By Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) and Dankert Vedeler, Co-Chair of the SDG Education 2030 Steering Committee and Assistant Director General of the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research
With so many threads coming together… the task now is to weave them into one coherent whole as we push for the best possible data on education to monitor progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4). And the Fourth SDG-Education 2030 Steering Committee Meeting in Paris this week is an opportunity to do just that.
Progress is being made in defining SDG 4 indicators
There is plenty of good news: the indicators and methodologies developed by the UIS and the Global Alliance to Monitor Learning (GAML) were endorsed by the meeting of the Technical Cooperation Group (TCG) in January, which means that the Institute can start producing 33 SDG 4 indicators in 2018. The question is whether countries have the capacity to collect and report the data.
In response, the UIS is working with countries and partners to help improve the coverage of the indicators by using a wider range of data sources. Consider the example of Indicator 4.3.1, the participation rate of youth and adults in formal and non-formal education and training in the previous 12 months, by sex. A well-developed methodology was already in place and now the TCG has approved new data sources to cover more countries, such as labour force and other national household surveys. The UIS is committed to help countries make better use of their existing data sources to report on the SDG 4 monitoring framework.
Another example is Indicator 4.5.2, the percentage of students in primary education whose first or home language is the language of instruction. Instead of only relying on administrative records, countries could collect the data by using the background questionnaires designed for families and students in international, regional or national learning assessments. To pave the way forward, the UIS is developing a set of sample questions that countries could adapt. This is just another example of ways in which we can make the most of existing surveys to help countries meet the demand for SDG 4 data.
Putting together the tools and resources to help countries collect data
However, countries will need to have the tools and resources for the task. Four elements are being proposed to help countries in that direction.
The first thread is the 12-year Global Strategy for Education Data (GSED), developed by the UIS to help countries strengthen their national statistical systems. The strategy spans tools and platforms to generate the data; national systems for easy access to – and dissemination of – national and sub-national data; a ‘living database’ of research projects, best practices and experts; and innovative methods for data collection, analysis, and presentation.
If countries are to implement this strategy, they need resources. Therefore, a second thread is the SDG 4 investment case, confirming the common sense and value-for-money of channelling resources to data systems. According to a UIS paper, it would cost an average of around $1.4 million each year for every country to produce all of the SDG 4 indicators – an annual global investment of $280 million. The costs seem miniscule when set against the benefits – to individuals, communities and countries – of providing quality education for all.
The savings for national education systems could be vast. UIS data show that the median country spends $1.4 billion dollars each year on education. But inefficiency levels in national education systems range from 10% to as high as 30% – with students repeating grades, leaving school early or leaving without learning basic skills – a waste of resources, and of human potential.
To put it simply: good data prevents waste by spotting any problems so that something can be done. Even conservative estimates suggest that better data would lead to a 10% gain in efficiency. While the average low-income country would need to spend around $1.7 million each year on education data, it would save around $36 million each year on the running costs of its education system.
A third thread is gaining traction to support national capacity: the concept of country hubs. Inspired by the CountrySTAT programme of the Food and Agriculture Organization, the UIS has developed a proposal for a Global Sharing Network of country data hubs to improve data quality. This online resource would help policymakers, development organizations, researchers and the private sector design and implement better policies.
A final thread is the major new data initiative launched by the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) at its recent Replenishment Conference. The Education Data Solutions Roundtable aims to help developing countries strengthen their data systems, recognising that the private sector has a role to play. The UIS will join high-level representatives from the private sector, international organizations, developing country governments and other GPE partners in this initiative as the official data source for SDG 4.
Weaving the threads together
At the third Financing Conference of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) in Dakar, Senegal the UIS joined the Global Education Monitoring Report, OECD and UNESCO in proposing three steps to weave these threads together.
- The GPE could incorporate the investment case for SDG 4 monitoring in its plan and budgets and develop mechanisms to ensure support for the investment case in every GPE grant to countries.
- All development partners should align behind this agenda for SDG4 monitoring and ensure consistency with this agenda in the initiatives they support.
- The SDG Education 2030 Steering Committee should oversee the preparation of guidelines for national governments and development partners to ensure that the SDG 4 monitoring indicators, especially those on learning outcomes, are supported and funded in every national education plan and budget, every education loan and education grant.
While looking ahead, we should remind ourselves of the critical role of data in achieving the SDGs – with their emphasis on access, equity, quality and learning outcomes. The global development agenda is of a magnitude that dwarfs anything that has gone before. It must now be matched by a consolidated push for data on an unprecedented scale.