This blog launches a series that introduces some of the key challenges for monitoring the new global education goal – SDG 4 – as outlined in the latest GEM Report. The details may seem technical, but this is far from just a technical debate. Rather, it goes to the heart of what we aspire to in education for the next generation. We hope this blog series will raise awareness of the issues at stake and enable more people to take part in the discussions.
There is an important milestone this month on the way to how SDG 4 will be monitored — namely the meeting of the Technical Cooperation Group (TCG) in Madrid on 26-28 October (on thematic indicators for SDG 4).
Discussion of the evolving monitoring architecture should be encouraged. Even though the main parameters for monitoring are in place, most of these indicators have not yet been measured on a global scale and the specific details of how this will happen remain to be decided.
What indicators have been proposed for monitoring SDG4?
The ambition of SDG 4 goes beyond any previous international education agreement. Setting an accompanying monitoring framework has therefore brought up an entirely new set of issues.
Where have we got to so far? There have been two parallel but linked processes to develop indicators for SDG 4.
For each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, progress will be measured through a set of global indicators. At least one global indicator corresponds to each target; for example, there are 11 global indicators for SDG4. These were proposed in March 2016 by the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG) which is made up of 27 member states. Countries will be obliged to report back on their progress towards these indicators – and these results will form the backbone of an annual SDG report, whose first edition was released in July.
Although the list of global indicators has essentially been finalized, there remain several methodological aspects to be refined and the mandate of the IAEG has been extended for that reason. Indeed, proposed indicators have been provisionally classified into three tiers depending on the development stage of the methodology and the breadth of the country coverage.
A comparison between education and health shows that the number of Tier 3 indicators, namely those “for which there are no established methodology and standards”, is not only much higher in education but also concerns some of the most critical indicators. An extensive article last week at the Lancet meanwhile shows the advanced level of consensus on monitoring the health goal – and how much education needs to do to catch up.
For SDG4 in particular, it is clear that the 11 global indicators are too few to capture the breadth of the new goal. For that reason, the international education community requested additional thematic indicators, which would be optional but would provide a guiding framework for countries. These are currently listed in the annex of the Education 2030 Framework of Action. The Technical Cooperation Group (TCG), a body consisting of the 27 IAEG countries plus a number of agencies and supported by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), is tasked with developing these indicators.
A group working on continuous technical cooperation on comparable education indicators is a considerable advance compared with the Education for All period from 2000-2015. At least two challenges lie ahead, however. First, countries must be assured an opportunity to contribute to discussions in an informed and meaningful way, which we hope this blog might go some way to support. Second, a mechanism is needed to assist with future decision-making within the group. This would also strengthen the group’s legitimacy.
The role of the GEM Report
Against this background, the 2016 Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report, which has the mandate to monitor and report on education in the SDGs, presents the challenges ahead. It critically analyses each SDG4 target, the concepts, the indicators proposed, as well as those indicators missing. Indeed, a key objective of the monitoring part of the 2016 Report is to serve as a reference document for discussions taking place around the future development of indicators.
If the health sector has a well advanced set of indicators, in education, by contrast, several indicators have not yet been measured globally. These range from education outcomes, such as learning achievement; the lifelong learning perspective, including adult education; disparities in education based on factors, such as wealth; and the content of education aligned with the aims of sustainable development.
And let us not forget that once progress is made on definitions and methodologies, it will be up to national statistical systems to measure progress towards SDG 4 and for education ministries to make effective use of the new information. The 2016 Report offers a set of recommendations that aim to distil key issues for national, regional and global partners.
We hope this series will serve as a reminder of some of the key challenges and as a call to join hands to address them. Join us over the next two weeks by direct tweeting some of our key recommendations from this blog series to members of the groups finalising education indicators on our behalf.