Meet the SDG 4 data: Skills for a digital world
Indicator 4.4.1 measures the proportion of youth/adults with information and communications technology skills. Learn what it means to have such skills and how can this be measured.
August 08, 2018 by Silvia Montoya, UNESCO Institute for Statistics| |
College students work in a computer lab in Mauritania.
CREDIT: World Bank/Arne Hoel

As we unpack the data that are needed for the achievement of SDG 4 on education, we are going to dig a little deeper into the key skills that young people need in the 21st century workplace. And in this digital age, that means the ability to make good use of information and communications technology (ICT).

As I noted in an earlier blog, there are so many positives about the digital technologies that are transforming the way we live, work and learn. It’s probably fair to say that digital literacy is now an essential skill for everyone, everywhere. We all need to know how to make good use of these new technologies.

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Everyone now needs digital literacy skills

Taking the UIS itself as just one example: I need to be able to keep in touch with my team while I’m on the move. My team needs to be able to transform long (sometimes very long) lists of statistics into accessible, understandable charts, graphics and other visualisations. Across the world, health workers are using ICTs to remind parents about their children’s vaccinations; farmers are using them to market their crops; and once voiceless people are coming together as never before to make their voices heard.

ICTs are now an indispensable part of our daily lives, and we can barely remember how we managed without them. This carries a risk, however: those who lack access to digital technologies or the skills to navigate them are in danger of being side-lined in a world that is increasingly digital.

That is why this blog focuses on SDG 4 target 4.4: By 2030, substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship. It explores Indicator 4.4.1: the proportion of youth/adults with information and communications technology (ICT) skills, by type of skill. Both the target and the indicator reflect a forward-looking commitment by countries. But what does it mean to have such skills, and how can this be measured?

Again, we will draw on the new and easy-to-use tools produced by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), particularly the Quick Guide to SDG 4 Education Indicators to guide us through the process for this global indicator for the world’s education goals.

Where and how to find the 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, 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.

What is being measured to assess ICT skills?

The global target concept for Indicator 4.4.1 argues that ICT skills determine the effective use of ICT. The indicator is defined as the percentage of youth (people aged 15 to 24 years) and adults (aged 15 years and older) who have undertaken certain computer-related activities in a given period (e.g. the previous three months) (see Figure 1).

The indicator is calculated as the percentage of people in a given population who say “yes” when asked if they have used ICT skills, for example, inside or outside their school or workplace, have used those skills for a minimum amount of time, and have access to the Internet.

It is interpreted as the link between the use of ICT and its impact, which helps to measure and track the level of proficiency of users. A high value indicates that a large share of the reference population has the ICT skill being measured.

Figure 1. Skills to be measured to assess ICT skills

Copying or moving a file or folder
Using copy and paste tools to duplicate or move information within a document
Sending e-mails with attached files (e.g. document, picture, video)
Using basic arithmetic formulae in a spreadsheet
Connecting and installing new devices (e.g. modem, camera, printer)
Finding, downloading, installing and configuring software
Creating electronic presentations with presentation software (including text, images, sound, video or charts)
Transferring files between a computer and other devices
Writing a computer program using a specialized programming language

Currently, there is one data source for this indicator based on methodology adopted by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Eurostat is collecting the data annually for 32 European countries, while the ITU is responsible for setting up the standards and collecting this information from remaining countries.

Challenges in data collection

One of the main measurement challenges for this indicator is the narrow coverage of ‘relevant skills’ proposed by the target. What’s more, it is based only on the information that people themselves report. They provide information on the types of activities they have undertaken but not their proficiency level. While self-reporting offers a cost efficient approach to data collection, it is important to consider that the results can vary between groups from different cultural and personal backgrounds. Women, for example, tend to under-report their abilities in using computers and the Internet, while men tend to overstate them.

To offer a more comprehensive view of the digital skills of youth and adults, the UIS, through the Global Alliance to Monitor Learning (GAML) is working with partners such as the Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report and Hong Kong University’s Centre for Information Technology in Education (CITE) to develop thematic Indicator 4.4.2: the percentage of youth/adults who have achieved at least a minimum level of proficiency in digital skills. The first step has been to develop a global framework of digital literacy skills based on a technical review of more than 40 digital literacy frameworks used by countries around the world. In addition to SDG 4 monitoring, this framework will also lay the foundations to develop new sources of information which can be used to better track the use of ICT not just in education but also the wider use of digital skills by households, businesses and governments.

We value your views on this indicator and the ways in which ICT skills are defined and assessed worldwide.

This is the fifth in our series of blogs on the indicators for SDG 4. The UIS invites feedback and commentary from all interested readers.

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