Why we need a Flagship Indicator for Education: all Children in School and Learning

By Bridget Crumpton, the Education Commission, and Silvia Montoya, UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

For the past year, we have been pushing for more and better data to help ensure that no-one is left behind – a key objective of the new Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data launched in Cape Town this January. We have cultivated new partnerships while promoting innovative data tools and approaches to monitor progress towards Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 on education. But clearly monitoring is only one side of the picture.  It must be reinforced by strong advocacy to make an impact and galvanize stronger global action on education. And strong advocacy, in turn, benefits greatly from a flagship indicator that can serve as a rallying point – an indicator that is easy to understand by all and that comes to symbolize the larger global goal.

In health, the main global goal under the SDGs is to reduce the rate of under-five mortality. For climate change, it’s holding the world to a maximum temperature rise of 2 degrees. But what is the flagship indicator for SDG 4, with its pledge to ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning? The absence of an equivalent lead indicator in education may undermine both national and global action and investment in education.  And, it could be argued, weaken the focus on learning outcomes.

A few years ago, in the era of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the rallying call for education was the number of children out of school while the primary completion rate served as the lead indicator. The data, produced by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), were widely disseminated and easy to grasp, making headlines in countries around the world. Today, we have a set of 11 global and a set of 43 thematic indicators that help set a course for countries to measure a wide range of issues shaping everything from access (school readiness, enrolment ratios) to outcomes (learning and school completion).  With the more comprehensive and ambitious vision of SDG4, it becomes all the more vital to set a lead indicator. So, what is the flagship indicator that can serve as a barometer for progress and pull these frameworks together without diluting them?

What will a flagship learning indicator look like?

In December, UIS and the Education 2030 Steering Committee put forward an indicator that would go straight to the heart of the SDG 4 agenda: ensure that all children are in school and learning. Rather than replacing the global and thematic indicators, we are confident that this flagship indicator would help to draw attention to them.

This indicator responds to calls from the Education Commission  for an indicator that reflects the spirit of SDG 4 by focusing national and global efforts on learning as well as access. What is crucial is that the proposed indicator combines data on the quality of education (such as share of children at the end of primary and lower secondary with a minimum proficiency in reading and mathematics), with the unfinished business of the MDGs: the completion rate and/or out-of-school rate for these age groups.

While there are several options to consider, the new indicator will have to combine different types of data and sources of information. It will reflect access to education, by including a mix of population data, enrolment and completion rates as well as information on children and youth out of school, including those who have dropped out or never had the chance to start. But it will also use assessment data to reflect education quality and learning proficiency. In particular, the indicator will include the new data being developed by the Global Alliance to Monitor Learning (GAML). In addition, the new indicator will use a combination of different data sources, including household surveys, to reflect the equity issues raised by the SDGs.

How can we move forward?

It is feasible, as noted in a joint blog by UIS and the World Bank, in December. The breakthrough on up-grading the SDG4 indicator on learning outcomes provides a path for countries to strengthen their national assessment systems and use this data to improve learning, refine teaching approaches, and drive smarter use of resources. On learning outcomes, already about one-half of the world’s countries are participating in regional and international learning assessments. Instead of starting from scratch, the UIS, through GAML, has found a way to anchor the results of these assessments within a single database that will, at first, capture the share of pupils reaching minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics at the end of primary and lower secondary education. So while GAML is working towards producing the very first internationally comparable measures of learning, the other data – on completion, out-of-school children and more – are already being produced by the UIS.

Refining the indicator would require a number of methodological developments (some are already underway) in particular to ensure robust articulation between learning assessments data, household survey data and administrative data. These include developing a methodology to ensure correspondence between minimum proficiency levels across learning assessments and over time and using national assessments to complement comparative assessments to enable more regular reporting.

Consultation and support will be required not just to develop the indicator but to help countries report the information needed to produce it at the global level. To explore the options, the UIS is developing a paper, together with the Education Commission, for consultation with the wider education community in mid-2017.  Working with the UIS and its many education partners, we’re aiming for the launch of a flagship indicator this year. Once agreed, this flagship learning indicator can serve as a rallying call to bring the global education community together and marshal the high level political support and additional investment that is so crucial to getting all children learning in a generation.  This is a challenge, but a challenge that we relish and where a breakthrough is within our reach.

Bridget Crumpton is a Senior Adviser of the Education Commission.

Silvia Montoya is Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

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3 Responses to Why we need a Flagship Indicator for Education: all Children in School and Learning

  1. All children in school, safe, happy and learning

  2. petermittler says:

    WHY WE NEED A FLAGSHIP FOR PEOPLE WITH DEMENTIA IN ACTION 2030
    Experience in Education for All should now be used to prevent older people with dementia being Left Behind in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
    Children with disabilities failed to benefit from Education for All, launched in the 1990 Jomtien Declaration. UNESCO’s Inclusive Education Section estimated that they constituted a third of primary age children out of school children. UNESCO produced annual Global Education Monitoring Reports which barely mentioned them, despite protests by Inclusion International and other disability NGOs.
    By 2015, there were data disaggregated for gender, poverty deciles, location (urban/rural) and language of instruction- but still none for disability. The 2015 GEM ten-year overview promised disability-disaggregated data but the 2016 report merely made a vague commitment to ‘as data become available’.
    The International Disability Alliance and the International Disability and Development Consortium succeeded in securing 11 disability indicators in the SDGs and an obligation to include the remaining 219 if the tools to do so became available.
    The 75 million people with dementia predicted for 2030 are at high risk of being Left Behind in Action 2030. They were absent from the UN internet consultations on the SDGs and have until recently not joined alliances of disability NGOs. Although they are indisputably included in the definition of disability in Article 1 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), only the Scottish government has included them in its implementation of the Convention. It is also invisible in the design of two regional and over 30 dementia plans and strategies launched since 2015.
    Dementia Alliance International is the sole international organisation of people living with dementia. It was launched with a commitment to human rights and access to the Convention and has recently raised the risk of exclusion from the SDGs with UN Human Rights Bodies because the 172 governments that have ratified the Convention will be expected to include people with dementia in their implementation of the CRPD. There are also concerns about the extent to which people with dementia will be included in WHO’s 2014-2021 Global Disability Action Plan which fully reflect CRPD Principles and Articles.
    The SDGs were launched by the UN Secretary General with a commitment not only to Leave No One Behind but also to disability-disaggregated data. UN agencies do not necessarily reflect UN policies. But UN Conventions enable governments to be held to account by the UN Human Rights Bodies, as well as by civil society organisations.

  3. H. Abadzi says:

    The flagship indicator should come from cognitive science and learning research. Most likely measures of students’ processing time in various tasks would be a central concept. The SDG organizers would do the world a great service if they interacted with prominent cognitive scientists on this issue.
    A blog was published last month on this issue.
    https://norrag.wordpress.com/2017/01/17/for-global-learning-metrics-ask-cognitive-scientists/

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