Improving, not over-hauling learning assessments post-2015

post2015_data_200The United Nations Secretary-General’s Independent Expert Advisory Group recently released its report on “Mobilising the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development”. Revolutionizing education data may indeed capture our imagination, but there are less complex and arguably more effective ways to measure new education targets post-2015, especially as regards learning.

While calls to create a global platform to compile data on learning outcomes certainly have merit, we argue, however, that much can be gained from simply enhancing national assessments and capacities instead. Global monitoring may be strengthened by building linkages among international and regional assessments, but enhancing existing assessment practices in countries may better serve efforts to improve student learning.

A wealth of data on learning outcomes already exists. Before considering a new global framework of expanded cross-national assessments, whose impact on improving classroom learning may be tenuous, we suggest first examining whether or not countries already have systems in place they can be used to monitor learning. A cursory look shows that considerable progress has been made in this regard already.

blog_quoteThe importance of learning and the need to measure its progress have grown throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Most attention has focused on countries which have participated in international assessments (such as PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS) and regional assessments (such as LLECE, PASEC and SACMEQ) of student achievement. As will be reported in the 2015 EFA Global Monitoring Report coming out in April next year, however, along with international and regional assessments, there has also been a sharp growth in the number of countries conducting national assessments over the last 25 years. In the pre-Dakar period from 1990 to 1999, 70 countries conducted at least one national assessment, while double that number (142) did so between 2000 and 2013.

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Posted in Post-2015 development framework, Sustainable development | 1 Comment

Post-2015 Education: Calling for your feedback on proposed indicators for a global agenda!

Join a global consultation on education indicators for a global agenda
By Albert Motivans, UNESCO Institute for Statistics


Today, we are launching a new online consultation to gather your views on the proposed post-2015 global education indicators. The proposed indicators have been drawn together by a Technical Advisory Group (TAG) coordinated by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). It includes members from the EFA Global Monitoring Report, the OECD, UNESCO, UNICEF and the World Bank.

In the run-up to 2015, several initiatives are underway to formulate a new set of goals and targets for sustainable development. Based on consultations with Member States, the Open Working Group (OWG) has released a proposal for the entire development agenda, which covers a wide range of issues, from the eradication of poverty to environmental conservation and education.

Helping shape the post-2015 education agenda

In parallel to the OWG initiative, the international education community is also helping to shape the targets of a new post-2015 education agenda through Education for All (EFA) mechanisms. Their contributions are presented in the Muscat Agreement of the Global EFA Meeting that took place in Oman in May 2014. The targets of the agreement are closely aligned with the education targets formulated by the OWG.

How to measure the new post-2015 targets?


The challenge now lies in developing indicators to monitor these targets. In response, the EFA Steering Committee set up a Technical Advisory Group (TAG) in March 2014 to propose a set of indicators that could be used for global monitoring. The TAG is coordinated by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), and includes members from the EFA Global Monitoring Report, the OECD, UNESCO, UNICEF, and the World Bank. The group released an initial proposal in July 2014.

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Posted in Developed countries, Developing countries, Governance, Millennium Development Goals, Post-2015 development framework, Sustainable development | 1 Comment

Learning Today for a Sustainable Future             

UNGA_coverToday marks the end of the World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in Aichi-Nagoya, Japan. It also marks the end of the UN Decade on Education for Sustainable Development. Although the focused activities framed around the ESD decade have now ended, our work on the subject must not stop there. Our updated booklet ‘Sustainable Development Begins with Education’ lays out the case for education to be incorporated in all new development efforts post-2015 and the arguments for ESD efforts to continue in the future.

The proposed education goal for post-2015 – “Ensure equitable and inclusive quality education and lifelong learning for all by 2030″ - encapsulates a far more ambitious and transformative international agenda than had previously been the case. The targets outlined in this proposed Goal would not only guide the world towards progress across many education outcomes, but, in doing so, would also facilitate sustainable social and economic development for countries and communities.

If we are to benefit from the full potential of education, we must ensure that it is good quality. Access to education is a necessary but not sufficient condition for education to positively impact development outcomes. Where children are not learning basic skills due to poor quality, they are more likely to repeat grades and ultimately leave school. In Ethiopia, India, Peru and Viet Nam, children who achieved lower mathematics scores at age 12 were more likely to drop out by age 15 than those who achieved higher scores.

Equity and inclusion in education are also crucial enabling factors as they increase access and secure opportunity for marginalized groups and open up other development benefits. OECD’s PISA assessment showed that the highest performing school systems allocate resources more equitably between their schools.

Thirdly, our updated booklet shows that effective non-formal and second-chance learning programmes provide critical opportunities for young people to return to school and acquire skills necessary for a healthy life, active citizenship and decent employment. In six Latin American countries, 42% of almost 20,000 participants in a second chance programme gained the skills they needed to overcome marginalization and were able to rejoin formal education.

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Posted in Developing countries, Economic growth, Environment, Equality, Millennium Development Goals, Post-2015 development framework, Sustainable development | Leave a comment

Problem solving skills with global relevance

By Jenny Bradshaw and Francesco Avvisati, OECD

The international community is intensively working on a set of goals and targets to be reached by 2030. Among them, the Education for All Steering Committee on Education Post-2015 has identified “knowledge and skills for decent work and life” (Target 4). But which skills are needed for work in future societies? Are they relevant across countries and can they be validly measured on a global scale?

pisa 2OECD’s PISA student assessment tackles these questions in its tri-ennial assessment of the skills and competencies of 15-year-olds in over 70 countries. There is no doubt that reading, mathematics and science, which form the core of the PISA assessments, continue to be important foundations on which other skills can be built. The challenge is to identify other key transversal skills, and to track whether young people and adults possess them.

