Using Household Surveys to Achieve the SDG 4 Objectives of Inclusivity and Equity

By Friedrich Huebler, Head of Education Standards and Methodology at the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS)

It is not enough to simply collect data. Data that are useful for monitoring progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 4 on education must be of high quality and comparable across countries. But collecting the data across a wide range of indicators has strained the data collection capacity of many Member States. At the same time, additional reporting needs brought on by COVID-19 have added further pressure to produce data as evidence for remedial action once schools fully re-open.

As the custodian agency for SDG 4, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) works with countries to build their capacity to collect, produce and disseminate the data for monitoring progress towards international goals and for designing appropriate interventions, all while trying to mitigate the demands that this entails.

With this in mind, today the UIS is launching the 2020 SDG 4 Data Digest. This year, the Data Digest focuses on using household surveys to improve the scope of data collection while filling some of the gaps in administrative data.

To do this, the Data Digest explains the need for more and better data, serving as a “how-to” manual for ministries of education, national statistical offices and other education sector stakeholders. Readers will find information on everything from planning and design considerations for a household survey, to tips for writing compelling and effective questions, an interviewer’s check list of do’s and don’ts, the pros and cons of various modes of survey administration, along with implementation details like the most appropriate kind of field materials. The Data Digest also makes suggestions on how to communicate data findings.

In short, the 2020 SDG 4 Data Digest is the go-to source for a succinct overview of creating and implementing a household survey.

Data on equity in education

One of the defining characteristics of SDG 4 is its call for equity in education with a focus on ensuring that all children are learning, regardless of gender, family income, or place or circumstance of birth. By asking caregivers questions at home rather than children in the classroom, survey respondents may feel more comfortable when asked about sensitive issues such as bullying or disabilities, leading to better, more complete data.

Household surveys have the added benefit of being able to reach young people who may have already left school or who may not have had the opportunity to attend at all. This is important because UIS data show that 257 million children and young people of primary and secondary age are out of school – and that was before COVID-related school closures and economic considerations placed additional pressure on learners already vulnerable to dropping out.

To be able to meet the SDG 4 goal of accounting for all children, we need to ensure that the way we are gathering data can capture the needs of the most marginalized, including children with a disability, refugees, and internally displaced persons. So far, however, the global community lacks sufficient data to fully monitor SDG 4.

Data for SDG 4 monitoring

SDG 4 is comprised of 10 targets with 43 indicators covering issues from access to general and vocational education, to learning and school level completion across all ages, and to specific skill acquisition and gender equality. Household surveys can help to increase data coverage, while creating cross-sectoral information and linkages to other SDGs. This would not only get us closer to the education objectives, it would also reinforce the holistic approach to development which underpins all 17 SDGs.

The Digest highlights some of the SDG 4 indicators that could be produced from data collected with household surveys. They include:



Indicator Description

Primary and secondary education



Proportion of children and young people (a) in grades 2/3; (b) at the end of primary; and (c) at the end of lower secondary achieving at least a minimum proficiency level in (i) reading and (ii) mathematics, by sex



Completion rate (primary education, lower secondary education, upper secondary education)



Out-of-school rate (1 year before primary, primary education, lower secondary education, upper secondary education)


Percentage of children over-age for grade (primary education, lower secondary education)

Early Childhood

Readiness for primary school


Proportion of children aged 24 to 59 months who are developmentally on track in health, learning and psychosocial well-being, by sexi



Participation rate in organized learning (one year before the official primary entry age), by sex

Readiness for primary school


Percentage of children under 5 years experiencing positive and stimulating home learning environments



Gross early childhood education enrolment ratio in (a) pre-primary education and (b) early childhood educational development

TVET and higher education



Participation rate of youth and adults in formal and non-formal education and training in the previous 12 months, by sex


Gross enrolment ratio for tertiary education by sex


Participation rate in technical-vocational programmes (15- to 24-year-olds) by sex

Skills for Work




Proportion of youth and adults with information and communications technology (ICT) skills, by type of skill


Youth/adult educational attainment rates by age group and level of education





Parity indices (female/male, rural/urban, bottom/top wealth quintile and others such as disability status, indigenous peoples and conflict-affected, as data become available) for all education indicators on this list that can be disaggregated


Percentage of students in primary education who have their first or home language as language of instruction


Education expenditure per student by level of education and source of funding

Literacy and Numeracy



Proportion of population in a given age group achieving at least a fixed level of proficiency in functional (a) literacy and (b) numeracy skills, by sex


Youth/adult literacy rate



Participation rate of illiterate youth/adults in literacy programmes

School Environment



Percentage of students experiencing bullying in the last 12 months

Note: (i) Refinement of the indicator name approved by the Inter-agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs) on 13 March and 2 April 2020. Final approval pending the 52nd session of the Statistical Commission in March 2021.

In addition, the Digest describes several household surveys currently available and which have the capacity to collect the data for SDG 4 monitoring. The Digest also summarizes the impact of the current global pandemic on data collection.

As we enter the Decade of Action to achieve SDG 4, it is crucial that the global community has the data necessary to monitor progress to ensure that all children – especially those facing the highest barriers to schooling – have access to a quality education and are learning at least the basics. Household surveys are an important part of the process.

We hope that the 2020 SDG 4 Data Digest can provide Member States and education stakeholders with the information they need to produce data for monitoring of SDG 4 that are of high quality and internationally comparable. 

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