Using Household Surveys to Achieve the SDG 4 Objectives of Inclusivity and Equity

By Friedrich Huebler, Head of Education Standards and Methodology at the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS)

It is not enough to simply collect data. Data that are useful for monitoring progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 4 on education must be of high quality and comparable across countries. But collecting the data across a wide range of indicators has strained the data collection capacity of many Member States. At the same time, additional reporting needs brought on by COVID-19 have added further pressure to produce data as evidence for remedial action once schools fully re-open.

As the custodian agency for SDG 4, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) works with countries to build their capacity to collect, produce and disseminate the data for monitoring progress towards international goals and for designing appropriate interventions, all while trying to mitigate the demands that this entails.

With this in mind, today the UIS is launching the 2020 SDG 4 Data Digest. This year, the Data Digest focuses on using household surveys to improve the scope of data collection while filling some of the gaps in administrative data.

To do this, the Data Digest explains the need for more and better data, serving as a “how-to” manual for ministries of education, national statistical offices and other education sector stakeholders. Readers will find information on everything from planning and design considerations for a household survey, to tips for writing compelling and effective questions, an interviewer’s check list of do’s and don’ts, the pros and cons of various modes of survey administration, along with implementation details like the most appropriate kind of field materials. The Data Digest also makes suggestions on how to communicate data findings.

In short, the 2020 SDG 4 Data Digest is the go-to source for a succinct overview of creating and implementing a household survey.

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Ensuring the Next Generation are Global Citizens and Stewards of Sustainable Development: Why Monitoring SDG 4.7 is Essential

By Andrés Sandoval-Hernández, University of Bath, and Diego Carrasco, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile

When UN Member States adopted the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), there was not much discussion about how these goals were going to be measured. As we enter the Decade of Action, deciding on a measurement strategy for all SDGs and their targets has become a pressing issue.

We live in very challenging times. The rapid influx of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, along with increasing intolerance, social exclusion and feelings of alienation, extremism among young people, and the ongoing climate crisis, pose complex challenges. To face this global environment, we need information that enables us to think critically, connect our actions with their impacts, and act as empowered, active global citizens.

When looking specifically at SDG 4 for education, Target 4.7 asks Member States to “ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.”

Today, the 60th anniversary of the UNESCO Convention Against Discrimination in Education, we are reminded more than ever of the values of inclusion embodied in this target. While we say no to discrimination in education, let us say yes to inclusivity, respect for our differences and the right of all children to a quality education.

In this blog post we describe a recently developed strategy for assessing two indicators that embody tolerance, respect and sustainable development:

Indicator 4.7.4: Percentage of students by age group (or education level) showing adequate understanding of issues relating to global citizenship and sustainability.

Indicator 4.7.5: Percentage of 15-year-old students showing proficiency in knowledge of environmental science and geoscience.

Indicators 4.7.4 and 4.7.5 speak to empowering and enabling students to be active agents of positive change, while taking action to meet the other goals.

Using UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) data, we are preparing an open-source, robust and easy-to-use document containing detailed technical guidelines for countries and other interested parties to collect the data necessary to produce the scales we discuss below.

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Rethinking School Infrastructure During a Global Health Crisis

By Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics

After more than 6 months since the beginning of national lockdowns and school closures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, reopening schools is necessary and essential. Interruptions to classroom-based instructions have widened existing inequalities for vulnerable populations and reduced access to learning for a large fraction of the world’s children and youth. The longer schools remain closed, the more likely disadvantaged children are at risk of dropping out of school completely. Before the pandemic, children from the poorest households were already almost five times more likely to be out of primary school than their richer counterparts.

Proper infrastructure lacking to prevent the spread of COVID-19

As countries start to rethink how to address school openings, new national risk mitigation measures and public health regulations need to be considered within the school’s physical space. Children’s role in transmitting the coronavirus is still uncertain, and younger children are less likely to be sensitive or respectful of strict measures. As such, few schools are prepared to reopen in a way that can protect children, teachers and other school staff. Two of the most important measures cited by global health authorities to prevent the spread of COVID-19 – namely, frequent and proper hand washing (using soap and water) and social distancing – are highly dependent on the existing physical infrastructure.

