4.a Build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all
The concept of effective learning environments is minimally captured by the proposed indicators – but even supposedly measurable aspects of the target present major challenges for global comparisons.
The roots of target 4.a can be traced back to the concept of child-friendly schools promoted by UNICEF. Such schools should be child-centred, encourage democratic participation and promote inclusiveness.
However, it is expensive to carry out the observations needed to monitor whether these principles are followed. This makes it a difficult target for global comparisons.
Attention has therefore shifted to look at specific aspects, which are more easily measured, although perhaps less likely to capture the spirit of an ‘effective learning environment’. Yet even these aspects pose more monitoring challenges than is understood. Two examples demonstrate that.
1. In terms of water and sanitation infrastructure, only about 70% of primary schools had adequate water supply and sanitation in 2013 according to the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme. The corresponding figure was around 50% in the least developed countries.
However, caution is needed in the way this data is interpreted. Definitions are inconsistent across data sources or countries. For example, “adequate sanitation” may mean anything from the simple fact that a toilet exists to that toilet meeting some standard, such as that it has a flush, is ventilated, or is just an improved pit latrine. Precise definitions are not even available for 60% of countries.
In large part this is due to the difficulty of capturing the different dimensions of water supply and sanitation – including quantity, quality, proximity, functionality, gender segregation and accessibility to children with disabilities. A review of 54 school census questionnaires found that 48 included items on water and sanitation, but only Myanmar collected information on all parameters for water, and only Belize and Iraq for sanitation. Only 30 countries gave information on gender-segregated toilets.
The WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme is working with partners to recommend a core and expanded set of questions to help harmonize indicators across national monitoring systems.
In addition, a systematic process should be set up to review the quality of data on school water and sanitation [Tweet]. Data collection methods need to be reliable and observation-based to reflect the reality that students face.
2. School-related violence occurs on school premises but also on the way to school, at home or in Cyberspace, as we discussed in our latest Gender Review. While attention usually focuses on extreme events, such as shootings, more common forms of violence can have a huge negative impact on the education experience of children and adolescents. They tend to be underreported, as they often involve taboo subjects.
Bullying is the most widely documented form of violence in schools. In the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, about 41% of grade 8 students reported having been bullied at least once in the previous month.
Physical violence is also very common. About 40% of 13- to 15-year-olds in 37 countries reported having been involved in physical fights over 2009–2012 according to the Global School-based Student Health Survey. Sexual violence is highly destructive but much of its scale and scope remains hidden.
Large-scale, cross-country school-based surveys are increasingly used to collect data on aspects of violence in schools; some countries also have well-established monitoring mechanisms. Yet, overall, consistent evidence on the global prevalence of school-related violence is lacking. A recent report by the Technical Working Group on Data Collection on Violence against Children showed that studies use different definitions of violence and record different behaviours. Their methods are not consistent in terms of time frames, sequencing of questions, response options, privacy arrangements or ethical protocols.
Our key recommendation on this target is that there need to be coordinated questions on school-based violence across surveys to ensure that global trends are consistently measured [Tweet].
Target 4.a has turned attention to important aspects of education quality but there is a long way to go before we can be certain that progress is being made towards more effective learning environments.
This is the third in a series of ten blogs on monitoring SDG4, which we hope will serve as a reminder of some of the challenges remaining, 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 two groups finalising education indicators on our behalf.