By Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics
Given the time it can take to mobilize around development goals and establish effective monitoring systems to track progress, the 2030 deadline for the achievement of the global goal on education is just around the corner. Nevertheless, there are times when it is wise to pause for a moment and take stock. With crucial meetings of the Global Alliance to Monitor Learning (GAML) and the Technical Coordination Group on SDG 4 (TCG) in the coming weeks, this is just such a moment.
GAML is developing the standards and methodologies needed to measure learning outcomes globally, while helping countries to produce and use the information to achieve SDG 4. The TCG builds political consensus on the SDG 4 measurement agenda by bringing together Member States, multilateral agencies and civil society groups.
Much has been achieved: the foundations to track progress on SDG 4 are now in place, most of the indicators have been set and development work is underway for those remaining indicators. The institutional mechanisms are ready to go. We now need to move forward, confident that those in power will prioritize – and act on – the robust data that are needed to track progress.
These initial stages have been arduous and time-consuming. Working in close partnership with a wide range of bodies, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics has spent years developing the necessary monitoring frameworks and indicators. It’s worth reminding ourselves of two basic principles that have guided this work as the heavy lifting begins to measure education progress.
First, there is no time to re-invent the wheel. More importantly, there is no need to do so. The UIS and its partners have shown repeatedly that it is possible to use existing data – disaggregated or enhanced where necessary – to get the job done.
Second, there is no need to impose a rigid, external approach on countries. The task is to work with countries to support and strengthen their use of national systems and data to reinforce national priorities while contributing to internationally-comparable statistics.
These basic tenets will inform the two critical meetings that are coming up. The 3rd GAML meeting on 11-12 May in Mexico City, will provide a timely update on the latest developments, especially related to SDG target 4.1.1: the percentage of children and young people achieving proficiency in reading and mathematics. The meeting will bring together national and international education stakeholders to help develop a series of new tools to better capture data from different types of learning assessments as well as frameworks and guidelines to help countries assess and strengthen the quality of their assessment activities.
The aim is to enhance the work of partner organizations to build national capacity for measurement, improve the use of data to influence policy, and identify measurement innovations in nations and regions that could help spur new efforts worldwide.
There are thorny issues to be discussed in Mexico, not least on whether current international assessments (such as TIMSS, PIRLS and PISA), are fit for purpose in the era of the SDGs, as queried in a recent blog by Hikaru Komatsu and Jeremy Rappleye of Kyoto University. By working through such issues, GAML will make recommendations to the TCG on how to measure learning outcomes.
On 31 May, the 28 Member States of the TCG, including Members of the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators, representatives from civil society organizations and from international organizations, will gather in Montreal for the 3rd TCG meeting. Participants will provide feedback to the TCG’s three Working Groups on Indicator Development, Capacity Building, and Country Reporting of Data for International Monitoring. There will also be a specific focus on their proposed strategies and workplans, including critical milestones and deliverables, ensuring their accountability for concrete progress over the next two years.
Taken together, these two meetings will set the course for the measurement agenda on SDG 4. For it is through GAML and the TCG that UIS exercises its own mandate as the official – and accountable – source of SDG 4 data. We will continue to work with countries and partners to build consensus around the new measurement agenda while developing the indicators, standards and tools needed to monitor progress and help countries improve the quality and use of their data as they strive to achieve their development goals. And in the coming months we will explore specific measurement issues in more detail, especially in the field of learning, through a series of blogs featuring prominent members of these key initiatives.