By Silvia Montoya, Executive Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, and Dankert Vedeler, Co-Chair of the Global Education 2030 Steering Committee.
The members of the Global Education 2030 Steering Committee, gathering in Paris this week, have much to discuss, and also much to celebrate – particularly on the all-important data that will track progress towards the world’s education goals.
So much is happening. The SDG 4 – Education 2030 indicator framework is taking shape. Partnerships spanning countries and international organizations are putting down roots, including the Technical Co-operation Group (TCG) that is building consensus around the framework, ensuring that the monitoring of progress and the creation of baselines will begin in 2017, as noted in a recent blog.
Getting structures and tools in place
The Global Alliance to Monitor Learning (GAML), created earlier this year, is zooming in on a new methodology to track progress on SDG indicator 4.1.1, which monitors the proportion of children and young people with at least a minimum proficiency in reading and mathematics at three points in their school trajectory: early grades, end of primary and end of lower secondary education. 4.1.1 was originally considered as a Tier III indicator because it lacked an established methodology and was not reported on by more than 50% of countries in every region. This means that it would not have been reported upon at the global level in 2017.
The good news is that the UIS, through GAML, has found a way to resolve the methodological issues and the proposal was just approved by the Inter-agency Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs). At a recent meeting, the Group decided to upgrade indicator 4.1.1 from Tier III to Tier II for the last two points of measurement (end of primary and lower secondary).
This upgrading reflects more than a technical solution – it has major political implications. For the first time, we will have a baseline in 2017 on the extent to which children and young adolescents are actually acquiring the minimum levels of skills in reading and mathematics at the end of primary and lower secondary, based on a set of harmonized criteria established by the mass of countries participating in regional and international assessments.
This breakthrough also paves the way to a possible lead indicator that would go straight to the heart of the SDG 4 agenda: to ensure that all children are in school and learning. Many stakeholders, notably the Education Commission, are urging the development of a lead indicator that would reflect access to and quality of education. It would combine indicator 4.1.1 (share of children at the end of primary with a minimum proficiency in reading and mathematics) with the completion rate for primary school-age children and/or the out-of-school rate for this age group – all of which are produced by the UIS.
The IAEG is going to consult on a list of additional indicators, including either the out-of-school children rate or the completion rates, in the global monitoring framework for SDG 4 to help ensure that no child is left behind.
We still don’t know a lot about education funding
There is also growing recognition of the need to monitor the money – the funding that goes into education, from whatever source. We must know whether enough resources are being spent to reach SDG 4, and whether it is being spent equitably and effectively.
Yet despite the benefits of a clear and comprehensive picture on who is spending what, the global education community and national planners face important data gaps when it comes to education financing.
In June this year, for example, only 41 countries were able to report on a key UIS indicator - government expenditure on education as a share of GDP. As noted in a blog in September, it’s almost impossible, as things stand, to work out how much money is spent on the education of each child around the world.
Many countries do not respond to global questionnaires on education finance – from the data collections undertaken by the OECD to those of the UIS. In response, the UIS is developing an overall strategy to improve the use of education finance data, working closely with the Global Partnership for Education and the World Bank Group.
The fact that many countries don’t report data on their education spending does not mean that the sources of information don’t exist. They just need to be properly harmonised and used, which is why the UIS is searching for them on behalf of some countries, and using existing sources of information to complement the responses. Countries can then validate the findings. End result: better coverage of key data.
Collaborating to collect quality data
The UIS will be working with the World Bank, which collects finance data through its BOOST initiative to facilitate access to budget data. The aim is to find ways to convert the BOOST data for use in the UIS questionnaire and for National Education Accounts (NEAs) which help countries gain a comprehensive perspective on their education finance and improve their policies and planning.
The new strategy will begin by looking at government spending on education as a percentage of GDP and of total government expenditure, and government spending per student.
At the same time, the UIS will be improving the quality of data on private expenditure on education – in other words, what families spend on education – by developing an approach to harmonise currently available data and providing guidelines for future data collections. With this new approach, the UIS will be able to produce indicator 4.5.4 on private spending for the first time in 2017.
Diversifying the sources of data to reach the most marginalized
Household surveys offer tremendous potential to enrich the administrative data collected by the UIS. These data can be disaggregated – or sliced and diced – by a range of key issues related to equity in education.
This disaggregation is like a magnifying glass – shedding light on the extent to which children with disabilities are in school, for example, or the effects of poverty on education participation and learning outcomes.
The UIS has created the Inter-Agency Group on Education Inequality Indicators (IAG-EII), which brings together partners across the UN to set the standards and definitions needed to leverage these sources so that they can be used for internationally comparable indicators.
As a starting point, the group is finding ways to improve the quality and coverage of key indicators, such as: completion rates, the rate of children and youth who are out of school and the rates of students who are over-age for the grade they are in.
Data to reach the ultimate goal: children in school and learning
At the same time, the hope is to expand the types of education information gathered through these surveys, which are not designed specifically for education.
By working in partnership with countries and across international organizations, we will find ways to make better use of existing information (through common definitions) for comparative purposes and modify the types of questions being asked to expand the pool of available information. This is essential to monitor equity in education.
The UIS will continue to work with countries and partners in all of these initiatives. Together, they are a means to an end, propelling us closer to our ultimate goal. That goal is not a particular indicator or chart, but a child in a classroom, learning what they need for a fulfilled and productive adult life.