Helping Countries Improve their Data on Out-of-School Children

By Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, and Karen Mundy, Chief Technical Officer at the Global Partnership for Education

In many ways, education indicators are like a satellite navigation system that can help us reach our destination: Sustainable Development Goal 4. Based on the data, policymakers in the driving seat can select the best route and adjust their direction and speed as they progress or hit a roadblock. Ultimately, the success of the education system relies to some degree on the accuracy of the data used to inform decisions about how to best use resources to achieve goals. Continue reading

We Need a Paradigm Shift in Education Data to Build the Learning Generation

By Bridget Crumpton, Senior Advisor of the Education Commission, and Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics


Ambitious goals demand more and better data, which is why the Inter-agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators is meeting today in Ottawa. Experts from countries and international agencies including the UNESCO Institute for Statistics are once again reviewing the frameworks and work plans needed to help deliver on the pledges made for 2030.  The good news is that just about everyone agrees on the strength and value of the education indicators. The challenges lie in producing them and disseminating them in a way that they are actively used. Continue reading

Why We Need a Flagship Indicator for Education: All Children in School and Learning

By Bridget Crumpton, Senior Adviser of the Education Commission, and Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics

For the past year, we have been pushing for more and better data to help ensure that no-one is left behind – a key objective of the new Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data launched in Cape Town in January. We have cultivated new partnerships while promoting innovative data tools and approaches to monitor progress towards Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 on education. But clearly monitoring is only one side of the picture.  It must be reinforced by strong advocacy to make an impact and galvanize stronger global action on education. And strong advocacy, in turn, benefits greatly from a flagship indicator that can serve as a rallying point – an indicator that is easy to understand by all and that comes to symbolize the larger global goal.

In health, the main global goal under the SDGs is to reduce the rate of under-five mortality. For climate change, it’s holding the world to a maximum temperature rise of 2 degrees. But what is the flagship indicator for SDG 4, with its pledge to ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning? The absence of an equivalent lead indicator in education may undermine both national and global  action and investment in education.  And, it could be argued, weaken the focus on learning outcomes.


A few years ago, in the era of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the rallying call for education was the number of children out of school while the primary completion rate served as the lead indicator. The data, produced by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), were widely disseminated and easy to grasp, making headlines in countries around the world. Today, we have a set of 11 global and a set of 43 thematic indicators that help set a course for countries to measure a wide range of issues shaping everything from access (school readiness, enrolment ratios) to outcomes (learning and school completion).  With the more comprehensive and ambitious vision of SDG4, it becomes all the more vital to set a lead indicator. So, what is the flagship indicator that can serve as a barometer for progress and pull these frameworks together without diluting them?

What will a flagship learning indicator look like?

In December, UIS and the Education 2030 Steering Committee put forward an indicator that would go straight to the heart of the SDG 4 agenda: ensure that all children are in school and learning. Rather than replacing the global and thematic indicators, we are confident that this flagship indicator would help to draw attention to them.

This indicator responds to calls from the Education Commission  for an indicator that reflects the spirit of SDG 4 by focusing national and global efforts on learning as well as access. What is crucial is that the proposed indicator combines data on the quality of education (such as share of children at the end of primary and lower secondary with a minimum proficiency in reading and mathematics), with the unfinished business of the MDGs: the completion rate and/or out-of-school rate for these age groups.

While there are several options to consider, the new indicator will have to combine different types of data and sources of information. It will reflect access to education, by including a mix of population data, enrolment and completion rates as well as information on children and youth out of school, including those who have dropped out or never had the chance to start. But it will also use assessment data to reflect education quality and learning proficiency. In particular, the indicator will include the new data being developed by the Global Alliance to Monitor Learning (GAML). In addition, the new indicator will use a combination of different data sources, including household surveys, to reflect the equity issues raised by the SDGs.

How can we move forward?

It is feasible, as noted in a joint blog by UIS and the World Bank, in December. The breakthrough on up-grading the SDG4 indicator on learning outcomes provides a path for countries to strengthen their national assessment systems and use this data to improve learning, refine teaching approaches, and drive smarter use of resources. On learning outcomes, already about one-half of the world’s countries are participating in regional and international learning assessments. Instead of starting from scratch, the UIS, through GAML, has found a way to anchor the results of these assessments within a single database that will, at first, capture the share of pupils reaching minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics at the end of primary and lower secondary education. So while GAML is working towards producing the very first internationally comparable measures of learning, the other data – on completion, out-of-school children and more – are already being produced by the UIS.

Refining the indicator would require a number of methodological developments (some are already underway) in particular to ensure robust articulation between learning assessments data, household survey data and administrative data. These include developing a methodology to ensure correspondence between minimum proficiency levels across learning assessments and over time and using national assessments to complement comparative assessments to enable more regular reporting.

Consultation and support will be required not just to develop the indicator but to help countries report the information needed to produce it at the global level. To explore the options, the UIS is developing a paper, together with the Education Commission, for consultation with the wider education community in mid-2017.  Working with the UIS and its many education partners, we’re aiming for the launch of a flagship indicator this year.   Once agreed, this flagship learning indicator can serve as a rallying call to bring the global education community together and marshal the high level political support and additional investment that is so crucial to getting all children learning in a generation.  This is a challenge, but a challenge that we relish and where a breakthrough is within our reach.


