Prepared for the Future: A new indicator that combines completion with learning

New global indicator will provide a simple, comprehensive measure of progress towards the education goal, SDG4.

By Silvia Montoya, Director, UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) and Manos Antoninis, Director, Global Education Monitoring Report

The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 4) for education recognizes that all children deserve, and have the right to, a quality education. Over the last three decades, enrollment has risen to historic highs, though school disruptions and the economic implications of COVID-19 will offset some of these gains. But enrollment is only a part of what children need. For children to be fully prepared for the future, they need to complete their education, and emerge having learnt at least the basics. The new global indicator will combine all these critical factors to provide a snapshot of progress towards SDG 4.

Image: Corinna Becker

Completing and learning are critical elements of a quality education

Unfortunately, in some of the poorest regions where children are most in need of a high-quality education to get ahead, poor learning outcomes often result in higher drop-out rates with large numbers of children not completing school at all – or completing it when more than five years older than the intended graduation age for that level. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, where 82% of primary aged children are enrolled in school at the right grade for their age, just 62% graduate from this level on time. When children don’t finish school, it is hard, if not impossible, for any more learning to happen.

Even where education is free, poor families still pay for books and uniforms, and there is the perceived “opportunity cost” of lost income or help with household chores, while children are in school. If parents don’t see a pay-off from their investment in education, children can be pulled out of school before completing a level, or when transitioning between levels, from say, primary school, to lower secondary.

Introducing the new indicator: Prepared for the Future

To underline the need for countries to prioritize school completion, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), working through the Global Alliance to Monitor Learning (GAML), is proposing a new, holistic, indicator that will track both completion and learning combined. The aim is to ensure that global leaders and education policy makers have the evidence they need to zero in on where they stand on their SDG 4 commitments. With ten targets and 42 indicators in the monitoring framework for SDG 4, some might argue that it is hard to quickly grasp where countries stand in their progress towards the goal. With so many touch-points, it risks calls for change being watered down. This new indicator will hopefully answer these concerns, providing a simple rallying reference point for all education actors to lobby for improvement, ensuring all children are prepared for the future.

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First generation graduate Bharati Date: A village girl in India now on course to become a government officer

This story is part of a campaign run by the GEM Report, #Iamthe1stgirl, to accompany the launch of the 2020 GEM Gender Report. The campaign tells the stories of many girls who were the first in their family to graduate, demonstrating progress in gender equality in education that the Report shows has taken place since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action 25 years ago.  The campaign aims to amplify the message that an equal generation is an educated one.

I am 24 years old. I come from an impoverished background, but I have worked my way up to earn a Bachelor of Science degree. I want to be a District Collector—a government officer in charge of the revenue and administration of an entire district. My struggle to achieve my dream of an education has empowered me and given me the ability to overcome all the obstacles that life presents.

This is my story.

My mother is an agricultural labourer and runs a savings group. My father, who is speech and hearing impaired, works as a casual labourer. I have 3 siblings; both my sisters—one older and one younger, were child brides, and my younger brother is in grade 12.

After completing grade 7 in Sone Sangvi village, I wanted to study further, but the nearest high school was in Nimgaon Bhogi, a village 4 kilometers away. Generally, parents only bought bicycles for their sons to attend distant high schools, but when Ashta No Kai, a local NGO, offered bicycles to girls, I applied for one. Previously, it had taken me almost an hour to get to school. Owning a bicycle not only saved me time, but also enabled me to run errands for the family, such as buying groceries and fetching water. Furthermore, the bicycle eased my mother’s fears about my safety, and gave me independence.

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First generation graduate Tai Phalke: A village girl in India, who now works as an engineer

This story is part of a campaign run by the GEM Report, #Iamthe1stgirl, to accompany the launch of the 2020 GEM Gender Report. The campaign tells the stories of many girls who were the first in their family to graduate, demonstrating progress in gender equality in education that the Report shows has taken place since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action 25 years ago.  The campaign aims to amplify the message that an equal generation is an educated one.

I am 26 years old.  I was born in a village in India, Nimgaon Bhogi, and have followed my dream to become the first girl in my family to graduate. I earned a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering and now work as an Engineer for a Dutch company. I credit my success to the support and guidance I received in Life Skills Education (LSE) sessions that transferred me from being a shy village girl to an entrepreneur. I hope I will have my own small-scale industry in the near future. 

Here is my story:

When I was a child, my parents initially operated a flour mill, but the earnings from it were not enough to feed our family of four. Then, my mother started working in dairy farming, one of the livelihood interventions that a local NGO, Ashta No Kai (ANK) introduced in our village. This income changed our family’s lives for the better. My mother successfully ran the dairy business and was President of a small saving groups that Ashta No Kai had helped to organize. She also participated in ANK workshops about gender issues, which gradually changed her attitude towards girls’ education and early marriages. While I received several marriage proposals after I completed my junior college diploma, my mother strongly supported me to reject them all and encouraged me to pursue my education. I regret that my mother did not have the opportunity to become literate, although she was very intelligent.

