Data to Fuel an Education Revolution: Countries Answer the Funding Call

By Julia Dicum, Deputy Director of Education at Global Affairs Canada, and Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

It is time for all donor countries to invest more heavily in education data. This matters because we can’t solve a problem we don’t understand. And it is only too clear that we have some big problems that must be solved right away, with 617 million children and adolescents who are not reaching even minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics, and 262 million children – one in every five –  who are out of school and half of whom are girls.

At the same time, the world needs standards and methodologies to ensure that education data are accurate, consistently sex-disaggregated, policy-relevant and internationally-comparable. Many countries, for example, still do not assess learning, and those that do may have to make some changes to generate data that meet their own needs in a way that also aligns with international standards.

So our collective vision has to go far beyond collecting statistics and crunching numbers. Reaching the global education targets demands the best possible use of data to fuel an education revolution that ensures quality education for every girl and boy.  And donor funding boosts the chances of such a revolution.

Slowly but steadily, donor countries are responding, with several new funding agreements supporting the UIS to improve and strengthen data collection, methodologies and the tools that are essential to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) on education.

New funding agreements 

Canada has been supporting the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) since it first opened its doors in Montreal. As part of its latest commitment, Global Affairs Canada will provide CAD 1 million (about USD 0.75 million) each year for the next four years to support the Institute’s work on education data, including its focus on sex-disaggregated data and gender statistics.

This is a major priority for the Government of Canada, which championed the endorsement in 2018 of the G7 Charlevoix Declaration on Quality Education for Girls, Adolescent Girls and Women in Developing Countries, which recognises that data and evidence help to empower women and girls to fulfil their potential and, therefore, helps the world deliver on its commitments to the SDGs. As part of this commitment, Canada recently announced, at the G7 France and UNESCO-hosted conference on innovating for girls’ and women’s empowerment through education, a series of projects to improve access to education for women and girls in conflict and crisis situations.

Norway has also demonstrated a staunch commitment to education as a fundamental human right. To better leverage the power of education data, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) has recently continued its support to the Institute for education data.

Sweden (Sida) and the United Kingdom (DfID) are also longstanding supporters of the UIS and have also renewed their commitments in recent months, while the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a new partnership with the UIS to support data on learning in early 2019. More recently, the Education Above All Foundation has also decided to join the new partnership with Gates and support UIS methodological work on learning outcomes.

In addition, France has also recently agreed to support UIS initiatives related to promote evidence-based and effective education policies, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.

How funding is put to work

More funding not only enables the UIS to produce data to monitor overall progress towards SDG 4, it also helps countries enhance their own capacity to produce and use high-quality data. The UIS develops tools to help them find solutions – particularly on learning outcomes – that meet their own specific needs while also generating the data needed to track their progress globally.

Two recently developed tools reinforce this work. First, the Content Alignment Platform shows countries whether their national learning assessments align with the global frameworks on reading and mathematics skills used to monitor progress towards SDG 4.1. That will allow them to make adjustments so that they can report data internationally and maximise the impact of their current investments in assessments. Second, the Procedural Alignment Tool focuses on quality control for national assessments, evaluating the extent to which assessments are based on good practices, from sampling to data analysis and translation. By completing a questionnaire, countries can see whether they meet the minimum criteria for international reporting. For access, register here.

These are just the latest in a whole range of tools that are now available to countries, thanks to support from funders. They include global frameworks on reading, mathematics and digital literacy skills, manuals of good practices, quick guides on how to implement a learning assessment, handbooks and more. All are available on the country hub of the Global Alliance to Monitor Learning (GAML).

What next?


We urgently need more countries to invest more heavily in the pursuit and use of high-quality education data.

The UN Statistical Commission (UNSC) has commended the work of the UIS on methodologies, standard setting, capacity building tools and the development of tools and initiatives to help countries make the best possible use of their data, as well as its collaboration with key partners. The UNSC has also called for better coordination of activities and alignment of initiatives across all stakeholders working on education statistics.

For that reason, the UNSC supports the expansion of the UIS mandate to become a broker between countries and donors to improve the production and use of high quality data at national, regional and global levels. By improving the monitoring of SDG 4, this new role will support the entire international education community in its efforts to achieve the global education targets by 2030.

In other words, the launch platform is firmly in place – but we need more fuel. The investment case for high-quality education data is unassailable: conservative estimates show that better education data would generate a 10% gain in education efficiency. So while the average country needs to invest about USD 1.4 million in education data each year, it could save USD 143 million annually in the running costs of its education system. That is a monumental return on an investment. Whichever way you look at it – from the economic bottom line to the fundamental right of every child to an education – investing in education data makes sense which is why 38 partners around the world have joined the campaign to #FundData.

Family Spending on Education: New Guidebook on Measurement

By Friedrich Huebler, Head of Education Standards and Methodology at the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, and Kevin McGee, Economist in the Development Data Group at the World Bank.

A new guidebook published by the World Bank and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) casts light on how to measure the heavy burden of education spending that falls on the world’s families. Measuring Household Expenditure on Education: A Guidebook for Designing Household Survey Questionnaires will help countries report on SDG 4 Indicator 4.5.4: education expenditure per student by level of education and source of funding. The guidebook also aims to ensure proper representation of education expenditure in consumption-based poverty and inequality measures, and enable more micro-econometric research on resource allocation in households.

Continue reading

We Need to Re-Boot the Education Sector with Demand-Side Data Innovation

By Luis Crouch, Chief Technical Officer of the International Development Group (RTI), and Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS)

This blog was also published by the Global Partnership for Education (GPE)

For years, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) and many other international agencies have been assisting countries in producing better education data, which are needed more than ever. The approach has typically been supply-side: capacity building, technical assistance, donation of hardware and software, etc. This has led to significant improvement. For example, today we have much better data on primary school completion rates than we did 20 years ago.

While this supply-side approach is critical, we must also take a sharper focus on demand from countries, central statistical offices, teachers: the side that should shape donor decisions around funding. Which means that it is time to make a collective and demand-driven investment case for the production of international data, backed by innovative and flexible approaches to meet specific donor demands. Continue reading

The World’s Families: Hidden Funders of Education

By Friedrich Huebler and Elise Legault, Programme Specialists at the UNESCO Institute for Statistics

This blog was also published by the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).

We know too little about education finance: where the money for education comes from, where it goes, and whether it is spent effectively. Drawing on today’s major release of new data, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) shows that even the most robust government data on education spending misses out a crucial part of the financing equation: the money spent by households on the education of their children. 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

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

Getting the Full Picture on Education Finance

By Alice Albright, Chief Executive Officer of the Global Partnership for Education,
Suzanne Grant Lewis, Director of the International Institute for Education Planning, and Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics

Last week, the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity released a major report, calling for a new compact between developing countries and the international community to transform education performance, innovation, inclusion and finance.

We welcome these recommendations but the trouble is we don’t know enough about education finance within countries: about where the money comes from, where it goes, or whether it is spent efficiently. National statisticians looking for hard numbers often have to forage across a whole range of mis-matched sources and even solid figures on government spending show just part of the picture, missing the money poured into education by other sources, particularly families. As things stand, it’s almost impossible to work out how much money is spent on the education of each child around the world. Continue reading