By Claudia Costin, Senior Director for Education at the World Bank, and Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics
We have just launched the ‘go to’ initiative on the monitoring of learning worldwide: The Global Alliance to Monitor Learning. What and how children, youth and adults learn is at the top of the global education agenda, with Sustainable Development Goal 4 demanding inclusive and equitable quality education and the promotion of lifelong learning for all by 2030. No fewer than five of its ten targets zoom in on learning outcomes, including target 4.1, which covers children and adolescents, and target 4.6, which covers those aged 15 and above.
But right now, there is a chronic lack of the comparable data we need to measure even the most basic reading and numeracy skills across countries. As a result, we don’t have global information on these to monitor the basic building blocks of children’s learning, let alone their progress in later years.
The new Global Alliance to Monitor Learning aims to tackle this problem head on, supporting efforts by countries worldwide to effectively measure learning outcomes and – very importantly – to put that information to good use in their pursuit of the SDG targets. It will forge stronger links between assessment experts, decision-makers, donors and civil society organizations representing many groups including teachers – links that are essential if we are to generate globally valid and comparable data that contribute to improved learning environments. And when it comes to forging links, nothing works better than bringing real people together to discuss real challenges and share real solutions.
In recent years hundreds of learning assessments have been conducted. The question is whether they are robust, whether they have any meaning beyond their specific context, and whether they hold lessons for other countries. Only one thing is certain: they cannot be compared internationally because they use very different approaches. The Alliance will bring the key players to the table to create joined-up thinking around the assessment approaches that are underway by working with – rather than against – the grain of what is already happening.
The Alliance will support the development and implementation of improved and comparable reporting metrics for every SDG 4 target related to learning outcomes, starting with targets 4.1 and 4.6. It has five core objectives:
- support for country implementation: it will support activities to help countries that want to align their learning assessments to global and regional metrics
- building capacity to deliver quality data: it will support governments to build capacity across relevant actors and foster interaction among them (i.e., assessment organization, ministry of education, and national statistical agency)
- strengthening national data and evidence: it will support national data platforms to track and monitor results for various targets; feedback data for programme and policy improvement; and build capacity in data use
- ensuring adequate finance: it will develop an operational model for each target that leverages government, stakeholders, partners, civil society in fund raising and innovative finance
- building inter-country support: it will provide a platform to highlight partners’ expertise, amplify their successes and, in turn, offer support to countries that want to develop or improve their learning assessment systems.
As the lead UN agency on data – and as a neutral body – the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) will host the secretariat for the Alliance. The UIS is not only working with 200 countries already, it also has the knowledge and mandate to develop international guidelines, methodologies and frameworks that everyone can use.
We are kick-starting the Alliance with the launch of a new data tool – the Learning Assessment Capacity Index (LACI) – that aims to answer one key question: to what extent are countries ready to produce the data on learning? The tool draws on a clever mix of their experience in national and cross-national assessments to gauge national readiness. Its maps reveal a mixed picture, with gaps in both geographic coverage of assessments and in the type of information gathered. The tool also provides a vivid illustration of the sheer complexity of trying to develop one single methodological framework that links very different assessments, to produce coherent and internationally comparable data.
This new tool confirms that there are clear challenges ahead, but we believe that, through collaboration, the Global Alliance to Monitor Learning will develop the standards and provide the support countries need to produce a new generation of valid internationally-comparable measures of learning. Its launch today is a crucial step in our quest for globally comparable data and we are confident that the international education community is now well and truly on the way forward not just to monitor SDG 4 but achieve Education 2030.