COVID-19-related hygiene and social distancing norms in schools are unearthing a range of systemic problems with infrastructure in schools across the world. From European schools in densely-populated urban areas to rural remote village schools in the mountains of north-eastern Cambodia, schools are facing a wide range of challenges in their provision of adequately protective COVID-19 environments. Inadequate physical conditions, such as water shortages, poor sanitation and small classrooms, are proving difficult to overcome in the short-term for an immediate response.

Almost half the schools in the world do not have access to basic handwashing facilities with soap and water while one-third are lacking in basic sanitation (i.e. improved facilities that are single-sex and usable at the school). Overall, schools in rural areas fare worse than those in urban areas while children at the pre-primary and primary levels have less access to basic water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities than those in higher education levels. Younger children are more likely to be vulnerable to WASH-related diseases, yet are at the right ages at which to establish foundational learning around health and hygiene. Thus, training young children, staff and family members is an essential component to establishing WASH services for a community.

Establishing adequate WASH facilities for vulnerable populations is crucial

Basic WASH facilities in schools are particularly important for WASH-vulnerable populations, including girls, persons with disabilities, children from poor households and children living in fragile contexts. Access to water and sanitation is not only a right in itself as established in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child – and safeguarded by Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 – but it contributes to the realization of other child rights, such as health, nutrition and education. Girls require separate latrines as a fundamental part of their safety and healthy participation in life. Girls are more likely to enrol, attend and complete school if they have access to single-sex facilities, which are essential, particularly for menstrual hygiene management. Yet, this is only the case in 54% of the least developed countries, compared to 72% in Eastern and South-eastern Asia, 79% in in Central and Southern Asia and 81% in Latin America and the Caribbean (UIS database). According to World Bank ranked income levels, only 73% of lower middle income countries provide single-sex basic sanitation facilities to their female students, compared to the World average of 78% and 97% of high income countries.

In addition to WASH concerns, schools needs to consider the existing physical learning environment to safeguard social distancing norms. Adapting school norms to larger classrooms as a long-term response to the COVID-19 situation can also help establish quality learning environments in the long-term. There are no set international standards for classroom sizes or ratios, although norms and guidelines exist to provide guidance on better quality learning environments. In 2005, UNICEF’s Child-Friendly Schools Manual recommended a minimum 3.8 metres squared per child in early learning centres. Setting minimum spaces for children in higher education levels is more complex, however, and depends on the conditions of the local community (including projected population growth) as well as environmental and climatic conditions. In Rwanda, a minimum of one squared meter per pupil is considered adequate. One can also establish a basis for the overall classroom size, whereby child-friendly classrooms could reach a minimum of 100 square meters if playing areas and multi-activity classrooms are included. For example, the preschool square footage per student ratio is usually higher than for primary schools as younger children are less frequently required to sit still at their desks.

Global Education Coalition initiatives provides guidance

Changing or adapting infrastructure to meet the new demands, however, can prove an expensive enterprise for many countries. Indeed, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) provided more than one-fifth of its total COVID-19 response grants (USD 266 million) to programmes in 12 countries that prepared school facilities for reopenings in safe environments for children and teachers. The Global Education Coalition for COVID-19 Response – launched by UNESCO in partnership with UNICEF, the World Bank, the World Food Programme and other United Nations agencies, international organizations, private sector and civil society representatives – developed the Framework for reopening schools. Reopening schools is composed of a three-step process (before, during and after reopening) and organised according to operational safety standards, learning practices, well-being and protection that reach out to the most marginalised populations (including girls). In addition to investing in WASH to mitigate virus transmission risks, the Framework aims to provide a holistic approach on safe operational procedures by including and training teachers and school staff in adhering to social distancing measures and adopting relevant hygiene practices. A more recent jointly developed update to proper procedures and checklists to consider prior to reopening is also now available.

