#LearningCounts: We Must Keep Children’s Learning on the 2030 Agenda

By Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics and Jordan Naidoo, Director of UNESCO’s Division for Education 2030 Support and Coordination. Both authors co-chair the Technical Cooperation Group on the Indicators for SDG 4.

Make your voice heard in the IAEG-SDG Open Consultation for the 2020 Comprehensive Review of the Global Indicator Framework

Data users the world over have a unique opportunity to show their support for SDG 4 Indicator 4.1.1: the proportion of children and young people achieving at least a minimum proficiency level in reading and mathematics.

A new public consultation by the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on SDG indicators (IAEG-SDGs) seeks the views of stakeholders on proposals to replace, revise or delete existing indicators as part of an intensive review process of the global SDG indicator framework. Adopted by the UN General Assembly in July 2017, the framework was developed by the IAEG-SDGs, with substantial input on the education-related indicators from the Education 2030 process coordinated by UNESCO.

In relation to SDG 4, the current consultation seeks feedback on a proposal to replace Indicator 4.1.1 by Indicator 4.6.1: the proportion of the population in a given age group achieving at least a minimum level of proficiency in (a) literacy and (b) numeracy skills. It is our hope that stakeholders will respond – in strength and numbers – to safeguard Indicator 4.1.1, which examines progress on these vital skills at different points of a child’s schooling. In our view, if you had to pick just one indicator for global monitoring of education, you would choose Indicator 4.1.1 because it encapsulates the entire schooling and learning process.

Indicator 4.1.1 matters because it contributes to SDG 4 Target 4.1, which aims for all children to complete primary and secondary education and attain relevant and effective learning outcomes. It matters because it determines whether education systems are fit for purpose in delivering the skills needed to ensure lifelong learning for all – the over-arching ambition of SDG 4.

Making the best use of the best data available

Campaigners have fought hard to ensure that children don’t just start school but complete a full cycle of primary and secondary education and learn what they need to know at each stage of their education. That is why Indicator 4.1.1 is curriculum-based – it measures the extent to which children are acquiring the vital skills in reading and mathematics defined by their own countries at critical points in their education. By using existing data that countries rely on for policymaking, Indicator 4.1.1 is pragmatic, informative and represents an effective use of scarce resources, especially for middle- and low-income countries. That is one of the many reasons why it has been validated – and is being pursued – by so many countries.

The momentum towards Indicator 4.1.1 is booming. Just five years ago, we had little or no data available internationally. Today, about 150 countries are reporting data on learning -- a number expected to rise in September with the new data release from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). This growing range of available data may increase still further as more countries assess learning – not just for monitoring but for their own policymaking.

At the same time, a wide range of partners and countries have joined forces through the Global Alliance to Monitor Learning (GAML) to develop the standards and tools to link data and produce internationally comparable indicators on learning. Never has the international education data community achieved so much in such a short time thanks to the support of a wide range of partners, such as the Australian Council for Education Research, the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, the World Bank, as well as donors including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, UK Department for International Development and others.

Thanks to this collective action, the IAEG-SDG decided to upgrade Indicator 4.1.1 from a Tier 3 to a Tier 2 indicator. We are now preparing to make the next great leap forward. In response to an IAEG-SDG request, the UIS has submitted a proposal to include completion rates for primary and secondary education as part of the global indicator framework.

In addition, the UIS is preparing to release new estimates of children not learning in September, which will encompass the concepts of completion and learning and thereby support efforts to achieve SDG 4.

There is no substitute for Indicator 4.1.1

Instead of tracking what children are learning and when, Indicator 4.6.1, as it is defined today, focuses on the proportion of the youth and adult populations who achieve a fixed level of proficiency in functional literacy and numeracy. There are several reasons why this indicator would be poor substitute for Indicator 4.1.1. To begin with, it is not curriculum-based, so tell us little about the results generated by education systems. In addition, countries are judged against an external standard rather than their own education priorities.

The proposal for Indicator 4.6.1 would also mark a major setback in terms of data availability. Currently, the only countries that can report on this are generally in the high-income group that participate in the OECD’s Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). Given the lack of available data on Indicator 4.6.1 for developing countries, the proposal to replace Indicator 4.1.1 by Indicator 4.6.1 would require them to invest in a survey that would provide little information on the actual needs of their children – whether in or out of the classroom – and teachers.

No time to lose with the Global Education Data Coalition

The process of developing and reviewing indicators has been very positive, open and consultative, especially through the Technical Cooperation Group on the Indicators for SDG 4 (TCG). But there is no time to lose with the SDG deadline just slightly more than a decade away. We firmly believe that this is not the time to replace Indicator 4.1.1, which is widely recognized as a fundamental indicator of education progress. Our primary focus must remain on the generation of children who are entering the world’s classrooms today and on the internationally comparable data that will inform national and global goals for education and beyond.

That is why the UIS and its partners are discussing a proposal to improve coordination through a Global Education Data Coalition. The UIS would continue to act as a broker for methodological developments and initiatives (including funding proposals) to develop SDG 4 data and the TCG would remain the central hub for all pressing issues and questions on SDG 4 indicators.

The IAEG-SDGs survey will feed into crucial debates on the indicators to be used for reporting on education progress in 2020. In particular, it will inform discussion at the sixth meeting of the TCG to be held in Yerevan, Armenia, on 29-30 August.

Your response to the IAEG-SDGs consultation is needed as the review process begins to finalize the SDG global monitoring framework.

We want Indicator 4.1.1 to remain part of that framework.

To take part in the consultation, click here and help us spread the word that #LearningCounts



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