Assessments of Learning Loss and Remote Education Inform Data-Driven Response to COVID-19

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By Silvia Montoya, Director, UNESCO Institute for Statistics

World Children’s Day, established to promote child rights and welfare, is more important than ever this year as the world grapples with dual threats to education and health. Creating the evidence for policy actions to mitigate the impact of school closures is crucial, and for this, countries must assess children’s learning, along with the effectiveness of remote schooling, while supporting families, teachers and other front-line workers. At the same time, keeping schools open is a priority, so taking measures to ensure children’s safety in school is central to preventing further closures during a second wave of COVID-19.

From the beginning of the pandemic, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) has set the pace, collecting data on national government responses to the crisis, and collaborating with the World Bank and UNICEF on a joint report, What Have We Learnt. The report is based on two quarterly surveys – the first taking place between April and May with 118 respondents, and the second between July and October with 149 respondents.

The surveys confirm that students in low-income countries are most at risk from school closures. This is because lost school days and the perception (and perhaps reality) that learning from home does not have the same value as learning in the classroom, increases pressure on young people to drop out. Ultimately, only learning assessments will be able to tell us if remote schooling – online, TV and radio programming, as well as take-home paper-based work – have been effective. But in the meantime, 24 million students are at risk of dropping out this year, reducing their skills acquisition and earning prospects for years to come.

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Prepared for the Future: A New Indicator That Combines Completion with Learning

By Silvia Montoya, Director, UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) and Manos Antoninis, Director, Global Education Monitoring Report

New global indicator will provide a simple, comprehensive measure of progress towards the education goal, SDG4.

The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 4) for education recognizes that all children deserve, and have the right to, a quality education. Over the last three decades, enrollment has risen to historic highs, though school disruptions and the economic implications of COVID-19 will offset some of these gains. But enrollment is only a part of what children need. For children to be fully prepared for the future, they need to complete their education, and emerge having learnt at least the basics. The new global indicator will combine all these critical factors to provide a snapshot of progress towards SDG 4.

Completing and learning are critical elements of a quality education

Unfortunately, in some of the poorest regions where children are most in need of a high-quality education to get ahead, poor learning outcomes often result in higher drop-out rates with large numbers of children not completing school at all – or completing it when more than five years older than the intended graduation age for that level. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, where 82% of primary aged children are enrolled in school at the right grade for their age, just 62% graduate from this level on time. When children don’t finish school, it is hard, if not impossible, for any more learning to happen.

Even where education is free, poor families still pay for books and uniforms, and there is the perceived “opportunity cost” of lost income or help with household chores, while children are in school. If parents don’t see a pay-off from their investment in education, children can be pulled out of school before completing a level, or when transitioning between levels, from say, primary school, to lower secondary.

Introducing the new indicator: Prepared for the Future

To underline the need for countries to prioritize school completion, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), working through the Global Alliance to Monitor Learning (GAML), is proposing a new, holistic, indicator that will track both completion and learning combined. The aim is to ensure that global leaders and education policy makers have the evidence they need to zero in on where they stand on their SDG 4 commitments. With ten targets and 42 indicators in the monitoring framework for SDG 4, some might argue that it is hard to quickly grasp where countries stand in their progress towards the goal. With so many touch-points, it risks calls for change being watered down. This new indicator will hopefully answer these concerns, providing a simple rallying reference point for all education actors to lobby for improvement, ensuring all children are prepared for the future.

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