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.

Data to Deliver for Women

Sylvie Michaud, Chair of the UIS Governing Board and formerly Assistant Chief Statistician, Analytical Studies, Methodology and Statistical Infrastructure, Statistics Canada, and Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS)

Thousands of policymakers, activists and researchers have gathered here in Canada for Women Deliver, which is the world’s largest conference on gender equality and the health, rights and wellbeing of women and girls.

The theme of this year’s conference is power and how it drives or hinders progress and change. For those of us who spend our days deep in statistics, information really is power. We believe that we must deliver data on women and girls if we are to help them reach their full potential. Gender equality is a key priority for tracking progress towards the achievement of all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 4 on quality education for all.

If an education indicator can be broken down by sex, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) disaggregates it – from pre-school enrolment to PhD students, and from the percentage of women teachers to whether women researchers are equally represented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses. If there are different trends for girls and boys at different ages as they make their way through the education system, we want to know why. Continue reading

Millions of Girls Are Out of School – But Data Show that Gender Alone Is Not the Main Culprit

By Tanya Guyatt, 60 million girls Foundation

International Women’s Day on 8 March is a time to celebrate achievements in advancing gender equality. It’s also a day to push for more progress, and this year’s theme “think equal, build smart, innovate for change” suggests that real change requires a new approach. We need innovative solutions to reach the remaining out-of-school girls and to ensure that all children finish school with the skills to thrive in today’s modern, global economy.

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Data + Policy = Action on International Day for Women and Girls in Science

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

On 11 February, the world will observe the International Day for Women and Girls in Science. While celebrating achievements, we must continue to focus on advancing gender equality in science and technology as women are still underrepresented in all areas, from research and engineering to tech start-ups. Pursuing gender parity in science is also part of wider global efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG 5) while supporting SDG 9 for innovation and SDG 17 on technological capacity building in developing countries.

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Advocating for Girls’ Education: Why We Need Data

By Tanya Guyatt, 60 million girls Foundation

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

International Women’s Day on March 8 is a time for reflection on the successes that women and girls around the world have made in pursuit of gender equality. But as the theme of the day, ‘Press for Progress’, suggests, we must also consider the challenges ahead.

Past progress does not in itself imply a better future – we have to guard against complacency and continue to press forward for change.

In global education, that means all children should be in school, learning, and developing the skills they need to boost incomes and contribute to their communities.  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. Continue reading

50 Years of International Literacy Day: Time to Develop New Literacy Data

Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics

Today marks the 50th anniversary of International Literacy Day. This year’s Day, under the banner of ‘Reading the Past, Writing the Future’, honours five decades of global progress on literacy rates. It also explores innovative ways to expand literacy in the future: a global promise set out in Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) on education. Target 4.6 aims to ensure that all youth and most adults achieve literacy and numeracy by 2030.

According to new baseline data for Target 4.6 from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), the world has come a long way over the past 50 years and there is much to celebrate. The latest data, presented in a fact sheet and illustrated in the UNESCO eAtlas of Literacy, show remarkable progress on youth literacy. Continue reading