Meet the SDG 4 Data: Equal Access to All Levels of Education and Training for the Most Vulnerable People

By Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS)
This blog was also published by the Global Partnership for Education (GPE)

Learn about the parity indices used to monitor progress towards Target 4.5, which aims to eliminate inequalities in education.

This series of blogs on the indicators for Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) on education has been careful not to single out any single indicator as being more important than any other. Indeed, if we are to reach SDG 4 – quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for everybody – we have to see all the indicators, from free primary schooling to the availability of qualified teachers, as indivisible.

Yet when we examine SDG Target 4.5 on eliminating disparities in education, we find ourselves at the very heart of the SDG vision. A common thread runs through every SDG goal, target and indicator. That thread is equity, backed by strong determination to ensure that nobody is left behind. SDG Target 4.5 stands squarely at the intersection between this vision and the measurement of its achievement.

Measures to empower the most vulnerable people

We often hear it said that we should judge a society by the way it treats the most vulnerable people. It is rare, however, to find that the reality matches the spirit captured in these words: the needs of the most vulnerable people are too seldom prioritised on the world’s political and social agendas.

Yet offering additional support to the most vulnerable people is not only the morally right thing to do; it is also in the best interests of countries, because measures to empower those ‘left behind’ to reach their full potential tend to be good for economies and for social cohesion.

SDG Target 4.5 promises to: eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations.

This blog explores SDG 4 Indicator 4.5.1: the parity indices (female/male, rural/urban, bottom/top wealth quintiles and others, such as disability status, indigenous peoples and conflict-affected, as data become available) for all education indicators that can be disaggregated.

These indices should apply to every SDG 4 indicator that can be disaggregated. As a result, equity-related indicators account for the largest share of the data needed to monitor SDG 4 as a whole.

The need for fairness and concerted action

The concept for Indicator 4.5.1 relates to fairness and concerted action to recognise and compensate for disadvantage. It recognises that greater efforts are needed to overcome the multiple and reinforcing deprivations that deny education to particular groups of people, including girls in many countries, boys in many others, refugee and migrant children, the poorest children, and those who are caught up in conflict or movements of refugees and migrants.

In terms of their definition, parity indices require data for specific groups of interest. They represent the ratio of the indicator value for one group to the value for the other group. A ratio of 1 indicates equality between the two groups but research convention interprets any values falling between 0.97 and 1.03 as reflecting reasonable parity between the two groups. When interpreting the indicator, the further the parity index lies from 1, the greater is the disparity between the two groups of interest.

The calculation method sees the indicator value of the group most likely to be disadvantaged divided by the indicator value of the other sub-population of interest, as shown in the example presented in Table 1.

Table 1. Gender parity index (GPI) for Indicator 4.1.1b in Country A   

  Female Male GPI
Number of students in last year of primary education at or above the minimum proficiency level 15 10  
Total number of students in last year of primary education 25 25  
Indicator 4.1.1b 60% 40% 1.5


In this table, the index represents the ratio of the indicator value for girls to the value for boys. Therefore, the gender parity index (GPI) for Country A’s Indicator 4.1.1b results from the division of the female value (60%) by the male value (40%), which is equal to 1.5.

The data sources for parity indices are the same as for the indicators calculated for all SDG 4 targets. However, not all data used by the global and thematic indicators allow the types of disaggregation required for the calculation of the parity indices.

How to monitor groups that are difficult to reach

This is where we run into a few methodological challenges. Efforts to produce data and indicators to monitor equity in education should not come at the expense of data quality, nor should they be disregarded when the going gets tough: when countries face crises or scarce resources, or when the people we should be monitoring are seen as ‘too difficult’ to reach.

To date, Member States have yet to fully integrate equity as part of their regular national monitoring of education, and the international community has not provided a coordinated and centralised response. Instead, there is a patchwork of sparse and sometimes isolated initiatives. This is why the UIS is working with partners across the education community. For example, the Handbook on Measuring Equity in Education provides practical guidance on how to calculate and interpret parity indices. Together with UNICEF and the World Bank, the UIS has also created the Inter-Agency Group on Education Inequality Indicator to make greater use of household survey data when monitoring equity at the national, regional and global levels.

SDG Indicator 4.5.1 is crucial for true accountability on education. If properly applied, countries will have to look beyond the ‘low-hanging fruit’ – the children who are relatively easy to entice into the classroom, and relatively easy to keep there – to reach all of those who, because of an accident of birth or circumstance, are being left behind by education.

Where and how to find SDG 4 data

  • The Quick Guide to Education Indicators for SDG 4 describes the process of developing and producing the global monitoring indicators while explaining how they can be interpreted and used. This is a hands-on, step-by-step guide for anyone who is working on gathering or analysing education data.
  • The SDG 4 Data Book: Global Education Indicators 2018 ensures that readers have the latest available data for the global monitoring indicators at their fingertips, and will be regularly updated.    
  • The SDG 4 Data Explorer displays data by country, region or year; by data source; and by sex, location and wealth. It allows users to explore the measures of equality that are crucial for the achievement of SDG 4. 
  • The SDG 4 Country Profiles present the latest available SDG 4 global indicators in charts and graphs that are easy to understand. For those who need quick facts on specific countries, this is the place to come.


This is the sixth in our series of blogs on the indicators for SDG 4. In this series, read also:

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About SDG 4 indicators…. But Didn’t Know Who or How – to Ask! 

Meet the SDG 4 Data: Measuring How Much Children Are Learning

Meet the SDG 4 Data: Preparing Children for Education

Meet the SDG 4 Data: Giving Youth the Skills They Need for the Job Market

Meet the SDG 4 Data: Indicator 4.1.1 on Skills for a Digital World

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