Equipping students with the skills to confront and overcome complex, non-routine challenges in order to succeed in employment and life more generally, is increasingly important for countries worldwide. In the future, few of today’s youth will work on tasks that require them to repeat the same procedures that they are learning at school in their families, or on the job: these will increasingly be performed by machines. In contrast, new and dynamic problems that require constant attention, controlled execution, and strategic interaction – such as troubleshooting a faulty mobile phone, deciding the best moment to harvest, or diagnosing a rare disease – remain difficult to fully automatise.

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Posted in Basic education, Economic growth, Employment, Post-2015 development framework, Quality of education, Skills, Testing, Training, Uncategorized, Youth | 2 Comments

Engaging with EFA: Where have all the lessons gone?

dakar_retrospective6cream2This is the eighth in a series looking back to Dakar in order to draw lessons for those working on new education targets post-2015. This blog is by Cream Wright, who engaged continuously with EFA and the MDGs as a representative of the Commonwealth Secretariat, which he joined in 1997 and as UNICEF’s Global Chief of Education from 2002 to 2009.

Those who do not learn from the past repeat the mistakes of history. A similar saying in some African languages translates as: if you are unsure of where you are going to, be certain of where you are coming from. As we ponder a post-2015 agenda, and look back to what we’ve learnt since Dakar, we must ask ourselves: where have all the lessons gone? One key area in which lessons were learned in the prelude and aftermath of Dakar is “agency”, or ownership; but the lessons we’ve learned in this regard now appear to elude us as we contemplate a post 2015 agenda.

Agency is about responsibility or the power to act, by mandate or ascribed authority; but experience has taught us that what an entity does in practice matters more than its mandate.


Credit: Akash/UNESCO

The five mandated EFA partners at Dakar have seen their agency decline over time. UNESCO’s EFA agency has been on the wane; UNICEF was mandated to lead on girls’ education but my understanding is that this mantle is being taken over by celebrity projects and donor initiatives outside of UNICEF. The World Bank was expected to lead on financing, and helped to establish the EFA Fast Track Initiative, but this then morphed into the Global Partnership for Education, which wields agency outside of the World Bank. UNDP and UNFPA are really no longer in the EFA business. As we move towards a post-2015 agenda, we must review and apply the lessons we have learnt from these changes.

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Posted in Africa, Millennium Development Goals, Post-2015 development framework, Poverty, Uncategorized | 14 Comments

Relevant data for education post-2015 need not be ‘big data’

post2015_data_200With the 2015 deadline of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) approaching, planning for a new development agenda, known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), is taking shape. Concurrently, as the world embraces the notion of sustainability and sustainable development, a technology revolution is upon us. It is rooted in the enormous streams of information routinely captured by computers and other digital means in our workplaces, homes and communities. The scope and implications of this ‘data revolution’ are being linked to the new developments goals and their corresponding ambitious targets. This blog asks whether a revolution is really required for us to be able to measure progress in the post-2015 education targets.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently asked an Independent Expert Advisory Group to make concrete recommendations for bringing about a data revolution in sustainable development. The EFA Global Monitoring Report, which has been monitoring education goals since 2002, participated in the recent public consultation run by this group. We took the view that, while ‘big data’ may be an exciting concept, we must remember that most countries are still grappling with the compilation of reliable, high quality data in education. Getting the basics right is critical, before we embark on grander mechanisms. Doing so would go a long way in helping the international community measure new global education targets post-2015. Here is what the GMR team contributed to three of the consultation’s key questions.

Credit: Monika Nikope/UNESCO

Credit: Monika Nikope/UNESCO

First, on the prospect of measuring progress of the sustainable development goal on education, two concerns come to mind. The first is the need for better information on early childhood development, learning outcomes, and skills for youth and adults, including literacy. Understandings of terms such as ‘skills’ and ‘literacy’ have evolved considerably from how they were defined at Dakar. Adult literacy is now viewed on a continuum, for instance, rather than a black and white classification of an adult being either literate or not. We must be sure that data for post-2015 targets follow suit. However, while some are suggesting over-hauling ways of collecting data, and bringing about a ‘revolution’ through technological means, our position is that better coordination between agencies in order to develop ways to measure these outcomes, and more money to implement these ideas, would bring about the changes needed to measure education progress post-2015.

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Posted in Developed countries, Developing countries, Governance, Post-2015 development framework, technology, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Nigeria: Why pupils learning in English and mother tongue are not mutually exclusive

This blog by Kieran Cooke from the Universal Learning Solutions, explains how a synthetic phonics approach can be taken to literacy education that can mean governments don’t have to choose between either instruction in English, or in their local language; children can learn in both. The approach aims to support governments in ensuring all children learn the basics by the time they reach Primary 4.

© Rene Edde 2008

© Rene Edde 2008

Education research from across the globe has demonstrated that it is ineffective for pupils to learn to read and write by memorising, due to the limited brain capacity to memorise whole words. Instead extensive research such as that by the US National Reading Panel has shown that teaching using synthetic phonics is a highly successful alternative. This approach teaches pupils letter sounds (for example, mmm not em, sss not es) and how to blend those sounds together to read words (so d-o-g makes ʻdogʼ). At the same time they learn how to write words by segmenting a word into its sounds, and then forming letters for those sounds.

Universal Learning Solutions (ULS) delivers literacy programmes using this synthetic phonics approach in Nigeria and elsewhere. So far, over 8,000 teachers in Nigeria have been trained in teaching the synthetic phonics approach in English and over 500,000 pupils have been provided with synthetic phonics teaching and learning materials. These programmes have shown that pupils using this approach, regardless of their mother tongue language, have made significantly faster progress than those taught using whole word approaches.

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Posted in Early childhood care and education, Ethnicity, Language, Learning, Literacy, Marginalization, Primary school, Quality of education | 23 Comments