Ensuring classrooms and materials are accessible and inclusive has been the cornerstone of quality learning environments, and such standards are well aligned with needs during the COVID-19 reopenings. For example, modular classrooms – where furniture can be moved, collapsed or put away – is already a recommendation in some national guidelines for classrooms. As children and projects evolve and change during the school year, spaces that are adaptive can reduce the density of students in the classroom as required by social distancing norms.

Some adopted measures can be detrimental to effective learning

Adaptations to small classroom spaces has been shown to provide less than ideal reopening environments in some countries. To maintain WHO-recommended distancing measures among students and teachers (minimum of 1 meter squared), many schools have limited the number of students returning to classrooms at the same time, thereby reducing effective classroom time for all students. In addition, WHO guidelines recommend several decision points with regards to school reopenings, with specific attention paid to local trends on COVID-19 cases. The guidelines in France, for example, adapted an approach that prioritised certain students (i.e. those of medical workers), followed by children from vulnerable families. Thus, the total amount of time returning to the classroom is a function of the strict social distancing requirements, the school’s physical infrastructure, teacher availability and children’s background.

As effective learning time is reduced for all students, a temporary response is to prioritise learning according to student needs. Limited time in the classroom can make teachers face more time-stress to meet the needs of national curricula and high-stakes examinations for certification or selection to the next education level. As part of the crisis-sensitive approach, education planners can reassess curricular objectives and transitions to upper education levels.

In 2015, the global community validated the importance of infrastructure to deliver quality education for all learners and teachers, regardless of background or disability status. The international standard noted in the Education 2030 Framework states that “Every learning environment should be accessible to all and have adequate resources and infrastructure to ensure reasonable class sizes and provide sanitation facilities.” Sanitation crises such as COVID-19 mark the urgency in reaching these goals and highlight existing concerns around poor learning environments. However, this moment can also serve as a catalyst to improve learning conditions and outcomes for all children.

The Importance of Monitoring and Improving ICT Use in Education Post-Confinement

By Silvia Montoya, Director, UNESCO Institute for Statistics; and Alexandre Barbosa, Head of the Regional Center for Studies on the Development of the Information Society, under the auspices of UNESCO, Brazil (Cetic.br).

The global provision of schooling is facing unprecedented challenges as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Within the span of a few months, 191 countries had closed their schools to deploy social distancing measures in accordance with the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations. More than 1.5 billion students from pre-primary to university-level have been affected by these closures, with classroom-based learning interrupted for indefinite periods of time. While some education systems, teachers, students and parents were somewhat prepared to adapt to existing distance learning programmes and platforms, millions were not.

In the context of COVID-19 school closures, paper-based and digital distance education platforms have become essential to the continued provision of education for all. After more than a month of school closures across the world, many students are still struggling with remote learning. Global estimates suggest that 826 million students are without a household computer, 706 million lack internet access at home and another 56 million lack coverage by mobile 3G/4G networks. To better gauge the scope of the impact of school closures and of the ensuing national education responses, a survey of ministries of education developed jointly by UNESCO, UNICEF and the World Bank was recently launched to more accurately inform a collaborative global education response.

Without adequate information and communication technology (ICT) devices, internet/mobile network access, educational resources and teachers’ training, students simply cannot partake in distance education to continue on their learning trajectories. At most risk of being left behind are students from resource-poor areas, remote rural areas and low-income households. In addition, learners with disabilities or those who use a different language in the home than in school will require more individualised support.

Multiple delivery channels are an essential component to reach all children and youth during this pandemic. A recent UNICEF survey found that 68% of the 127 countries were using a combination of digital and non-digital delivery of remote education (i.e. TV, radio and take-home packages). Even before the COVID-19 related school closures, the use of radio, video and television for remote learning has proven to be strong components of well-designed numeracy, literacy and financial education programmes for children, youth and adults living in remote and rural communities. However, the implementation and reach of such programmes require the monitoring and support of trained educators.

