Many children around the world attend school but do not learn. According to estimates in the 2012 EFA Global Monitoring Report, at least 250 million primary school age children around the world are not able to read, write or count well enough to meet minimum learning standards, including children who have spent at least four years in school. Worse still, we may not know the full scale of the crisis, as this figure is likely to be an underestimate.
In the run-up to 2015 and beyond, the global education community must work together not only to improve learning but also to measure progress. That is why the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) and the Center for Universal Education (CUE) at the Brookings Institution have established the Learning Metrics Task Force. The main objective is to shift the focus of global education debates from access to access plus learning. Based on input from technical working groups and global consultations, the Task Force will make recommendations to help countries and international organizations measure and thereby help to improve learning outcomes for children and youth worldwide.
A meeting of the Task Force last week in Dubai focused strongly on school readiness, and literacy and numeracy at primary and lower secondary levels. It also reflected on the possible need for a neutral international body to animate and oversee developments in the field.
In the first phase of this project, a working group prepared a series of recommendations to identify the competencies, knowledge or areas of learning that all children and youth need to master to succeed in school and life. These recommendations were then the subject of a broad consultation involving more than 500 individuals in 57 countries. The main findings have just been presented in a new report, Toward Universal Learning: What Every Child Should Learn.
Seven domains of learning
To develop a framework that would be relevant for the next 15 years, the Task Force recognized that it would have to take a step back from what is measurable today and consider first what kind of learning is important for the 21st century. In addition, the global consultations highlighted the need to go beyond a narrow focus on literacy and numeracy. Accordingly, the Task Force proposes a broad definition of learning that encompasses seven domains: physical well-being; social and emotional; culture and the arts; literacy and communication; learning approaches and cognition; numeracy and mathematics; science and technology.
This framework serves as a blueprint for considering measurement and implementation issues. One of the major questions is: Should global learning goals be measured in an internationally comparable way?
The initial response is that more analysis is needed on how these tests can influence policy and practice. If the end result of international comparisons is static league tables, then little is gained.There are numerous examples, however, of international assessment data being used to identify gaps in curriculum and instruction and thereby underpin school reform efforts. It is important, therefore, that discourse and expectations around international comparisons move on from the current fixation with league tables and focus instead on providing intelligence to support reform efforts at country level.
It is clear that internationally comparable assessments are useful in some contexts and less useful in others. Therefore, the Task Force is interested in a tiered model of measuring learning that uses internationally comparable assessments in some contexts and alternative assessments in others.
In the second phase of the project, a working group is investigating the feasibility of measuring learning in the seven domains, taking into account current initiatives and technical constraints. It will also make recommendations for expanding the capacity to measure learning in domains that are not currently measured on a large scale.
During the third and final phase of the initiative, another working group will develop recommendations on how learning assessment can be implemented to improve policy and ultimately learning outcomes. A final report with recommendations is scheduled for release in September 2013.