Measure learning now to reduce inequality tomorrow
Learning data are essential if we want every child to learn, and if we want to guide education reform. Partners are meeting regularly to delineate concrete steps and put together an operational plan that will enable countries to report on learning in comparable ways.
July 06, 2017 by Luis Crouch, RTI International, and Jean-Marc Bernard, Global Partnership for Education
7 minutes read
A student identifies letters during the GPE supported National Learning Assessment in Sudan
A student identifies letters during the GPE supported National Learning Assessment in Sudan
Credit: GPE/ Kelley Lynch

Learning data are essential if we want every child to learn, and if we want to guide education reform.

The data tell us who is not learning, helps us to understand why, and can help to channel scarce resources to where they are most needed.

Lack of learning data is an impediment to educational progress, and it is in learning levels that educational inequality shows up the most.

At this point, for example, two thirds as many children in low-income countries complete primary schooling as in high-income countries. But, even in some middle-income countries some 60% of children are at or below minimum learning competency levels, whereas in high-income countries there are essentially no children at this level: a difference of about 0% to 60%. And we don’t even have the data for the low-income countries; we would guess the difference between high-income and low-income countries is 0% to 80%. It is in this 80% of children learning at or below minimum competency that global vulnerability and inequality really show up.

At the global level, a lack of comparable learning data makes it impossible to map learning challenges across countries and tell a compelling story about the needs and opportunities to get all children learning and achieve SDG 4.

Global and national leaders who allocate funding between sectors know that there is a learning crisis, and that the most vulnerable in the world are most vulnerable because they are not learning much. But they also know that the sector is not measuring this issue very well. Lack of measurement therefore makes it almost impossible to have a compelling case for donors and Ministers of Finance to invest in education.

At a time when international financing for education in developing countries is going down, it is critical that we have this data to ensure the global community can fulfill its commitment to quality education for all, and enable the achievement of the wider SDG agenda.

The urgency to have concrete steps for obtaining high quality, globally comparable learning data that can be used to improve national education systems is now palpable. According to UIS, at the moment only a third of the countries can report on indicator 4.1 with data that is partially comparable (target 4.1 is: by 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes). The deadline is drawing near. By the end of 2018, the education community must have a solution for how to report on SDG 4.

Under UIS leadership, the global community is forging ahead to support countries and efforts for global reporting.  The Global Alliance for Monitoring Learning (GAML) has been hard at work over the past 18 months advancing tools and processes. At the 3rd meeting of GAML in Mexico, diverse stakeholders concluded there was a critical need to have a conceptual framework that integrated different learning assessments and to consult with practitioners.

On June 26, 2017, an important leap forward was made in getting key partners on board and moving towards a concrete roadmap for global reporting through existing cross national assessments. UIS convened a meeting with regional assessments, international assessment and development partners in Washington D.C. to tackle three critical questions: How to link learning assessments? How to report results on the same scale? And how to expand their coverage? A partnership model was also presented with ideas for how partners can come together to coordinate on the technical work and financially support it.

The result of the meeting was clear: partners expressed their full support to move forward together and link assessments even if at first the linkage is not perfect—one has to start somewhere.

They also expressed a willingness to participate in a follow up technical meeting within the next few months to iron out the technical options and build a roadmap for linking and expanding assessments. They asked the approach be sound, reasonable to implement, not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, be transparent, seek early buy-in from countries, and keep in consideration those children not in school.

While some political and technical challenges lie ahead, we are finally at the stage where we can delineate concrete steps and put together an operational plan that will enable countries to report on learning in comparable ways. We must seize the momentum and call upon others to rally behind these efforts. Globally comparable learning data would be a monumental feat for the sector, and one that is important to all. It’s time to invest in global monitoring of learning outcomes.

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I am really glad that the need for measuring learning today for reducing inequality of tomorrow has come into focus and the world leaders are coming together to think about it.
Here as a practitioner I would like to note our positive experience after we started measuring learning on a weekly basis and adjusting our lesson plans as per the progress of an individual child.
Door Step School has been conducting reading classes for children of first to forth grade studying in public schools. In India almost all the children studying in government schools come from poor families, whose parents are illiterate or semi literate. Unfortunately , as per the government rules all children are promoted to next grade If they stay in school forthright the academic year. Their performance is not taken into consideration for promoting them to next level just attendance is sufficient. This practice is very harmful when combined with poor family background, lack of learning support from parents and lack of role model for learning in the close family and neighbourhood circle. It surely results into low quality of learning. There is no motivation for students or even for teachers to do well..
We have seen this happening in Indian government schools.
To remedy this situation in a 238 government schools in Pune and Pimpari Chinchwad ( Maharashtra, India) where we run our reading classes we have started a new project for the grade one students.
The goal is to take all children to the level where they would be able to their own text book, fully and fluently by the end of the academic year. In other words they should achieve the expected level of learning in the expected period of time.
And last five years that we are running the 'Read First Grade Text Book in First Grade itself' the results are as expected.. Nearly fifty five percent children read the complete book without difficulty. Only about six to seven percent children are poor performers. The remaining forty percent children do have some difficulty in reading difficult words but are fluent reading simple text. These results are much better than the results published by ASER for Indian schools.
Our methodology is simple. We divide the full portion prescribed for the grade one student in small modules and make a daywise plan so that we can complete the full portion in the number of working in one academic year. We have prepared a lot of teaching aids and designed simple games to play with children so the learning is joyful. Everyday our workers (whom we call book fairies ) along with the class teacher take work with these children for about thirty five minutes. Every week,every child's progress is measured and noted down and a fresh plan is made for those who are lagging behind. We have seen that children who are present for more than eighty percent of school days do learn to read well. One of the reasons for poor quality of learning is lack of regular attendance in school.
There is no doubt that unless learning is measured meticulously and those who are lagging behind are helped immediately ,( like a stitch in time that saves nine)'we can never achieve the goal of quality learning. And if children spend years in school and have stagnated they will face problems as adults. In countries like India where parents have seen that even after getting post graduate degrees from university their children have no value in job market. This turns other parents away from education They do not see any value in educating their children. And this happens in poor families only.
I think learning should be at center through which method, innovative or otherwise should be a secondary consideration.

Somewhere, we lost track of our Purpose, of what, we, as a nation and as education professionals were expected to achieve. The leaders of this great nation have managed to communicate to everyone that education is not important, a teacher is someone we can brow-beat.

The ability to manipulate, fabricate and confound with words is the desired ability/eduction to be cherished. Today, I find everyone is a committed liar. And I stand by my generalisation. What are you going to teach children in the face of parents who are for ever living on deviations from the truth? Parents who are without any visible legitimate source of income but with billions to spend. Violence rules supreme and the Sermon on the Mount hold no meaning for anyone of us. Aurobindo Mukerji.

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