The UIS has released three information papers to help governments produce, interpret and use accurate indicators on out-of-school children. By exploring specific methodological issues, the papers highlight the need to harmonize data sources while helping national statisticians understand why indicator values can vary depending on the data source, collection method, or technique used to calculate indicators.

The papers are the result of the Global Initiative on Out-of-School Children, a joint project by the UIS and UNICEF, with support from the Global Partnership for Education. This initiative involved more than 70 countries worldwide to develop and apply an innovative methodology to assess and use data from administrative records and household surveys to better identify how many children are excluded from education, who they are, and the barriers they face to being in school.

Why estimates can vary by millions depending on the data source

The first paper, on Estimation of the Numbers and Rates of Out-of-School Children and Adolescents Using Administrative and Household Survey Data, illustrates the significant variation that exists between different types of estimates of the number of out-of-school children – differing by millions of children in some cases – depending on the data source.

The paper presents the example of India, where precise measurement of school participation has been a challenge. Out-of-school rates from different surveys carried out in the country can vary by more than 10 percentage points, which translates to millions of children who are counted as either in our out of school. The situation has not improved in recent years because there are still large differences in the attendance rates calculated from different data sources, as summarized in a study of data from India by the UIS and UNICEF. The picture is further complicated by different starting ages for primary schools in different Indian States, making it difficult to estimate the precise age ranges for the numbers of children in or out of school across the whole country.

As well as setting out data issues related to the combined use of administrative and household survey data on participation in education, the paper outlines ways to improve the accuracy of out-of-school estimates by using compatible definitions of school enrolment or attendance and by reviewing the reliability of population estimates and students’ ages in enrolment records and survey data. 

How age factors in calculating out-of-school numbers

The second paper, on Age Adjustment Techniques in the Use of Household Survey Data, focuses on the potential problems related to data by single year of age. It points out that estimates of the rates of children in and out of school are sensitive to the timing of data collection and the accuracy of age data. In household surveys, household members’ ages are recorded at the time of data collection and the paper shows how statisticians can make the necessary age adjustments to better compare results of survey results based on different timing and duration. One recommendation is to avoid age-specific attendance rates that are more likely to be affected by errors in age data then level-specific attendance rates.

How population estimates impact out-of-school rate

The third paper, on The Effect of Varying Population Estimates on the Calculation of Enrolment Rates and Out-of-School Rates, shows the extent to which estimates of participation in education are only as good as the underlying data on enrolment and population on which they are based. In Brazil, for example, assumptions about under-coverage and fertility affect the accuracy of population estimates and, in turn, estimates of the number of out-of-school children and adolescents. The findings from Brazil can also inform work by statisticians in other countries to improve understanding of the differences in primary and secondary enrolment rates according to varying population estimates and of the reliability of out-of-school estimates based on data from different sources.  

The three technical papers show how all countries can benefit from the methodological work arising from the Global Initiative on Out-of-School Children. This same collaborative approach is being taken by the UIS and UNESCO through the Capacity Development for Education (CapED) Programme, which aims to bridge the gap between national education policies, data collection and use by helping countries develop and apply a range of tools to assess and improve their national statistical systems.