Meet the SDG 4 data: Preparing children for education
Why are indicators 4.2.1 and 4.2.2 crucial for the world’s education goals? Because they tell us whether the children arriving in classrooms for the first time have had the best possible preparation for their education.
July 25, 2018 by Silvia Montoya, UNESCO Institute for Statistics
11 minutes read
Children singing and dancing in their pre-school classroom at  Jean de la Mennais School in Burera district in rural Rwanda. Credit: GPE/Alexandra Humme
Children singing and dancing in their pre-school classroom at  Jean de la Mennais School in Burera district in rural Rwanda.
Credit: GPE/Alexandra Humme

I'm sure we all remember our first day at primary school. Our reactions may have varied from excitement to bewilderment. Some of us jumped right into the lessons with gusto. Some of us may have hung back a little, unsure of our ground. A lot depended on how prepared we were for what was – although we didn't realize it at the time – one of the most important days of our lives.

In the third blog of our "Meet the SDG 4 data" series, we will look at how countries can gather data on this all-important preparation for school. Such ground work is vital if children are to make the most of their education, arriving in the classroom ‘primed' and ready to learn.

This blog focuses on SDG 4 target 4.2: Quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education, and two of its indicators:

  • Indicator 4.2.1: the proportion of children under 5 years of age who are developmentally on track in health, learning and psychosocial well-being, by sex.
  • Indicator 4.2.2: the participation rate in organized learning (one year before the official primary age), by sex.

We will take a step-by-step walk through the process to gather data for these indicators, drawing on the new and easy-to-use tools produced by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), particularly the Quick Guide to Education Indicators for SDG 4.

Indicator 4.2.1:Proportion of children under 5 who are developmentally on track in health, learning and psychosocial well-being

The concepts to be measured for indicator 4.2.1 include the quality of a child's early care and education, their access to programs, and their development and learning when they start school. However, the definition presents some challenges. With no globally-accepted definition of ‘developmentally on track', it can be difficult to determine what being ‘on track' means.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of signposts on school readiness that can be measured and it is perfectly feasible to develop this indicator, if there is enough consultation and support for countries to generate reliable data.

Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS), for example, include relevant information in the Early Childhood Development Index (ECDI), which defines ‘on track' as the percentage of children aged 36 to 59 months who are developmentally on track in at least three of the following areas:

  • Literacy-numeracy – they can identify at least 10 letters of the alphabet, read 4 simple words, and recognize and name all numbers from 1 to 10.
  • Physical – they can pick up small objects easily and are generally well enough to play.
  • Socio-emotional – they can undertake simple activities independently, get along with other children, and do not usually kick, bite or hit other children or adults.
  • Learning – they participate in any type of organized learning, including early childhood education, kindergarten or community care.

The indicator is calculated as the percentage of children aged 36 to 59 months demonstrating age-appropriate levels of development in these areas. The MICS ECDI awards national values. In terms of interpretation, a high value indicates that a large number of young children are well prepared to start primary school in terms of their capacity to learn, their physical health and their psychosocial well-being.

The MICS ECDI is not, however, the only data source available. Many countries have used representative sampling surveys to capture children's early childhood experiences, including the ECD Regional Prototype by UNICEF in West and Central Africa, Programa Regional de Indicadores de Desarrollo Infantil (PRIDI) in Latin America, the East Asia and Pacific Child Development Scales, the Early Development Index and the Early Human Capacity Index. Newly-developed scales with two to three representative samples include the Measuring Early Learning Quality and Outcomes Scale and the International Development and Early Learning Assessment (IDELA).

The challenges, however, include an urgent need for methodological development to ensure that the proposed measure reflects a commonly-agreed definition aligned with national standards, relevant to every child in every part of the world, and that accurately reflects what it means to be ‘developmentally on track' in every country.

The UIS is calling on all countries to establish and roll out such methodologies and applauds those that have already done so. The UIS also calls on all countries to either include key questions about early childhood in their national household surveys or to participate in one of the international projects generating data for this indicator.

Indicator 4.2.2: Participation rate in organized learning, one year before the official primary age

The concept to be measured for this indicator is children's exposure to organized learning activities in the year before they begin primary school. But what are ‘organized learning programs'? Put simply, they are educational activities that help children achieve predetermined learning outcomes or a specific set of educational tasks, and they include early childhood and pre-primary education programs.

The participation rate by sex is calculated as the percentage of children in the given age range who participate in one or more organized learning program, including those that combine education and care. The age range will vary by country, depending on the official age for entry to primary education.

The indicator is interpreted as the number of children in the relevant age group who participate in an organized learning program, expressed as a percentage of the total population in the same age range. Again, the higher the value, the greater the proportion of children taking part in such activities.

The data sources include the UIS time series based on enrollment data from education ministries and national statistical offices, as well as population estimates produced by the UN Population Division. Enrollment data are collected through the annual UIS Survey of Formal Education and are reported in line with the levels of education defined in the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) to ensure international comparability.

The challenges include the varied intensity of exposure to organized learning, given that many children do not participate in such programs full-time. While the indicator measures the percentage of children taking part in organized learning, it cannot measure the intensity of that experience, which makes it hard to draw conclusions on whether the target is being achieved.

More work is needed to embed a consistent definition of learning programs across diverse surveys – a definition that is easily understood by the people being surveyed and that is reinforced with complementary information on the amount of time children spend in such programs.

To sum up

Monitoring progress with indicators 4.2.1 and 4.2.2 is crucial for the world's education goals. These indicators will tell us whether the children arriving in classrooms for the first time have had the best possible preparation for their education. What happens next, of course, depends largely on the quality of the education on offer – but at least the children will be ready to learn.

Where and how to find SDG 4 data

  • The Quick Guide to Education Indicators for SDG 4 describes the process of developing and producing the global monitoring indicators while explaining how they can be interpreted and used. This is a hands-on, step-by-step guide for anyone who is working on gathering or analyzing education data.
  • The SDG 4 Data Book: Global Education Indicators 2018 ensures that readers have the latest available data for the global monitoring indicators at their fingertips, and will be regularly updated.
  • The SDG 4 Data Explorer, designed for policymakers and analysts, displays data by country, region or year; by data source; and by sex, location and wealth. It allows users to explore the measures of equality that are crucial for the achievement of SDG 4.
  • The SDG 4 Country Profiles present the latest available SDG 4 global indicators in charts and graphs that are easy to understand. For those who need quick facts on specific countries, this is the place to come.

Read other blogs in this series:

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