This week at the Asia-Pacific Meeting on Education 2030 in Bangkok, stakeholders will exchange ideas on how to transform learning. The first step lies in sound data systems to help governments respond to the demand for skills needed to achieve SDG 4.
The UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) works with countries the world over to help ensure that every education management information system (EMIS) is as good as it can possibly be. An effective EMIS is critical for education planning and policy implementation. However, building one is rarely, if ever, a simple task.
This already complex task becomes even more complicated in the Pacific Island Countries (PICs). It is an extraordinary region, with dozens of States scattered across millions of square kilometres of ocean – an area equivalent to 15% of the world’s surface.
These are countries of vast diversity. They include Niue, the world’s smallest country, with just 1,600 people. They also include Kiribati, one of the world’s most remote and geographically dispersed countries, with 33 coral atolls spread over 3.5 million square kilometres of ocean – an area larger than India. Just getting the data presents some formidable challenges.
Photo by Joe Hitchcock of school kids in Tuvalu
The challenges of education data collection
Like every other country, however, the PICs face unprecedented demand for education data to support the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) and the monitoring of the implementation of the Pacific Regional Education Framework (PacREF).
The PacREF was endorsed by the region’s Education Ministers in May and is due to be launched later this year, with donors and development partners already committed to the new framework and aligning their support to its proposed actions and programs.
The PacREF identifies four priority policy areas:
This requires an effective EMIS in each and every island state across the Pacific. And the PICs have risen to the challenge. With support from the UIS and funding from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) from 2015 to 2018, the PICs have been working to tackle the key challenges for education data in a region that has had the lowest regional rates of comprehensive and consistent reporting of such data worldwide.
Low response rates to international surveys reflected the lack of effective EMIS in the region, as well as a lack of capacity to produce data and indicators in line with international standards. National EMIS units have tended to be under-staffed and there have been limited technical skills for the integration and analysis of large data sets.
The response: focus and collaboration
UIS staff from the UNESCO Office for the Pacific States in Apia (Samoa) and from the Pacific Regional EMIS Facility at SPC aimed to develop EMIS systems that followed international best practice, including the production of internationally-comparable data. At country level, the UIS and SPC have worked closely together to assess the quality of national EMIS systems and to support plans to improve national data quality, including the strengthening of national EMISs.
Results across Pacific States
Naturally, there have been challenges, including an over-reliance on external technical assistance, as well as the struggle to ensure that staff capacities can keep pace with the region-wide redesign and expansion of EMIS. Nevertheless, this three-year collaboration has generated a number of results.
On assessing and improving the quality of education statistics, data quality assessment reports have been endorsed by the governments of Kiribati and Tuvalu, with similar plans awaiting endorsement across at least three other countries. An online rapid data assessment tool for PICs has been used by five additional countries. The findings can inform UIS activities to support PICs on the implementation of their plans to improve the quality of education statistics.
On improving the visibility of education progress in the Pacific at the international level, 13 PICs have submitted data for the 2017 Survey of Formal Education. As a result, response rates for the submission of recent-year data have been the highest since data collections began in the Pacific. The region now has one of the highest reporting rates worldwide, with more than 85% of countries providing data for the UIS Survey of Formal Education.
On improving the monitoring of progress against regional education agendas, the initiative has discussed the development of a regional data collection mechanism to complement existing data collections by providing a cost-effective and sustainable way to collect annual data that are not currently part of UIS data collection. A draft roadmap has been discussed at Pacific Heads of Education Systems meetings, with these discussions informing changes to the monitoring and evaluation of the PacREF. In close collaboration with SPC, a set of key outcome indicators have been agreed for monitoring the REF, including SDG 4 indicators that relate to the framework’s priority areas.
On increasing the use of education statistics by stakeholders at the country and regional levels, the UIS attended the regional Summit on strengthening the use of education information to inform change in November 2017 in Fiji. Its presentation linked the SDG 4 and Education 2030 Agenda to national and regional education sector plans by incorporating the global and thematic indicators. The UIS has also taken an active role in SPC’s training for staff in Vanuatu’s Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) on analyzing data from the EMIS database, including the production of basic education indicators.
Coming next: more work to improve education data in Pacific countries
Internationally-comparable data from the UIS database have been provided to the Pacific Island Forum, including gross and net enrollment rates for early childhood education, primary and secondary schooling, which will inform the baselines for the new PacREF. UIS staff have also advised several Pacific Island countries on the methodologies for producing education indicators.
All partners in this initiative can be proud of what has been achieved in just two years, particularly the significant increase in recent-year data, and the initiative has been warmly welcomed by regional governments.
On a personal note, I would like to congratulate and thank the UNESCO Institute for Statistics for the instrumental role it played in revealing the key areas for improvement in managing our Educational Data with the Tuvalu Education Management Information System. On behalf of the Ministry, we look forward to working with UIS on improving these areas in the near future.
Looking ahead, there is, of course, a great deal of unfinished business for education data. The UIS will continue to work with its partners in the region to build on what has been achieved, and pursue collective action to enhance education management information systems across this unique region.