With the Right Data, We Can Still Reach the World’s Education Goal

By Silvia Montoya, Director, UNESCO Institute for Statistics

SDG 4 Data Digest 2019 explores the data methodologies needed to track progress and better direct policies and resources

It is not too late to reach the world’s education goal. At least, not yet. In 2015, United Nations Member States promised to reach Sustainable Development Goal 4 – a quality education for all – by 2030. We are now one-third of the way through the timeframe for its achievement, and it is still possible – just about – to meet the deadline. But without accurate, current and comparable data on education, and without a shift from ‘business as usual’ approaches to the provision and quality of education, the goal could soon be beyond our grasp.

Today, around 258 million children are out of school, according to data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). If we continue on our current trajectory, one in every six children aged 6 to 17 will still be out of school in 2030 and only six out of ten youth will complete secondary education.

Our data also show that being in school is not enough to guarantee a quality education. According to our estimates, 55% of children and adolescents of primary and lower secondary school age are not achieving minimum proficiency levels in reading and 60% are not reaching these levels in mathematics.Africa-needs-data

These global facts and figures are compelling enough to trigger urgent action. But there is so much more that we do not know, because we are still missing data that could prove crucial for the achievement of SDG 4. As the custodian of SDG 4 data, UIS continues to push for the disaggregated, deep-dive data that show us precisely what is happening and when as children make their way through their schooling, what works and – importantly – where education systems need to change track, target their resources and accelerate their efforts to deliver a quality education for all.

SDG 4 Data Digest: Tools help countries produce and use the indicators

The 2019 edition of the SDG 4 Data Digest reinforces the need for the robust data that are crucial to reach the global targets for education. It provides a panoramic view of the current development of SDG 4 global monitoring alongside proven methodologies for data collection and reporting at the international, regional and national levels. The new report, entitled How to Produce and Use the Global and Thematic Education Indicators, was launched today in Paris at an event during the UNESCO General Conference.


At the UIS, we are concerned that the collection, analysis and use of data are too often seen as ‘nice to have’, if and when resources allow. In reality, they help countries ensure that the money they spend on education has the best possible impact on individual and national well-being. A reluctance to prioritize data because of perceived resource constraints is a false economy that wastes both education investments and opportunities. To put it simply, education systems can only function effectively if their strategies, approaches and funding are built on a solid foundation of data.

Data show progress and gaps

The Digest aims to support countries as they strengthen this vital foundation, enabling them to produce the data required for international reporting, as well as for their own education priorities. We know that countries are under intense pressure to produce education data for a wide range of indicators: the 11 indicators used to monitor global progress towards SDG 4, plus the set of 32 thematic indicators to better support policy making. Together, these indicators should deliver a full picture of progress and potential setbacks. Yet many countries struggle to produce – let alone make good use of – the data that are required.

That is why the Digest offers proven solutions, showcasing practical methodologies that draw on existing information to produce accurate statistics, with no need to ‘reinvent the wheel’. It outlines steady progress on their development and use, thanks to the concerted efforts of governments, donors and technical partners worldwide. It also highlights UIS support for these efforts, and its work to build consensus on the indicators across countries through the Technical Cooperation Group (TCG) on the Indicators for SDG 4.

The first section of the Digest explains how countries can produce the national data needed to produce the 11 global monitoring indicators. This sets the stage to present the methodologies used to produce the 32 thematic indicators. The Digest goes on to outline the most effective regional initiatives to monitor progress towards SDG 4. It provides insight on how different regions are striving to make the best possible use of existing data while developing frameworks to support policymaking in areas they see as critical.

Bringing together countries and donors

One major barrier to the full implementation of SDG 4 monitoring has been the lack of financial support to build strong statistical capacity in low-income countries (read more about our campaign to #FundData).  This is why the UIS is working to bring together countries and donors through the Global Coalition for Education Data, which will align financial and technical resources available at the country and international levels while coordinating public-private partnerships at reasonable costs. The aim is to reduce the duplication of efforts, strengthen statistical capacity building, ensure efficient investment of existing resources and improve the functioning and use of country-owned education information systems.

The investment case for education has been made repeatedly: its impact on poverty, on equity, on health and nutrition is well known. The challenge now is to ensure that no child is being left behind – and that means ensuring that every child counts and is counted.   

Watch this space for a series of blogs that will look more closely at the proven methodologies for education data outlined in the 2019 SDG 4 Data Digest, currently available in English (French and Spanish editions forthcoming)

Get the education data you need in the format you want!

