data
The researchers investigated whether the overlap of the high-stakes final exams with Ramadan in the Netherlands affects the performance of practising Muslim students. For their study, the researchers used big data. Over 776,000 test results were used in combination with students’ religious affiliation.
Their work showed that the exam grades and pass rate of these students dropped significantly, widening the existing achievement gap with non-Muslim peers by 16.4 percent. This gap is almost entirely driven by students in the poorest, worst performing and most (religiously) segregated schools: for these students, the gap increased by a quarter. According to Hanemaaijer, the observed achievement gap is a conservative estimation.
Therefore, practising Muslim students were more likely to repeat the final year, go into adult education or to even drop out from school without a diploma.
Hanemaaijer remarks these findings as ‘shocking’. She suggests scheduling the exams in such a way that they do not coincide with the religious obligations of Ramadan. If that is not possibly, then it may benefit Ramadan-observing students if the exams are scheduled in the afternoon rather than the early morning. Indeed, the researchers found that afternoon exams were impacted less by Ramadan than morning exams, except if they took place after another exam in the morning. In the latter case, students were especially negatively affected. This is suggestive evidence that those affected by Ramadan could counter the effects of sleep deprivation by taking (long) naps after the early meal (suhoor) when they have no exams in the morning.
Finally, Hanemaaijer nuances claims by some within the Muslim community that Ramadan observance during exams will increase student performance. These claims stem from a study done by the universities of Konstanz, Cologne and Bern. She explains that that study looked at the effect of Ramadan observance on test scores when Ramadan took place several months before the tests, whereas her and her co-authors’ study looked at the effect when the tests took place during Ramadan.