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Emerging from COVID-19 pandemic: A social inclusion approach to educating learners with disabilities

By Charlotte McClain-Nhlapo, Global Disability Advisor, World Bank and Anna Cristina D’Addio, Senior Policy Analyst at the GEM Report

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic forced millions of children to stay at home and physically out of school. Despite planned school re-opening in certain regions, 46% of the world’s learners remain impacted by school closures. In response to COVID-19, governments, global education stakeholders, civil society, and educators have collaborated to ensure measures to continue learning, as they simultaneously work to contain the virus and support the health and well-being of learners. From an equity perspective, there is a growing concern regarding potential exclusion of the most marginalized groups and in particular, children with disabilities. The concern is that COVID-19 disproportionately impacts people from lower socio-economic groups. Research indicates that children with disabilities and their families are particularly vulnerable as they are more likely to be poor and less likely to have access to vital information. Poverty is a critical dimension which further exacerbates exclusion from education, health, and social inclusion during the Pandemic.

Image: Exceed Worldwide / Simon Larbalestier

To capture and address these critical concerns, the Inclusive Education Initiative (IEI) managed by the World Bank released an issues paper focusing on COVID-19 and learners with disabilities. The paper titled, Pivoting to Inclusion: Leveraging Lessons from the COVID-19 Crisis for Learners with Disabilities, highlights the emerging social and educational needs, barriers, and issues experienced by children with disabilities, their families, and teachers. Reinforcing the twin-track approach to disability-inclusive development and the principles of Universal Design for Learning, the paper sets out recommended practices to meet the immediate needs of learners with disabilities, medium-term strategies for re-opening, and long term actions that should be implemented to make progress towards more equitable, inclusive learning ecosystems during and after the pandemic.

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First generation graduate Tsogo Bakamoso: from a South African township to a leader helping other children access education

This story is part of a campaign run by the GEM Report, #Iamthe1stgirl, to accompany the launch of the 2020 GEM Gender Report. The campaign tells the stories of many girls who were the first in their family to graduate, demonstrating progress in gender equality in education that the Report shows has taken place since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action 25 years ago.  The campaign aims to amplify the message that an equal generation is an educated one.

I was born and bred in the Alexandra Township, one of the poorest townships in South Africa. Thanks to scholarships and hard work, I was the first girl in my family to graduate.  I have a Master’s, PGCE, BA Honours, Btech and a National Diploma. When I was 24 years old, I established an organisation called Tsogo Ya Bokamoso Foundation to help young people in my Township to continue their studies. Hard work, determination and a desire to learn are the traits that have helped me overcome all my challenges and break down the barriers in my family. What I hope and aspire for my children is a better, stable and secure future. I desire for them to be able to stand up and be able to do things for themselves, just as I did.

This is my story:

I am the youngest sibling in my family; I have 4 siblings from both my parents and 2 older sisters from my late father. My mother is retired and my father passed away 2 months ago. My mother used to be the main breadwinner. She worked as a store cashier all her life. My father was unemployed for years, and financially, it was always a challenge to afford everything.

In 2008, when I was completing my final high school year (Grade 12), I desired to study at a university in South Africa, but my mother could not afford university fees. I also realised that the information I needed in order to seek higher education did not exist. It took me quite a long time to navigate through all the options.

I applied for and received a student loan from the National Student Funding Aid Scheme in South Africa, which funded my first qualification at the University of Johannesburg. I completed my first qualification, National Diploma in Human Resources Management with distinction and the Faculty offered me a bursary to complete my second qualification, a Btech Degree in Human Resources Management, which I also passed with distinction. I later applied for BA Honours in HR, and the Faculty again covered my tuition fees. As always, I worked hard to maintain very good grades.

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First Generation Graduates

These are the stories of girls who are the first in their family to graduate. They were collected by the GEM Report as part of a campaign, #Iamthe1stgirl, to accompany the launch of the 2020 Gender Report, aiming to demonstrate progress in gender equality in education since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action 25 years ago.

Lorena –  Mexico

“We are a large family of nice siblings, most of who studied up to high school and the other two did not go to school. One had to learn to write and read on his own. I am the only one who finished a university degree. I suffered discrimination, contempt, and the difficulties of adapting to the city, and the weather. Thanks to the Tarahumara Foundation and the indigenous university program, I managed to finish my degree as an engineer in territorial development at the autonomous university of Chihuahua. My wish is that my son also manages to finish a degree. He has just started kindergarten and I will be his support so that he can achieve his dreams.”

