Success in Dubai: Pushing Ahead on SDG 4 Data

By Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) and Jordan Naidoo, Director, Education 2030 Support and Coordination at UNESCO

This blog was originally published by the Global Education Monitoring Report.

As we unpack our bags following last week’s meeting of the Technical Cooperation Group (TCG) in Dubai, it seems a good time to unpack our thoughts on the success of the event. Over three days, representatives of countries, technical partners, donors and civil society reviewed progress in developing the indicators and estimating the resources needed to help countries implement the global and thematic monitoring frameworks for Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4).

As noted in previous blogs, the TCG has working groups which are focused on three key areas: indicator development (i.e. methodologies), capacity building, and international reporting of data by countries. The Dubai meeting was characterised by marked progress on all three areas that are critical for the measurement and monitoring of the global education goals.  

Indicator development

In the first area, the TCG approved new methodologies or refinements for six indicators. As a result, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) will be able to report on 33 SDG 4 indicators in 2018.

These include global Indicator 4.3.1, the participation rate of youth and adults in formal and non-formal education and training in the previous 12 months, by sex. A well-developed methodology was already in place and now the TCG has approved new data sources to cover more countries, such as Labour Force Surveys and national household surveys, although the education programmes covered in these data collections are not always fully aligned.

We now have an agreed methodology for the global monitoring of Indicator 4.7.1, which focuses on global citizenship and education for sustainable development. This paves the way forward to getting the Inter-Agency Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs) to reclassify the indicators from Tier III to Tier II and allow us to start reporting data to the UN global SDG database in 2019.

The TCG meeting also led to initial agreement on Indicator 4.2.3, the percentage of children under five years experiencing positive and stimulating home learning environments. Not surprisingly, this is a particularly complex indicator to measure and the TCG agreed to support the creation of an expert group with UNICEF, which has extensive experience in early childhood development.

The next priority is to continue to develop and get consensus on methodologies for Indicators 4.5.2 (percentage of students in primary education whose first or home language is the language of instruction); 4.5.3 (extent to which explicit formula-based policies reallocate education resources to disadvantaged populations); and 4.b.2 (the number of higher education scholarships awarded by beneficiary country). Good progress was made on mapping and identifying efforts at the global and country levels prior to the Dubai meeting, but further efforts are required for these indicators.

The challenge across the board lies in improving the coverage of indicators and expanding the use of different data sources. In response, the Dubai meeting endorsed the development of model sets of questions that could be inserted in existing surveys to help countries collect the data at the lowest possible additional cost.

There was also clear approval for the work of the Global Alliance to Monitor Learning (GAML) to take forward the indicators on learning outcomes, with recognition for GAML’s approach, which works with national needs and contexts, supports the effective use of assessment data, and enables quality assurance for SDG reporting. As well as approving GAML’s strategic approach, work plans and resourcing, the TCG supported the current approach of GAML in seizing every opportunity to work with existing cross-national and national initiatives.

Capacity development

The TCG endorsed the development of an online repository of resources available to countries, including capacity development tools developed by the UIS, larger initiatives and funding mechanisms. The site will showcase the tools outlined in the recent SDG 4 Digest by the UIS. Next steps include identifying ways to highlight lessons learned and examples of best practices, as well as promotion of the website by all TCG members and observers. There was also agreement to conduct a survey among selected pilot countries and development partners on the potential of the repository.

International reporting of data

Benchmarking was the keyword in terms of international reporting at the TCG meeting. There was recognition that this can mean different things in different contexts and that it is important to have milestones for each target that are not only reasonable, feasible and aligned to national realities but informed by policy priorities.

The TCG encouraged the exploration of countries developing their own national or regional benchmarks that draw on well-set participatory processes. The discussions stressed the formative role benchmarks can play in positioning national education development within a regional context. As the IAEG-SDGs prepares a major review of the global indicator framework for all of the SDGs in 2018, the TCG recommended adding two additional education indicators, either the out-of-school or completion rate, as well as the number of years of free and compulsory education.

Above all, it was truly gratifying to see the TCG recognise the tremendous efforts made by countries in responding to such unprecedented demand for more and better data. But it is clear that they need far more support. This is why the UIS will continue to work closely with and support national partners, taking a demand-driven approach to capacity development (see recent blog) and building the investment case for data as a critical factor in the achievement of SDG 4.

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