Distance learning also requires that school systems consider the needs of parents and guardians who have to step in to facilitate learning to ensure the pedagogical continuity of their children, especially for the children in earlier grades (Grades 1-3) who need more one-on-one support. The ability for parents and guardians to effectively facilitate home-based learning depends on a variety of interacting factors, including their education level, native language and time availability. Understanding parental digital literacy – which could be estimated from SDG 4 Indicator 4.4.1 that assesses ICT skills among youth and adults – is essential for targeting skill support and development for parents. Without ICT skills support for the adults in the home, children from families with poor digital literacy are likely to fall even further behind.

Developing ICT skills to ensure education weathers the storm of future crises

Reports of parents, teachers, communities and networks that have developed innovative and makeshift interventions, such as mobile-based Wi-Fi networks as well as on-demand content and textbooks available in clouds — to broaden digital capacities have certainly sparked optimism. However, these grassroots efforts largely serve as a short-term band-aid solution. Although they are inspiring, more fundamental developments to bolster access to and use of ICT are required – both at home and in schools, and especially for younger learners at the primary and secondary levels where gaps are largest. Hastily put-together remote teaching approaches have not proven to be optimal learning experiences and could be off-putting to some students.

School closures such as those currently experienced by the more than 1.5 billion students worldwide are commonplace in some countries due to natural emergencies, conflict as well as budgetary or labour negotiations. Once schools reopen, building skills and support for distance education in schools so learners can continue learning in the home can help minimise learning interruptions as well as deter learners from leaving school early or dropping out in the event of future crises. In addition, there remains a possibility that the COVID-19 crisis and its ensuing confinement measures may not be short-lived as flare-ups of cases may spark future school closures in certain countries. As some countries begin to reopen their schools, they will need to select innovative remote teaching modalities that blend with face-to-face teaching to ensure that learners are better prepared for future school closures. Thus, given the importance of distance education in the current context and in anticipation of future crises, countries need to take responsibility for monitoring, facilitating and enabling access to ICT in schools as well as in the homes of all learners.

Current measures of ICT availability fall short of capturing the needs in certain countries and regions as they fail to report on factors, such as the availability of electricity (grid- or solar based) and access to computers for pedagogical purposes, which are primary necessities. At a global level, these indicators are needed to monitor ICT use and detect national trends. However, they are not sufficiently detailed or policy-oriented to provide governments with adequate information to improve access to and use of ICT in education as well as sufficient information on teacher training and digital skills. For instance, counting the number of computers per school or per student poorly reflects the use of computers, which may in fact be minimal if these devices are locked in computer labs.

Monitoring ICT use in schools to better inform education policies post-confinement

Reliable data from school-based surveys can provide the quality ICT use data required to better inform education policy and practices, especially in developing countries. Capturing the complex set of factors involved will paint a more accurate picture of what is available and used by both students and teachers. This includes information, such as availability of digital infrastructure; internet connection speed; school activities in which teachers use ICT; training received by teachers to empower them to integrate ICT into their practices; strategies implemented by schools to develop digital skills; and perceptions by principals and teachers on ICT use in education and its barriers. Furthermore, the presence of qualified technical staff (e.g. technicians, librarians) is required to support the use of ICT in schools, including ensuring digital access and ICT learning among teachers.

These indicators and more are proposed in the Practical Guide to Implement Surveys on ICT Use in Primary and Secondary Schools – a joint publication by the UIS and Cetic.br (Regional Center for Studies on the Development of the Information Society). The guide discusses the relevance of survey data on ICT use in schools to inform policymaking and underscores the need for robust data to understand factors that determine equal access to and use of technologies by the teachers, principals, students and their families.

The guide serves as an especially useful reference for government agencies, school authorities and other stakeholders looking to measure ICT access and use in education as it outlines the methodology and steps required to conduct a successful survey (i.e. planning, fieldwork, data processing, reporting and dissemination). This comprehensive document also examines the practical aspects of developing school-based surveys explicitly related to ICT and includes methodological datasheets for 26 core and optional indicators.

As some countries begin to reopen their schools, promoting equity in ICT access and use will continue to be an important factor to consider when addressing educational challenges for disadvantaged schools and learners from vulnerable households. In addition, the availability of computers, tablets, mobile phones and other potential learning devices, along with the provision of internet access in the home, will ultimately determine which children will be able to participate in distance learning and be more likely to complete their education in the event of future school closures.

