By Silvia Montoya and Jordan Naidoo, Co-Chairs of the Technical Cooperation Group for SDG 4.
The pressure is on! This is the conclusion of the recent meeting of the Technical Cooperation Group (TCG) on SDG 4 – Education 2030 Indicators. While discussions covered a range of issues, the question on everyone’s mind was how we will measure learning globally given the tremendous gaps in data, methodology and capacity-building. For example, only 32% of the developing countries receiving support from the Global Partnership for Education take part in learning assessments and their results cannot be compared globally.
So there was a real sense of relief following an update on the latest developments of the Global Alliance to Monitor Learning (GAML), which is developing the methodologies and tools needed by countries to strengthen their assessments while reporting on learning outcomes internationally. With GAML leading the work on learning indicators, the TCG could focus on the remaining issues related to indicator development, capacity development and country reporting. These topics are the subject of a series of TCG working groups, which had plenty to share.
Working Group on Indicator Development
At its second meeting in Madrid in October 2016, the TCG identified 22 global and thematic education indicators requiring further methodological development. Seven of these measure learning outcomes and will be further developed by task forces of the Global Alliance to Monitor Learning.
The TCG’s Working Group on Indicator Development is working on another seven indicators right now, with another eight indicators in its sights. The first seven either have an existing methodology that is already being used by somebody, somewhere (for example, in OECD countries) but that needs refinement to reflect the needs and contexts of a wider range of countries, or because the working group can draw on considerable expertise in the particular area under review (Tables 1 and 2).
Table 1: Indicators already in the process of being developed
Table 2: Indicator with established methodologies
As shown in Table 3, another two indicators may be relatively easy to handle by more precisely defining the items to be collected. For example, 4.4.3 on educational attainment has an established methodology but it covers many different concepts, which the TCG believes can be simplified. So discussions will focus on the extent to which UIS attainment data will be broken down for specified age groups, education levels and – although it may be more problematic – economic activity.
Table 3: Indicators that can be developed relatively easily
The final two indicators need more extensive work and, perhaps, guidance from external experts (see Table 4). But we do have a starting point. On indicator 4.c.5, for example, the OECD has a methodology, but its parameters may not apply for developing countries. It compares the statutory salaries of teachers with those of other public-sector professions (such as police officers and nurses) – a comparison that may not be appropriate in all non-OECD countries.
Table 4: Indicators requiring extensive further methodological development
Working Group on Capacity Development
One issue cut across all of the topics discussed by the TCG – capacity development. The best indicators in the world will amount to little if countries are unable to produce and use them. So during the meeting, countries, such as China, and Argentina, discussed their challenges while partners, like the World Bank, OECD, UNICEF and the GPE presented their initiatives in specific areas and how they can contribute to the wider efforts of the UIS.
The UIS works on a daily basis with countries around the world – from Pacific Island States to sub-Saharan Africa – not just to collect data but to help them strengthen their statistical capacities. In particular, ten countries recently joined a new joint UIS-UNESCO project, CapED, which is designed to bridge the gap between national education policies, data collection and use.
The UIS has developed a range of tools to help countries assess and improve the quality of their data by making the best use of relevant sources and applying international standards and best practices. This work lays the basis for countries to develop their own National Strategy for the Development of Education Statistics.
To leverage these tools, the TCG Working Group on Capacity Development will offer countries guidance on existing tools and resources while helping to identify and consolidate any other capacity development issues flagged up by countries and development partners.
Working Group on Data Reporting
As previously explained, countries are faced with an unprecedented demand for new and more complex indicators given the SDG focus on equity and learning. In reality, however, many line ministries and national statistical offices (NSOs) and line ministries are unsure about where to get the information needed for international reporting.
The TCG Working Group on Country Reporting is grappling with the questions that crop up repeatedly. For example, how do you report data on learning if few NSOs deal with assessments? In general, ministries of education deal with international studies or conduct their own tests or engage in citizen-led assessments. So this is new territory for NSOs, many of which must also deal with household surveys for the very first time in order to find information on equity-related issues.
To show the way forward, the working group will produce a mapping tool to show who collects which data, how data are reported, when the reporting will take place and where the resulting indicators are published. It will also prepare protocols and general guidelines to help countries and organizations find their place within, and manage, these data flows.
Expertise and pragmatism
By bringing countries and technical partners together, the TCG plays a critical role in the larger SDG measurement agenda for all 17 goals. Given the challenges ahead, there is a clear need to mobilize greater support. But most of all, we are learning from one another, as the TCG brings a unique mix of expertise and pragmatism in monitoring progress towards SDG 4.
Silvia Montoya is Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Jordan Naidoo, is Director of the Division for Education 2030 Support and Coordination, UNESCO, Paris. They both serve as co-chairs of the Technical Cooperation Group for SDG 4.
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