The fourth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 4) reflects the tenet that access to quality education is a basic human right and is essential for sustainable development. The Education 2030 Framework for Action 2030 (FFA 2030) notes that “UNESCO as the specialized UN agency for education will continue in its mandated role to lead and coordinate the Education 2030 agenda, in particular by monitoring progress towards the education targets” and underscores that this will be done “in particular through the work of the UIS.” The FFA 2030 also restates that the UIS is the official source of cross-nationally comparable data on education. The attainment of SDG 4 has never been more needed and yet, never more in jeopardy as in this time of crisis due to COVID-19 containment measures. As the UN custodian agency entrusted with monitoring education targets to ensure that SDG 4 is reached in this Decade for Action, we are reaffirming our global commitment towards achieving the 2030 agenda. As part of this Institutional-wide shift to align with global goals, the UIS is launching its suite of UIS SDG Core Indicators.

The need to collect essential data

In regards to global indicators, the Inter-agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs), composed of Member States and including regional and international agencies as observers, is responsible for the indicator framework development as well as for its refinement and occasional revision. The IAEG-SDGs also recognizes the UIS as the custodian agency for 9 of the global indicators for SDG 4 and a partner organization for another 3 SDG indicators. To facilitate the implementation of the global indicator framework, all indicators are classified by the IAEG-SDGs into three tiers[1] based on their level of methodological development and the availability of data at the global level. As of July 2020, the global indicator framework does not contain any Tier 3 indicators. The latest changes reflect the decisions approved by the 51st session of the UN Statistical Commission (UNSC) in March as well as the online IAEG-SDG meetings in 2020. Note that the tier classification of many indicators is expected to change as methodologies are developed and data availability increases.

As such, the UIS is renewing our commitment to develop SDG indicators to Tier 1 status; improve quality and coverage of reporting; build resources to support Member States in their commitment to SDG 4; and deliver data that better inform evidence based policy development in the long run. This in conjunction with the need to reduce the burden of reporting on Member States already overstretched due to the pandemic as well as led to the decision to realign our efforts to achieve our collective education goals.

Adopting a new strategy to regain ground in education

Countries face immense pressure to produce education data for a wide range of indicators used to monitor global progress towards SDG 4, plus a set of thematic indicators to better support policymaking. Together, these indicators are meant to deliver a full picture of progress and potential setbacks. However, many countries struggle to produce – let alone make good use of – the data that are required. To help countries cope with learning losses and regain ground in their education targets, the time has come to revamp at the source and mindfully revise the core indicators themselves.

In an effort to mitigate learning losses and pave the way forward, The grouping and development of the UIS SDG Core Indicators reflect the layers and priorities that inform the SDG 4 Indicators as endorsed by Member States – i.e. global, thematic, regional and national (in descending order). The Technical Cooperation Group on the Indicators for SDG 4 (TCG) is a crucial UIS initiative in this regard. Established in 2016, it serves as a platform to discuss and develop the indicators used to monitor SDG 4 targets in an open, inclusive and transparent manner. The TCG is composed of 27 Member States and 8 organizations, including representatives of all regions as well as civil society organizations and international organizations, such as the OECD, UNICEF, the World Bank and UNESCO itself.

The UIS SDG Core system of indicators

As the main custodian agency for the SDG 4 indicators, the UIS has been working closely with countries and various stakeholders at the global, regional and national levels to overcome these data availability challenges. Hence, to refocus its efforts on monitoring SDG 4, the UIS has adopted a reduced set core education indicators that will be disseminated starting with the September 2020 data release. The UIS Core system of indicators is comprised of:

  • 12 global indicators for SDG 4
  • 1 global indicator for SDG 1
  • 31 thematic indicators for SDG 4
  • 2 Education 2030 Framework for Action benchmarks (of which 1 is the global indicator for SDG 1 listed above)
  • A set of indicators for national monitoring that will be finalized by the end of 2020

SDG 4 now encompasses 10 targets and 43 indicators, of which 12 are global indicators. In total, 3 indicators have been updated and 1 new global indicator added. The global indicator added is for SDG 1 that measures the proportion of total government spending on essential services, including education. As the agency responsible for the global indicator framework development and its refinement, the IAEG-SDG performs periodic revisions every 5 years. The 2020 revision has upgraded the completion rate to the global list of indicators, which also entailed a renumbering of the thematic set of indicators that is reflected in the 2020 data release. The tables detailing the complete list of global and thematic indicators that will be used moving forward to monitor the education SDG can be found here.

Non-core indicators will be archived

Indicators that are not among the core education indicators will no longer be produced by the UIS. The UIS website will provide access to historical time series with discontinued indicators but these indicators will not be updated in the future. The most recent values for discontinued indicators are those disseminated by the UIS in February 2020. More information and tutorials on how to access archived indicators will be available on the UIS website by the end of September.

Moving forward together to achieve SDG 4

In 2015, United Nations Member States committed to pursuing and meeting ambitious and necessary targets for education in the world by 2030. A third of the period for fulfilling this agenda has now elapsed and countries that were already struggling to monitor their progress in relation to all SDG 4 targets have been dealt a heavy blow with the current pandemic-related education crisis. The UIS has heeded their call for help and are doing what we can to support Member States in this time of need. The TCG will convene for their 7th meeting in October to assess the impact of the global COVID-19 crisis and discuss the way forward with the aim of producing a set of recommendations to monitor SDG 4 through these trying times. In addition to reducing the burden of data reporting on countries and realigning indicators to better support the attainment of SDG 4, we are launching a suite of publications and web-related content to build a comprehensive network of resources to guide countries in monitoring their education goals. These include the Guidelines for Data Management and Functionality in Educational Management Information Systems (EMIS), the Operational Guide to Using EMIS to Monitor SDG 4, the Guide to Mapping and Using ISCED along with a visualisation tool on the web and the 2020 SDG 4 Data Digest on Household Surveys. If you would like to learn more about our collective efforts/products to support countries in their data collection or have questions on the UIS SDG Core Indicators, please contact us at

[1] Tier 1: Indicator is conceptually clear, has an internationally established methodology and standards are available, and data are regularly produced by countries for at least 50% of countries and of the population in every region where the indicator is relevant.

Tier 2: Indicator is conceptually clear, has an internationally established methodology and standards are available, but data are not regularly produced by countries.

Tier 3: No internationally established methodology or standards are yet available for the indicator, but methodology/standards are being (or will be) developed or tested.