Bridging the digital divide at home and in schools

Evidence indicates that there is a substantial ‘digital divide’ in access to ICT between countries. For example, according to estimates from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), 21% of learners in Africa cannot be reached by 3G mobile networks. In terms of internet access, 82.2% of households in Africa lack access in the home (see Figure 1). To bridge the divide and encourage mobile-based education, and in addition to infrastructure investment, lowering the cost to consumers to gain access to online data needs to be considered as these are prohibitive in many countries.

Source: International Telecommunication Union (ITU) 

Under Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 to ensure inclusive and equitable education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all, governments have committed both to increase digital skills and expand ICT infrastructure in schools. To support distance education, schools will need to better equip learners with the skills to migrate onto these online learning platforms. Moreover, closing the ‘digital divide’ will require governments to invest in supporting learners in the early grades of school. In this endeavour, the first step is to map within and between countries where investment is most needed. This requires better measures of access to and use of digital technologies in schools.

The latest UIS data for SDG Indicator 4.a.1 on the availability of electricity, computers and internet in schools for pedagogical purposes indicate that certain regions are behind in their capabilities to support learners. Although sub-Saharan Africa as well as Central and Southern Asia do not have sufficient data for this indicator in lower education levels, there is adequate data for upper-secondary schools. Only about one quarter of upper-secondary schools in sub-Saharan Africa and one-half in Central and Southern Asia are equipped with internet access (see Figure 2). Electricity – another necessity – is also not available equitably across regions and school levels. In sub-Saharan Africa, only 33.8% of primary schools have access to electricity while the same holds true for 57.2% of upper-secondary schools in the region. The situation is bleaker still in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where only 13.7% of upper-secondary schools have access to electricity.

Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, SDG 4 Data Explorer (data for the latest available year used). 

Teacher training as part of the solution to closing the ICT skill gap

As noted, beyond the provision of internet access and ICT equipment in education, there is also a need to support learners by building their ICT skills. But what about teachers? During this period of school closures, teachers require training in the use of distance learning platforms to ensure teaching and learning can continue. While some of the 63 million primary and secondary school teachers who were displaced by COVID-19-related school closures have managed to reach students with their existing set of skills and equipment, many have not received basic teacher training. It is therefore disconcerting that most teacher training programmes do not include the use of ICT in education to develop appropriate learning and teaching strategies. In sub-Saharan Africa, only 64% of primary and 50% of secondary teachers have received minimum training. Indicators recommended in the Practical Guide to Implement Surveys on ICT Use in Primary and Secondary Schools can point to specific areas in which teacher training needs to be reinforced to improve ICT skills.

Use of ICTs for education during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond is a reality for which teachers and learners must be better prepared. This crisis marks the time for government-led initiatives for schools to test innovative methods to reach out to students, learn from other countries and incorporate effective approaches into the regular provision of education. Digital technologies need to be integrated within sound learning programmes to create effective student learning experiences. Countries need to make the necessary preparations to better map teaching and learning needs for future crises in education. As a necessary step, this requires collecting robust survey data on ICT use in schools to adequately guide policymaking.

Benchmarks: Using Data to Set Evidence-based Targets to Improve Learning Proficiency

By Martin Gustafsson, Research on Socio-Economic Policy (ReSEP), University of Stellenbosch

In a recent blog, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) and the Global Education Monitoring Report explored how benchmarks can be used to  accelerate progress towards SDG 4.  To further these discussions, the UIS has released a new report, entitled Evidence-based Projections and Benchmarks for SDG Indicator 4.1.1, which focuses on how countries can use existing data to set develop projections and benchmarks for the percentage of children reaching minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics. Continue reading

Our New Year’s resolution for 2020: Let Data Be Our Guide

By Dankert Vedeler, Chair of the Governing Board of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), and Advisor to the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research / Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The countdown has begun, with just a decade to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal on education (SDG 4): a quality education for all. After so many years devoted to education at the national and international levels, my resolution for 2020 is simple: Let data be your guide. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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