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There has been a huge leap forward in girls’ education over the past 25 years

Our 2020 Gender Report, released today, shows that 180 million more girls have enrolled in primary and secondary education since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a landmark commitment to advance the rights of girls and women made in 1995 by 189 countries. Released on the occasion of the International Day of the Girl Child, which is celebrated on October 11, it shows that, despite an increase across all levels of education, girls are still more likely to suffer exclusion than boys. It therefore remains vital for governments to tackle persisting discrimination to achieve equality for the next generation of girls.

Credit: Johanna de Tessières / HI

New analysis shows that the benefits of maternal education accumulate and can break the cycle of disadvantage between generations. Girls born in low-income countries in the 1980s acquired seven more months of education for every year of education their mothers received.

Education is the springboard for achieving the six Action Coalitions at the Generation Equality Forum planned for 2021, where the next iteration of the Beijing Declaration will be produced. It makes the timing of this Report particularly critical.

A high-level discussion co-hosted by the Government of France, Plan International and UNESCO is taking place this Monday 12 October, 15:00–16:30 CEST. Female leaders and young women whose lives have been transformed by gains in education made over the past 25 years will join ministers of education from Finland and Senegal and Audrey Azoulay,Director-General, UNESCO, to discuss what should be prioritised for the next generation of girls. Click here for more information and to register.

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Breaking the glass ceiling in teacher recruitment

By Nicole Bella and Matthias Eck

Worldwide, many countries lack sufficient numbers of teachers. Those teachers working are often not qualified and trained to ensure quality education and learning. But, while having enough highly qualified teachers is a key issue, the extent to which the education workforce is equitable and inclusive also has important bearing. The gender balance at each level of the teaching body, therefore, is an important marker for equality.


Our 2020 Gender Report is being released tomorrow to coincide with the International Day of the Girl Child. The Report looks at progress made in the 25 years since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a blueprint for women’s rights. Two of the strategic objectives set in these documents called upon countries to create gender-sensitive education systems and take positive measures to increase the proportion of women gaining access to education policy and decision-making, and the proportion of female teachers at all levels of education as well as in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines, which are traditionally male-dominated.

Yet, our new forthcoming report shows that, two and a half decades later, this objective is far from realised. Globally, 94% of pre-primary education teachers were female in 2018. Their share falls as the level of education increases, from 66% in primary to 54% in secondary and 43% in tertiary education. The share of female teachers in pre-primary education has remained more or less the same since 1995, while it has increased at other levels of education in almost all regions, except in Sub-Saharan Africa, where the share decreased in secondary (from 32% to 30%) and tertiary education (from 26% to 24%). Even in primary education, women make up less than 30% of teachers in Benin, the Comoros, Djibouti and Sierra Leone, and less than 20% in Togo.

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Teachers need training on inclusion

By Anna Cristina D’Addio and Daniel April, GEM Report team

Many factors go into the design of a truly inclusive education system. Some determine the way in which education systems are put in place, such as laws and policies, or governance and funding mechanisms. Others operate within the walls of the school.  Teachers play a central role in welcoming and teaching all students, regardless of their background, ability and identity. They need specific skills to adapt teaching to learners’  diverse needs – a skill that is acutely needed during school shutdowns – but they need support and training to know how.

This World Teachers’ Day, a new policy paper by the GEM Report and the International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030 (TTF), Inclusive teaching: Preparing all teachers to teach all students  looks at teacher training programmes, touching upon issues of planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation, and the support mechanisms in place to help teachers foster inclusion. The examples are mainly extracted from the GEM Report’s new Profiles Enhancing Education Reviews (PEER) website, which contains comparable country profiles of laws and policies on key issues to facilitate peer dialogue within and between countries and regions.

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Re-building resilient education systems: three lessons on the privatisation of education emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic

By members of the Privatisation in Education and Human Rights Consortium

It is well-known that the disruptions to education due to COVID-19 are enormous.

In order to understand the full effects of the pandemic, members of the Privatisation Education and Human Rights Consortium, an informal network of national, regional and global organisations and individuals who collaborate to analyse and respond to the challenges posed by the rapid growth of private actors in education from a human rights perspective and propose alternatives, have collectively monitored the news related to private education in the context of COVID-19. The following key lessons have emerged. 

Image credit: Ikhlasul Amal

1. Technological companies are not solving education inequalities, they can even perpetuate them.

Education authorities around the world have quickly tried to shift to distance learning models in the aim of ensuring continuity of “learning”, with many embracing various digital solutions.  As discussed below, there are different ways to deliver on distance learning, including “high tech” (usually through IT equipment), and low- or no-tech (such as radio programmes).

According to a UNESCO estimate, 95 governments across the globe have introduced online solutions during the pandemic, and online learning is increasingly becoming an integral part of education globally. This has led to the development of a narrative suggesting online learning and technology could play a key role in resolving education challenges. Big technological companies such as Google, Microsoft and Facebook have rapidly gained an increased prominence in global education, bringing out papers such as “Education Reimagined”, suggesting a paradigm shift for education, and educational companies have started to market online schooling platforms promoting these as long-term alternatives for education.

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