The Role of the UIS in the New Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data

By Silvia Montoya, UIS Director


I welcome the launch of the Cape Town Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data, which was released today at the UN World Data Forum. The plan directly reflects the mandate, priorities and services of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS).

It calls for strong commitment by governments, policy leaders and the international community in several strategic areas, including: coordination and leadership; innovation and modernisation of national statistical systems; dissemination of data on sustainable development; building partnerships; and mobilising resources.

Over the past year, statistical experts in a high-level group have been developing the plan, which will be formally approved by the UN Statistical Commission at its 48th session in March.

As the official source of data for Sustainable Development Goal 4–Education 2030, the UIS is directly engaged in each area of the plan. Here are some highlights of our role and contributions.

Modernising national statistical systems through coordination and innovation

National capacity building is the top priority, cutting across each strategic area of the global action plan.

The UIS works on a daily basis with national statistical offices around the world, while providing capacity-building services and diagnostic tools to improve data quality. Over the years, we have trained thousands of national statisticians, policy advisors and planners on a range of issues – from methodologies to better identify children and youth out of school to the creation of new surveys in cutting-edge areas, such as innovation.

But given the unprecedented demand for more and better data arising from the SDGs, there is a critical need to re-think strategic approaches to better support capacity building. Globally, countries need help to design and implement strategies to strengthen their statistical systems to promote informed policymaking; implement indicator frameworks, methodologies, international standards and best practices; assess the quality of their data and address weaknesses; identify key areas of action with development partners; and report quality data at the global level.

Against this background, the UIS is developing a new global model in which development partners work collectively towards common goals with strategies that are defined and owned by countries. Clearly, we cannot be directly involved in all of the country-level implementation. However, the UIS will serve as the primary source of technical guidance concerning indicator calculation, questionnaire design and the resulting data. We will also continue to develop the diagnostic tools needed to improve data quality and identify capacity-building needs, while helping to design National Strategies for the Development of Education Statistics (NSDES) through targeted projects.

Addressing the monitoring needs of the 2030 Agenda

The global action plan specifically calls for greater harmonisation and use of household survey and administrative data. We couldn’t agree more. For the UIS, this is the only way to develop the disaggregated data needed to ensure that no one is left behind.

Today many of the most marginalised groups remain invisible in education data at the global and national levels. In response, the UIS works with partners to harmonise the use of different sources of information, in order to disaggregate education indicators by sex, location, household wealth, disability status, and other individual and household characteristics.

Together with UNICEF, the World Bank and other partners, the UIS has established the Inter-Agency Group on Education Inequality Indicators (IAG-EII) to promote and coordinate the use of household survey data for education monitoring at the national, regional and global levels, ensuring standardised analysis and reporting in order to complement evidence available through administrative data, typically collected by school systems.

We are also building the International Observatory on Equity and Inclusion in Education to foster and develop the methodologies, guidelines and research needed to build a global repository of data and standards to measure equity in education. This information is vital to help countries, UN partners and civil society groups to reach the most marginalised groups.

Multi-stakeholder partnerships for sustainable development data

The global action plan ultimately depends on effective partnerships which involve a broad range of partners – technical partners, national policymakers, education planners, civil society and others. With the SDG 4 mandate, the UIS is responsible to build links across these groups to develop, by consensus, the methodologies and standards needed to produce the global and thematic indicators. At the same time, we also work directly with partners at the country level to help them to implement the indicator frameworks. The key to success lies in building partnerships and consensus across the education community.

This is the approach taken with the Global Alliance to Monitor Learning (GAML), which is delivering the concrete solutions needed by countries to use their existing learning assessment systems to measure and improve learning globally. For example, the Alliance is chaired by a national development agency, and its Task Forces, which are set to deliver new methodological approaches towards measuring learning, are made up of technical experts from individual countries, international agencies, academia and civil society organizations. This unique collaboration of partners will lead to a cost-efficient approach to start reporting on Indicator 4.1.1 on the percentages of children and youth reaching a minimum proficiency level in reading and mathematics at the end of primary and lower secondary education.

While breaking new ground in methodology, we are also addressing the practical realities to implement the indicators at the country level through the Technical Cooperation Group (TCG). This is the forum where countries, along with other education partners, lead on building a consensus around the design of measurement frameworks and implementation strategies. Country leadership and engagement is essential to the successful implementation of the indicators to measure progress towards achieving the goals.

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