By Aaron Benavot, Director of the GEM Report
It’s tough to cover this issue in a blog. It’s something we cover extensively in the next GEM Report due out on September 6th. But it’s also something I presented on today at the Oslo Education Week Conference, alongside Silvia Montoya from UNESCOs Institute for Statistics, Justin Van Fleet from the International Commission to Finance Education Report and Jo Bourne from UNICEF.
What do we know? The GEM Report has done much work to help expose the extent of the challenges faced by the marginalized. We have shown that…
- the poorest are four times more likely to be out of school and five times more likely not to complete primary education than the richest.
- the proportion of out of school children in conflict affected countries has grown since 2000.
- nearly two thirds of adults with minimal literacy skills are women.
- 40% of the global population do not receive education in a language they speak or understand
- refugee children are five times more likely to be out of school than non refugees.
The case for doing better in including all, and key aspects of the challenge, is already made therefore. The SDG agenda has taken up the challenge with two whole goals dedicated to ‘including all’ – SDG 5 on gender equality and SDG10 on reducing inequalities. As such, it has a lot to deliver.
So how are we to monitor whether or not countries are doing better or not?
The GEM Report has a World Inequality Database on Education (WIDE) that has been tracking education disparities since 2012, with data from over 160 countries. Dissectible by country, it shows just how wide education gaps are by wealth, location, gender, language and more. It serves as a vital tool for policy makers and donors to be aware of the challenge and correctly address where their resources need to be targeted. It serves as a signpost to campaigners, and those reviewing progress such as us, as to whether or not gaps are being closed, or simply remaining as they are.
The risks of a very ambitious agenda.
The GEM Report has already shown that neither universal lower secondary nor universal upper secondary will be reached by 2030 at recent rates of progress. For example, it is projected that across low and middle income countries, the lower secondary completion rate will be 76% in 2030, while a rate of 95% will only be achieved in the 2080s.
Likewise, it is projected that across low and middle income countries, the upper secondary completion rate will be 50% in 2030, while a rate of 95% will not be achieved before the end of the century. This should not come as a surprise. High income countries are still far from achieving universal upper secondary completion education rates.
…with the poorest most likely to fall behind
The WIDE database shows that, across 94 countries, the richest had completed at least 12 years of education (the SDG target) in 36 countries, but the same could only be said for the poorest in 3 countries.
In addition to the emphasis on inclusion in the goal itself, there is a specific target (4.5) focused on inequalities in education.
The official way that these will be measured will be by parity indexes for all education indicators, breaking down primary completion or learning outcomes by the rich and poor, for instance, and by those living in rural and urban areas.
But other indicators include looking at the percentage of primary education students whose first or home language is the language of instruction. It includes indicators asking to what extent education resources are channeled towards disadvantaged populations. or what is the education spending per student by level of education and by source, which would highlight the high burden carried by households in many countries. And it will look at the percentage of total aid to education that goes to the poorest countries.
Our report will be looking at each of these in turn from now until 2030 and helping pull out the truth about the extent to which countries are following this path. Join us in raising awareness of its findings, and the work still to be done.
There are challenges in monitoring
It will not be an easy task. For starters, there is no consensus yet on how to measure education disparities.
Yes, it is easy to use the ‘parity index’, which says the number of girls to boys in a classroom, for instance. But is it the best way of measuring education gaps? The Technical Advisory Group that was working on the list of ways that we should review the progress towards the new education goal considered various other possibilities.
What is clear is that education has not yet had the same amount of debate as health has on measuring equity. However, the birth of a new inter-agency group on education inequality born out of cooperation between UIS and the GEM Report as well as other partners should be a good potential forum for such a discussion to take place.
Secondly, many vulnerable groups are not yet easily identified and they often vary by context: for example, those with disabilities and those living in ‘illegal’ settlements, nomadic communities, Institutions (prisons orphanages), slums.
Part of the reason why people with disabilities are not given more attention in policy discourse is because there is very limited data on their needs. Likewise, when the GEM Report joined with UNHCR recently to address the issue, it became clear just how fragmented the data is on those forcibly displaced.
Thirdly, the way we are being encouraged to monitor whether all are being included in process or not is by the outcomes, and by that I mean how many girls are in school, for instance, compared to boys, or how many of those are learning, or not. Yet, while this helps identifies problems that need addressing, it ignores processes, or the paths that are contributing to those outcomes. This can include discrimination, for instance, or entrenched stereotypes that might exist still in textbooks, or curricula.
Real monitoring of progress towards equity requires us to dig deeper, and to use more nuanced monitoring frameworks including observation, rather than just waiting for ‘results’. It’s not easy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. Indeed policies and practices that have succeeded in bringing 90% of the school age population into education may be less effective for the remaining 10%. Given the special obstacles they face. We need to take the long road around, in other words. The tortoise will win the race, not the hare.