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

International Day of Women and Girls in Science: We need frameworks, not patchworks, to plug the leaky pipeline

By Dr Maryse Lassonde, Scientific Director of Les Fonds de recherche du Québec – Nature et technologies (FRQNT) and President of the Royal Society of Canada

On 11 February, the world will be celebrating International Day of Women and Girls in Science. There will be lots of articles and speeches about the famous “leaky pipeline”, a metaphor used to describe the constant flow of women leaving the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) throughout their studies and careers.

Let’s be honest – you cannot “plug the leaks” with policy fixes. In Quebec and Canada, we have an impressive array of policies and projects to promote gender equality that span across almost every ministry. Yet the data show that there has been little, if any, progress in the number of women pursuing STEM over the past 20 to 30 years. Continue reading

The role of the UIS in the new Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data

By Silvia Montoya, UIS Director

I welcome the launch of the Cape Town Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data, which was released today at the UN World Data Forum. The plan directly reflects the mandate, priorities and services of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS).

It calls for strong commitment by governments, policy leaders and the international community in several strategic areas, including: coordination and leadership; innovation and modernisation of national statistical systems; dissemination of data on sustainable development; building partnerships; and mobilising resources.

Over the past year, statistical experts in a high-level group have been developing the plan, which will be formally approved by the UN Statistical Commission at its 48th session in March.

As the official source of data for Sustainable Development Goal 4–Education 2030, the UIS is directly engaged in each area of the plan. Here are some highlights of our role and contributions.

Modernising national statistical systems through coordination and innovation

National capacity building is the top priority, cutting across each strategic area of the global action plan.

The UIS works on a daily basis with national statistical offices around the world, while providing capacity-building services and diagnostic tools to improve data quality. Over the years, we have trained thousands of national statisticians, policy advisors and planners on a range of issues – from methodologies to better identify children and youth out of school to the creation of new surveys in cutting-edge areas, such as innovation.

But given the unprecedented demand for more and better data arising from the SDGs, there is a critical need to re-think strategic approaches to better support capacity building. Globally, countries need help to design and implement strategies to strengthen their statistical systems to promote informed policymaking; implement indicator frameworks, methodologies, international standards and best practices; assess the quality of their data and address weaknesses; identify key areas of action with development partners; and report quality data at the global level.

Against this background, the UIS is developing a new global model in which development partners work collectively towards common goals with strategies that are defined and owned by countries. Clearly, we cannot be directly involved in all of the country-level implementation. However, the UIS will serve as the primary source of technical guidance concerning indicator calculation, questionnaire design and the resulting data. We will also continue to develop the diagnostic tools needed to improve data quality and identify capacity-building needs, while helping to design National Strategies for the Development of Education Statistics (NSDES) through targeted projects.

Addressing the monitoring needs of the 2030 Agenda

The global action plan specifically calls for greater harmonisation and use of household survey and administrative data. We couldn’t agree more. For the UIS, this is the only way to develop the disaggregated data needed to ensure that no one is left behind.

Today many of the most marginalised groups remain invisible in education data at the global and national levels. In response, the UIS works with partners to harmonise the use of different sources of information, in order to disaggregate education indicators by sex, location, household wealth, disability status, and other individual and household characteristics.

Together with UNICEF, the World Bank and other partners, the UIS has established the Inter-Agency Group on Education Inequality Indicators (IAG-EII) to promote and coordinate the use of household survey data for education monitoring at the national, regional and global levels, ensuring standardised analysis and reporting in order to complement evidence available through administrative data, typically collected by school systems.

We are also building the International Observatory on Equity and Inclusion in Education to foster and develop the methodologies, guidelines and research needed to build a global repository of data and standards to measure equity in education. This information is vital to help countries, UN partners and civil society groups to reach the most marginalised groups.

Multi-stakeholder partnerships for sustainable development data

The global action plan ultimately depends on effective partnerships which involve a broad range of partners – technical partners, national policymakers, education planners, civil society and others. With the SDG 4 mandate, the UIS is responsible to build links across these groups to develop, by consensus, the methodologies and standards needed to produce the global and thematic indicators. At the same time, we also work directly with partners at the country level to help them to implement the indicator frameworks. The key to success lies in building partnerships and consensus across the education community.

This is the approach taken with the Global Alliance to Monitor Learning (GAML), which is delivering the concrete solutions needed by countries to use their existing learning assessment systems to measure and improve learning globally. For example, the Alliance is chaired by a national development agency, and its Task Forces, which are set to deliver new methodological approaches towards measuring learning, are made up of technical experts from individual countries, international agencies, academia and civil society organizations. This unique collaboration of partners will lead to a cost-efficient approach to start reporting on Indicator 4.1.1 on the percentages of children and youth reaching a minimum proficiency level in reading and mathematics at the end of primary and lower secondary education.

While breaking new ground in methodology, we are also addressing the practical realities to implement the indicators at the country level through the Technical Cooperation Group (TCG). This is the forum where countries, along with other education partners, lead on building a consensus around the design of measurement frameworks and implementation strategies. Country leadership and engagement is essential to the successful implementation of the indicators to measure progress towards achieving the goals.

Monitoring reading and writing to help children climb the ladder of education

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

This piece was also published by the Global Reading Network.

In his short story “Instructions to climb a ladder,” Julio Cortazar uses more than 380 words to explain an action that, you would think, requires no explanation at all. He writes, for example: “The first steps are always the most difficult, just to acquire the coordination needed.” He also notes the coincidence of the raising of “the foot” and “the foot” of the ladder.

Continue reading