As the custodian agency for SDG 4 indicators, the UIS offers a range of data products to meet the needs of users. Key products include:

  • UIS Global Education Database covers all levels of education for more than 200 countries and territories.
  • SDG 4 Data Tables can be easily downloaded in different formats.
  • SDG 4 Data Explorer displays data by country, region or year; by data source; and by sex, location and wealth. Users can explore measures of equity that are crucial for the achievement of SDG 4.
  • SDG 4 Country Profiles present the latest results for countries in easy-to-understand charts and graphs.
  • eAtlas for Education 2030features interactive maps and charts of the global and thematic indicators.


Making Disability Visible: How to Generate More and Better Data on Education for Children with Disabilities

By Friedrich Huebler, Head of Education Standards and Methodology at the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), and Stuart Cameron, Thematic Lead on Equity and Inclusion, Global Partnership for Education (GPE)

Two new data resources launched today focus on people with disabilities who are so often disadvantaged and ‘invisible’ when it comes to education. Excluded and uncounted, they are often missing not only from the world’s classrooms, but also from education data. Continue reading

Wanted: The Best Teacher for Every Class

By Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS)

Tracking progress on teacher training is vital to progress towards SDG 4

It could be a classroom in the heart of Tokyo or New York. It could be deep in the Amazon rainforest, the mountains of Bhutan or in the townships of Johannesburg. But wherever the classroom, much of its success relies the teacher.

Ideally, this teacher has been properly trained, and has every skill they need to inspire and enthuse their pupils. And ideally, they will teach generation after generation of children, becoming one of the teachers people remember with gratitude for the rest of their lives.

This vision will be celebrated on 5 October, when World Teachers’ Day focuses on the world’s young teachers, exploring ways to attract and keep the brightest minds and young talents. Here at the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS), we see effective reporting on teacher training as a vital part of this process. Its importance has also been recognized in the SDG 4 monitoring framework: Indicator 4.c.1 requires data on the proportion of teachers in pre-primary right through to upper secondary education who have received at least the minimum amount of formal teacher training, whether pre-service or in service, to do their job. Continue reading

Are the Education Goals Out of Reach?

By Silvia Montoya, Director, UNESCO Institute for Statistics, and Robert Jenkins, Chief, Education and Associate Director, Programme Division, UNICEF

New data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics confirm the need for accelerated efforts to get every child in school and learning

Education matters. It stands for the hopes and dreams of many children around the world. Education paves the way towards more productive, healthier, sustainable and resilient societies in which children can reach their full potential. However, new data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) confirm that the situation of out-of-school children has stalled without significant improvement over the last ten years. In 2018, one in six or more than 258 million children, adolescents and youth were denied the right to education. Continue reading

Learning in Your Own Language: Vital for the World’s Literacy Goals

By Friedrich Huebler, Head of Education Standards and Methodology, UNESCO Institute for Statistics

This year’s International Literacy Day celebrates multilingual education

It is your very first day at school. You’re excited. Perhaps even a little nervous? What is this special day going to bring? Above all, what will you learn?

Your teacher arrives and says hello. But after that, you struggle to understand what she is saying. It is not because you’re stupid – you’re smart. It is because she is not talking in the language you use at home, with your family or when you are playing with your friends. So you mimic the other children around you, opening the books when they do, turning the pages when they do. But it seems that that this day is not going to be so special after all. Continue reading

#LearningCounts: We Must Keep Children’s Learning on the 2030 Agenda

Make your voice heard in the IAEG-SDG Open Consultation for the 2020 Comprehensive Review of the Global Indicator Framework

By Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics and Jordan Naidoo, Director of UNESCO’s Division for Education 2030 Support and Coordination. Both authors co-chair the Technical Cooperation Group on the Indicators for SDG 4.

Data users the world over have a unique opportunity to show their support for SDG 4 Indicator 4.1.1: the proportion of children and young people achieving at least a minimum proficiency level in reading and mathematics.

A new public consultation by the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on SDG indicators (IAEG-SDGs) seeks the views of stakeholders on proposals to replace, revise or delete existing indicators as part of an intensive review process of the global SDG indicator framework. Adopted by the UN General Assembly in July 2017, the framework was developed by the IAEG-SDGs, with substantial input on the education-related indicators from the Education 2030 process coordinated by UNESCO. Continue reading

Data to Fuel an Education Revolution: Countries Answer the Funding Call

By Julia Dicum, Deputy Director of Education at Global Affairs Canada, and Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

It is time for all donor countries to invest more heavily in education data. This matters because we can’t solve a problem we don’t understand. And it is only too clear that we have some big problems that must be solved right away, with 617 million children and adolescents who are not reaching even minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics, and 262 million children – one in every five –  who are out of school and half of whom are girls. Continue reading