By Betina Fresneda, Socioeconomic Analyst, Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE)
As Education Ministers of Latin America and the Caribbean gather for a regional meeting in Bolivia from 25-26 July, a perspective from Brazil shows how countries can respond steadily to the unprecedented demand for more and better data.
Back in April this year, Silvia Montoya of the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS) wrote about the critical importance of education management and information systems for effective educational measurement. I was thrilled that she mentioned some of the work we are doing here in Brazil, as we are working very hard to generate the data needed to track our progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) on education.
We are at a good starting point. This is a country with very well-established national statistical systems. We have regular household surveys investigating labour force, health and consumer expenditure, for example. We also have a regular population census. Our Ministry of Education monitors and analyses administrative data and the results of national educational assessments, and its statistical section is relatively well-staffed. In many ways, we are fortunate.
But even so, none of this is enough to meet the new demands for data placed on us all by the SDGs. Like every other country, we face unprecedented demand for more data, better data, and data on new areas and from new sources. In particular, we need to expand our focus to include more qualitative data production. We must track child development, but also adult functional literacy. We also need to gather information on whether young people and adults are acquiring skills on information and communication technologies (ICTs). At the same time, we need to improve our existing quantitative and qualitative official data to measure not only the proportion of children in school, but also whether children are learning what they need for a productive adult life. And, above all, we need more disaggregated data related to our municipalities.
This long ‘to do’ list presents Brazil with a few problems. First, we still have unfinished business on monitoring the basics: from the precise percentage of children with disabilities enrolled in school to the reasons why there are so many early school leavers. Second, we have more than 5,000 municipalities and our information on school attendance at this administrative level comes from our national census, which happens only every ten years. We have a well-established National Education Plan, which has much in common with the global SDG indicators for education, but they need to be better aligned.
Never has the need for data been greater. It is clear that no single agency or statistical organisation can do this alone. So the focus for Brazil is firmly on collaboration – on working with other countries and stakeholders at the international level, and working with others at the national level in a collective push for official national data. As a result of such collaboration, I am optimistic that we are making real progress.
At the international level, Brazil is a member of the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on Sustainable Development Goal Indicators (IAEG-SDGs) and the Technical Cooperation Group on SDG 4 – Education 2030 Indicators (TCG), which is co-chaired by the UIS. We are, therefore, at the global table on the development of indicators to track progress towards SDG 4.
At the national level, my own organisation, the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) has brought together national official data producers related to the 17 SDGs in a collective effort to construct the country’s SDG indicators, identify the crucial data gaps, and explore ways to close those gaps.
At the same time, the National Commission for the Sustainable Development Objectives, which aims to implement the SDGs in Brazil, is disseminating good practices to accelerate SDG implementation and monitoring, with technical advice from IBGE.
In May, we launched the first national online data platform with locally produced SDG global indicators as part of our mandate as a permanent technical advisory body to the National Commission. The platform organizes all the available data on, for example, SDG indicator 4.2.2 (access to school), 4.a.1 (infrastructure) or 4.c.1 (teachers). Indicators have standardised methodological sheets so the user can see how the indicator is calculated, the geographic spread, the regularity of the data and the concepts for the indicator.
The platform aims to be as transparent as possible, allowing the user to produce interactive maps to visualise what is happening. Over the course of 2018, we aim to populate the data platform with more national indicators, making it a one-stop data warehouse for Brazil’s national education data.
The launch of the platform coincided with a meeting with Brazil’s national statistics producers on how to align the monitoring of implementation of the National Education Plan with the monitoring of progress towards SDG 4 and – importantly – how civil society can contribute through, for example, in the definition of the national SDG4 indicators.
Before the SDGs, the focus in Brazil had been very firmly on getting children through school on time. And there is no doubt that Brazil has come a very long way, very quickly, on basic education access. The challenge now is to improve the quality of education and reduce educational inequality among students through investments in our public educational system. In addition, Brazil must also increase the percentage of adults with tertiary education, ensuring egalitarian access to universities.
Brazil may have to make some hard choices regarding data production. Should we, for example, focus on measuring ICTs skills when we still don’t measure functional literacy? Should we focus on lifelong learning when we still have major problems around early school leavers, as well as one of the highest repetition rates in South America?
I see one major opportunity: growing political commitment around data. The Sustainable Development Goals have provided a clear mandate for the pursuit of data. So we now have a unique chance to use the SDGs as our own mandate to map out what is already happening, what needs to happen, and what is missing from this equation, as we push for a quality education for every Brazilian.