By Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) and Daniel Capistrano, University College Dublin
This International Day of Education, the impact of COVID-19 on education is top of mind and finding solutions to revitalize learning is a priority, now more than ever. The UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) is working with regional organizations and education partners to expand the global focus on benchmarking for the Sustainable Development Goals for education (SDG 4) so that regions and countries have more manageable, annual objectives.
With just a decade remaining to achieve SDG 4, it is imperative that all countries have the means to monitor progress and to plan necessary changes for the future. As the custodian of SDG 4 data and the lead agency providing internationally comparable and quality education data, the UIS has been working to help countries deal with this challenge.
One of the most effective ways of achieving the Agenda 2030 is by connecting existing efforts. The Africa Regional Report is a product of this collaborative strategy. Worldwide, there are several regional or sub-regional organizations that produce data and follow the progress of education policies based on common goals. Their transnational commitments require national and regional coordination and monitoring mechanisms to identify progress and obstacles. At the same time, they have articulated – or begun to articulate – their regional objectives with the Education 2030 Agenda.
One example of this is the Continental Education Strategy for Africa (CESA 16-25) adopted by the African Union (AU) in 2016. CESA 16-25 is designed to involve the broadest coalition possible for education and training in Africa. This strategy consists of 12 strategic objectives (SO) that find correspondence with several SDG 4 targets. Both CESA and SDG 4 require similar data points to track countries’ progress on their achievements. At the sub-regional level, countries are grouped within development communities that meet regularly, but their education-related objectives are in alignment with CESA 16-25.
In a new regional report, Continental Overview: Bridging CESA and SDG 4, the UIS assesses the data availability of SDG 4 indicators related to CESA SO’s for each country in the region. Furthermore, the publication details the progress of those countries from 2016 to 2020.
Teachers are key to achieving education objectives
CESA SO 1 is a clear example of correspondence with the SDG 4. SO 1 aims to “revitalize the teaching profession to ensure quality and relevance at all levels of education”. This objective is directly related to the SDG 4 means of implementation for Target 4.c which aims to “substantially increase the supply of qualified teachers, including through international cooperation for teacher training in developing countries, especially least developed countries and small island developing States.”
The global indicator associated with SDG Target 4.c is the “proportion of teachers with the minimum required qualifications, by education level.” Bridging CESA and SDG 4 shows that the indicator had a relatively low coverage across all countries in the region from 2016 to 2020. About 60% of countries have available data for at least one year within this period for ISCED level 1. However, the coverage is lower for different levels of education varying from 44% for ISCED level 02 to 28% for ISCED levels 2 and 3.
However, despite the lack of coverage of this indicator in the region, the publication brings good news in relation to the progress of those countries with data available. The average proportion of teachers with the minimum required qualification for primary schools rose from 78%, in 2016, to 83% in 2020. In addition, data from this period also indicate that this pattern is similar for both male and female teachers.
School infrastructure targets outlined in CESA 3.1 and SDG 4.a.
Infrastructure is a transversal issue in the continental strategy being present in different objectives. CESA SO 3 focuses on the general infrastructure of educational institutions with the following indicator to monitor countries’ progress: “proportion of educational institutions with access to (i) electricity (ii) the internet for pedagogical purposes and (iii) computers for pedagogical purposes”. This is the exact same indicator selected to monitor the SDG target 4.a.
Data for CESA Indicator 3.1 (component i) is available in most of the countries. On the continent, 68% of countries have information about access to electricity in primary schools. However, the situation is the opposite in relation to the following two components of the indicator: about 57% of countries do not have data on access to computers, and 68% do not have data on access to the internet for pedagogical purposes. In addition, the report shows a substantial regional disparity in relation to the access to electricity in primary schools. In 2019, an average of 14% of primary schools in Central African countries had access to electricity. In the same year, the average for Northern African countries was 70%.
Completion, learning and skill acquisition part of both CESA and SDG 4
Finally, CESA SO 4 is another good example of the connection between the continental strategy and SDG 4. SO 4 aims to “ensure acquisition of requisite knowledge and skills as well as improved completion rates at all levels and groups through harmonization processes across all levels for national and regional integration”.
This objective is composed of multiple dimensions that encompasses different targets of SDG 4. However, the concept of completion corresponds directly to SDG Indicator 4.1.3: Gross intake ratio for final year of primary and lower secondary. This indicator has wide coverage in terms of data availability, with about 40 countries in the continent having information available for this indicator at ISCED level 1 or 2.
Although many countries are on track to ensure a full completion of the primary level of education, regional disparities still persist. While, on average, Central African countries have 62% of gross intake ratio to last grade of primary, this ratio is equal to 94% among Northern African countries.
Apart from the examples discussed in this post, the Africa regional report shows correspondence between many other CESA objectives and SDG 4 indicators. In addition, it allows an understanding of the initial steps of African countries in CESA and towards Agenda 2030. In doing that, the report shows that bridging global and regional agendas is possible and a crucial strategy when it comes to dealing with the SDG 4 challenges for the years ahead.