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.