Postcard from Madagascar: Bridging the Gap between Data and Policy across all Three Education Ministries

By Rolland Rabeson, Secretary-General of National Education Ministry, Georges Solay Rakotonirainy, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Employment, Technical and Vocational Education and Training, and Christian Guy Ralijaona, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Higher Education Education and Scientific Research


A recent blog in this series dubbed the world’s line ministries and National Statistical Offices (NSOs) “the unsung heroes of the push for sustainable development”. In Madagascar, we are fully committed to producing and using good data to monitor progress and achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4). But we need an effective compass to ensure that we are going in the right direction at every level and programme – from basic education to technical and vocational education and training (TVET) and higher education. Continue reading

International Women’s Day: Why We Need to Connect Data and Advocacy to Achieve Gender Equality

By Alison Holder, Director of Equal Measures 2030, and Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics

On International Women’s Day, social media channels light up with a flurry of messages and infographics about gender equality. While we welcome this spotlight on data, we also need to look beyond the moment and focus on how we can use the information to bring real change to the lives of women and girls around the world.

That is the goal of Equal Measures 2030, a new initiative that formally launches on 14 March in New York during the Commission on the Status of Women. Equal Measures 2030 is an independent civil society and private sector-led partnership working towards a world where gender equality is achieved, and where every girl and woman counts and is counted.

By connecting data and evidence with advocacy and action, the aim is to fuel progress towards gender equality. How? By making sure that girls’ and women’s movements, rights advocates and decision makers have easy-to-use data and evidence to guide efforts to reach the Global Goals by 2030 and leave no one behind.

This can only happen by working with a wide range of stakeholders – from activists on the frontlines to agencies like the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), which develops the data and standards needed to track and compare the education of girls and women in about 200 countries around the world.

Bringing data to life

Brought together by Asia-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (Arrow), Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Data2X, the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET), International Women’s Health Coalition, KPMG International, ONE Campaign, Plan International and Women Deliver, Equal Measures 2030 has three key objectives:

  • to gather data and evidence and provide analysis;
  • to work with girls’ and women’s movements and other rights advocates to influence policies and decisions; and
  • to engage decision makers who have the power to act.

A key factor for success lies in bringing the data to life. So in this spirit, it is our pleasure to announce the release of a new edition of the UNESCO eAtlas for Gender Inequality in Education, produced by the UIS. With the eAtlas, you can clearly see where girls and young women are making progress and where they are being left behind at every level of education.

For these facts to fuel real progress on education and gender equality, they need to get into the hands of rights movements and advocates, as well as decision makers. It is exactly this dual approach – using evidence to fuel action – that Equal Measures 2030 plans to take.

What does the 2017 eAtlas tell us about gender inequality in education? 


Despite all the efforts and progress made over the past two decades, girls are still more likely than boys to remain completely excluded from education, According to UIS data, 15 million girls of primary-school age will never have the opportunity to learn to read and write in primary school if current trends continue, compared to about 10 million boys. Moreover, the data also show that the rates of exclusion and related gender gaps tend to rise with higher levels of education in many regions and countries.

Considerable progress has been made – it is important to recognize that. We are seeing the balance tip in favour of young women in many middle and high income countries at different points in their education. But there are far too many zig zags. For example, there are now more women pursuing Bachelor’s degrees globally than men. But a closer look at the data shows the persistence of barriers  which discourage women from reaching higher levels of study and accounting for less than 30% of the world’s researchers.

The eAtlas lets us navigate through a wide range of indicators on access, transition and completion of each level of education to try to parse through some of the complexities. For example, a map on enrolment rates highlights the trouble spots where girls are barely starting school. In Afghanistan and Sudan, there are only about 70 girls enrolled in primary school for every 100 boys while large gaps persist in countries like Chad (77 girls for 100 boys), Yemen (84 girls) and Pakistan (85 girls).

But we also see that girls who do manage to enrol tend to persist even if they must repeat grades. For example, the same number – 14 million – of boys and girls enrolled in primary education repeated a grade in 2014. However, about 20 million boys left school that year compared to about 17 million girls.

Perhaps most importantly, the data let us contextualize policies and research. Consider the studies showing the positive effects that female teachers can have on girls’ learning. But as shown in the eAtlas, there are far more men teaching primary classes than women in the region facing the greatest challenges: sub-Saharan Africa. In countries like Liberia only 13% of teachers are women while more than half of girls are out of school.

Connecting data to policies

The eAtlas illustrates what can be done with the wide range of UIS data disaggregated by sex. The good news is more data are on the way. As the official data source for the Sustainable Development Goal on education (SDG 4), the UIS is developing new global measures on the extent to which girls are learning and women are acquiring basic literacy skills needed in today’s world.

The challenge will lie in transforming this information into power by getting it into the hands of activists and decision makers. This is the raison d’etre of Equal Measures 2030, which will work with a wide range of stakeholders, like the UIS, who are committed to achieving the deep transformation needed for gender equality.




A Pan-Canadian View on Global Citizenship and Sustainability

By Mark Perry, member, Global Competencies Working Group, Council of Ministers of Education, Canada*

The Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC), is looking forward to the arrival of hundreds of education experts, teachers, and policymakers from around the world as they make their way to Ottawa for the UNESCO Week for Peace and Sustainable Development, March 6-10, which will focus specifically on the role of education.

The event could not come at a better time. There has never been a greater need for global citizenship and education for sustainable development. Recognizing the urgency, the international community specifically created a target for these areas within the Sustainable Development Goal for education (SDG 4).   Continue reading

The Un-sung Heroes of the Quest for Good Data: National Statistical Offices and Ministries

By Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics

Around the world, national statistical offices (NSOs) and line ministries involved in data collection and production are throwing their energies into efforts to track progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). National statistical systems in developing countries – often under-resourced, under-staffed and under pressure – already achieve miracles with the limited tools at their disposal. Now they are being pushed even harder, with the SDGs calling for more and better data for a wider range of development issues. Continue reading