As any statistician will tell you, gathering data is only half the battle. If data are to make a difference, they have to have power. For that, they need to be backed by political will, with a firm commitment that they will be used to drive change.
Similarly at the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), gathering data is only part of our mandate. We work hard to develop the indicators, standards and methodological tools needed to monitor progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) on education. But we work just as hard to convene and build consensus in order to strengthen that all-important political buy-in among countries and partners.
Gathering in Mexico City to create consensus
That’s the overall objective of this week’s meeting of the Technical Cooperation Group on the Indicators for SDG 4–Education 2030 (TCG) in Mexico City, co-hosted by the UIS and the Instituto Nacional para la Evaluación de la Educación (INEE). National representatives and global experts will come together November 15 and 16 to agree on the most practical approaches to measure progress towards SDG 4.
The meeting will focus on a range of issues to support countries – from methodological development to efforts to streamline international reporting of data and resources designed to strengthen capacity development.
In addition, the UIS will be presenting a new proposal to garner greater donor support for developing countries. By working on a daily basis with national statistical offices and line ministers as the custodian agency for SDG 4 data, the UIS clearly understands their challenges and priorities. By taking a demand-driven and innovative approach, we are proposing to serve as a broker to link countries and donors interested in supporting SDG 4 data.
A review of various SDG 4 indicators
The TCG will also review the latest developments in SDG 4 data, such as the recent decision by the IAEG-SDGs to upgrade indicator 4.1.1a on early learning, as well new proposals to improve several global and thematic indicators described below.
- A shift in the way we calculate the number of out-of-school children (SDG thematic indicator 4.1.5).
- Home learning environments (SDG thematic indicator 4.2.3)
- Early childhood education (SDG thematic indicator 4.2.4)
- Participation rates of youth and adults in education and training (SDG global indicator 4.3.1)
- Schools with access to infrastructure and materials for students with disabilities (SDG global indicator 4.a.1)
In September, our data release revealed that there are still around 262 million children, adolescents and youth aged 6 to 17 who are out of school – around one in every five worldwide. In Mexico City, TCG delegates will look at how to factor in the situation of children who are of primary school age but are enrolled in pre-primary education.
These children are currently considered to be out-of-school, according to the methodology used to calculate the totals. A new proposal being presented at the TCG meeting would position them as being in school.
The current methodology dates all the way back to 2005 and was originally proposed by the UIS and UNICEF. At the time, we argued that children of primary school age or older who were enrolled in pre-primary education should be seen as being out of school because the content of pre-primary education was not always appropriate for them and because enrollment data on pre-primary education by age were needed to determine primary age in each country.
Today, however, our database tells us that about 3.4 million of the 64 million children of primary age who are out of primary school across 124 countries worldwide are actually enrolled in pre-primary education. In 34 countries, pre-primary education is seen as part of compulsory education. If these children are counted as being in school, the global number of out-of-school children of primary age falls from just under 64 million to just over 60 million.
Of course, this is no reason to hang out the bunting. The numbers are not large enough to alter the fact that many millions of primary school-age children are not in school – a situation that remains unacceptable in the 21st century. At the same time, however, it is our duty to ensure that every indicator on this crucial challenge is as accurate as possible.
UNICEF will propose measurement options for this indicator, which addresses: the percentage of children under five years experiencing positive and stimulating home learning environments.
This indicator recognizes the critical importance of such environments to kick-start learning at the earliest stages of life, at the point where children’s brains are developing at the greatest speed. Having reviewed different options, UNICEF recommends the use of the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) conducted with households. Its module on family care indicators could become the standard for the data collection needed to produce this global indicator.
Delegates will review proposed refinements to the indicator on total enrolment in pre-primary education and in early childhood educational development regardless of age, expressed as a percentage of the population of the official age for early childhood education.
A TCG working group has been in close consultations with countries on the participation rates of youth and adults in formal and non-formal education and training in the previous 12 months. As a result, there is a proposal to develop a household survey module that could become a global standard to collect data for this indicator. There is an added advantage: the module could also be used to collect data for thematic indicators 4.3.3 (participation rate in technical and vocational programs of 15- to 24-year-olds by sex) and 4.6.3 (participation rate of illiterate youth/adults in literacy programs).
Finally, delegates will review a proposed data collection approach to determine the proportion of schools with access to adapted infrastructure and materials for students with disabilities. This would include standard questions that could be used by countries in their school censuses to collect data for the indicator.
We’re hoping for good news from Mexico City this week, with the TCG representing the political heart of efforts to mobilize data around SDG 4. It is the political buy-in from countries worldwide that will ensure that measurement approaches – from indicator development to reporting and capacity building – reflect their own priorities, while moving us all closer to the goal of robust and internationally-comparable education data.