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16 Dec 2014

Indicators for Universal Versus National Coverage of Goals and Targets By Abbie Raikes

By Abbie Raikes, UNESCO, Paris.

dataThe post-2015 development agenda asks for significant changes in how we conceptualize and measure progress.  The proposed post-2015 education targets present a broader and more comprehensive emphasis on learning; beyond education, a set of targets is proposed that is inter-sectoral, meaning that education is not only a desired end in itself but also a contributor to the achievement of targets for women’s empowerment, environmental sustainability and poverty reduction. As we head into this new era, new and different actions will be required at all levels – with perhaps the most important action to be undertaken at the national level, where most decisions affecting education are made, such as policies and funding for teachers, what to prioritize in curricula, and how to promote school quality. Recently, the Technical Advisory Group for Post-2015 Education Indicators, convened by UNESCO Institute for Statistics, released a report outlining existing indicators and measurement issues to be addressed to accurately track proposed targets.  The report is available for consultation now.

Measurement plays an important role in providing feedback on whether and how targets are being reached.  Globally-comparable data, or indicators with similar meaning and relevance across contexts, have been useful in tracking progress towards Education for All goals.  Dramatic increases in data availability took place over the last decade, with more countries agreeing to collect and report comparable data on enrollment, completion, and expenditures in education through administrative systems. These data were complemented by surveys on participation in education and to a lesser extent, learning. Despite the progress, several important aspects of education system performance and outcomes were not measured well in the last decade, including lack of emphasis on quality in education, inadequate data on equity in participation and learning outcomes, and limited data on learning outcomes, especially across all domains of learning and within populations at risk for exclusion.

In the next era of education, how can global and national measurement work together to address gaps in data and spur effective action at all levels?  Below are four areas to consider:

First, national monitoring plans will be central to tracking progress.  A core set of indicators for global tracking will likely be proposed as part of the proposed post-2015 education framework.  This set will reflect globally-comparable data that is available now, and will likely be limited in scope, not including many areas with significance for country action.  Data are arguably most valuable when they provide useful feedback to decision-makers on what is working and why:  Identifying which questions are of greatest significance, and what data could help inform decisions, can then be used to define national priorities for data collection and analyses.  Indicators for global tracking are essential for tracking trends, but they are necessarily broad in scope and by design, are not directly responsive to local context, which would lessen their relevance across settings.  This small set of global indicators is expected to be supplemented by national data, to be defined and expanded by national governments, NGOs, and other stakeholders to be responsive to national issues and ultimately, will be central to making progress.

Second, equity in education may be especially important to measure at the national level.  Factors influencing equity in education (which children and youth are not enrolling in school, for example, and whether the rights of children with disabilities are being protected) are likely to vary considerably from one country to the next, due to differential effects of policies, cultural influences, and other contextual factors. Getting good estimates of equity may require using multiple sources including household surveys, administrative data, and independent research studies, a combination that is rarely available at the global level. Together, these data can be invaluable in providing more nuanced and detailed examples of action at the national level, and moreover, triangulation of global indicators with national data can provide insight into the value and meaning of global indicators.

Third, cooperation between international, regional and country efforts can lead to efficiencies in developing new global indicators. Good measurement requires careful delineation of what construct should be measured and how, as well as an investment in testing items within a range of contexts.  Given the demand for new indicators, there is a great need for cooperation and sharing of expertise and resources across countries to develop new ways of measuring.  The results from national studies can then be used to propose new indicators for collection at the global level, especially when several countries or regions work together to define and test new indicators.  Innovations in measurement, such as the introduction of common cores of items for measuring learning, have the potential to significantly increase efficiency of measurement, and require strong cooperation among national and regional entities.

Fourth, provide resources for national data systems. As part of the proposed education agenda, it is essential to provide financial and technical support to national statistical offices and education ministries to support capacity development, especially as demands for data on learning and diverse sub-populations increases.

In sum, a global agenda arguably requires globally-comparable indicators; without knowing whether goals are being reached, a global agenda is impeded in its ability to spur action.  But this should not detract from the importance of national measurement:  at the heart of effective monitoring, data should be responsive to demand, and produced for those who will use it to make decisions to improve education, which necessitates accurate and reliable data at the national level. As we move towards 2030, innovations in measurement and data collection will likely place even greater emphasis on national data, with global tracking across all areas drawing increasingly from national data sources.

Abbie Raikes works in the Section for Basic Education at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris. Email:


>>View all NORRAG Blogs on Education 2030

NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,200 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.


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