By Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) and Daniel Capistrano, University College Dublin
This International Day of Education, the impact of COVID-19 on education is top of mind and finding solutions to revitalize learning is a priority, now more than ever. The UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) is working with regional organizations and education partners to expand the global focus on benchmarking for the Sustainable Development Goals for education (SDG 4) so that regions and countries have more manageable, annual objectives.
With just a decade remaining to achieve SDG 4, it is imperative that all countries have the means to monitor progress and to plan necessary changes for the future. As the custodian of SDG 4 data and the lead agency providing internationally comparable and quality education data, the UIS has been working to help countries deal with this challenge.
By Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics
After more than 6 months since the beginning of national lockdowns and school closures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, reopening schools is necessary and essential. Interruptions to classroom-based instructions have widened existing inequalities for vulnerable populations and reduced access to learning for a large fraction of the world’s children and youth. The longer schools remain closed, the more likely disadvantaged children are at risk of dropping out of school completely. Before the pandemic, children from the poorest households were already almost five times more likely to be out of primary school than their richer counterparts.
Proper infrastructure lacking to prevent the spread of COVID-19
As countries start to rethink how to address school openings, new national risk mitigation measures and public health regulations need to be considered within the school’s physical space. Children’s role in transmitting the coronavirus is still uncertain, and younger children are less likely to be sensitive or respectful of strict measures. As such, few schools are prepared to reopen in a way that can protect children, teachers and other school staff. Two of the most important measures cited by global health authorities to prevent the spread of COVID-19 – namely, frequent and proper hand washing (using soap and water) and social distancing – are highly dependent on the existing physical infrastructure.
COVID-19-related hygiene and social distancing norms in schools are unearthing a range of systemic problems with infrastructure in schools across the world. From European schools in densely-populated urban areas to rural remote village schools in the mountains of north-eastern Cambodia, schools are facing a wide range of challenges in their provision of adequately protective COVID-19 environments. Inadequate physical conditions, such as water shortages, poor sanitation and small classrooms, are proving difficult to overcome in the short-term for an immediate response.
Almost half the schools in the world do not have access to basic handwashing facilities with soap and water while one-third are lacking in basic sanitation (i.e. improved facilities that are single-sex and usable at the school). Overall, schools in rural areas fare worse than those in urban areas while children at the pre-primary and primary levels have less access to basic water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities than those in higher education levels. Younger children are more likely to be vulnerable to WASH-related diseases, yet are at the right ages at which to establish foundational learning around health and hygiene. Thus, training young children, staff and family members is an essential component to establishing WASH services for a community.
Establishing adequate WASH facilities for vulnerable populations is crucial
Basic WASH facilities in schools are particularly important for WASH-vulnerable populations, including girls, persons with disabilities, children from poor households and children living in fragile contexts. Access to water and sanitation is not only a right in itself as established in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child – and safeguarded by Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 – but it contributes to the realization of other child rights, such as health, nutrition and education. Girls require separate latrines as a fundamental part of their safety and healthy participation in life. Girls are more likely to enrol, attend and complete school if they have access to single-sex facilities, which are essential, particularly for menstrual hygiene management. Yet, this is only the case in 54% of the least developed countries, compared to 72% in Eastern and South-eastern Asia, 79% in in Central and Southern Asia and 81% in Latin America and the Caribbean (UIS database). According to World Bank ranked income levels, only 73% of lower middle income countries provide single-sex basic sanitation facilities to their female students, compared to the World average of 78% and 97% of high income countries.
In addition to WASH concerns, schools needs to consider the existing physical learning environment to safeguard social distancing norms. Adapting school norms to larger classrooms as a long-term response to the COVID-19 situation can also help establish quality learning environments in the long-term. There are no set international standards for classroom sizes or ratios, although norms and guidelines exist to provide guidance on better quality learning environments. In 2005, UNICEF’s Child-Friendly Schools Manual recommended a minimum 3.8 metres squared per child in early learning centres. Setting minimum spaces for children in higher education levels is more complex, however, and depends on the conditions of the local community (including projected population growth) as well as environmental and climatic conditions. In Rwanda, a minimum of one squared meter per pupil is considered adequate. One can also establish a basis for the overall classroom size, whereby child-friendly classrooms could reach a minimum of 100 square meters if playing areas and multi-activity classrooms are included. For example, the preschool square footage per student ratio is usually higher than for primary schools as younger children are less frequently required to sit still at their desks.
Global Education Coalition initiatives provides guidance
Ensuring classrooms and materials are accessible and inclusive has been the cornerstone of quality learning environments, and such standards are well aligned with needs during the COVID-19 reopenings. For example, modular classrooms – where furniture can be moved, collapsed or put away – is already a recommendation in some national guidelines for classrooms. As children and projects evolve and change during the school year, spaces that are adaptive can reduce the density of students in the classroom as required by social distancing norms.
Some adopted measures can be detrimental to effective learning
Adaptations to small classroom spaces has been shown to provide less than ideal reopening environments in some countries. To maintain WHO-recommended distancing measures among students and teachers (minimum of 1 meter squared), many schools have limited the number of students returning to classrooms at the same time, thereby reducing effective classroom time for all students. In addition, WHO guidelines recommend several decision points with regards to school reopenings, with specific attention paid to local trends on COVID-19 cases. The guidelines in France, for example, adapted an approach that prioritised certain students (i.e. those of medical workers), followed by children from vulnerable families. Thus, the total amount of time returning to the classroom is a function of the strict social distancing requirements, the school’s physical infrastructure, teacher availability and children’s background.
As effective learning time is reduced for all students, a temporary response is to prioritise learning according to student needs. Limited time in the classroom can make teachers face more time-stress to meet the needs of national curricula and high-stakes examinations for certification or selection to the next education level. As part of the crisis-sensitive approach, education planners can reassess curricular objectives and transitions to upper education levels.
In 2015, the global community validated the importance of infrastructure to deliver quality education for all learners and teachers, regardless of background or disability status. The international standard noted in the Education 2030 Framework states that “Every learning environment should be accessible to all and have adequate resources and infrastructure to ensure reasonable class sizes and provide sanitation facilities.” Sanitation crises such as COVID-19 mark the urgency in reaching these goals and highlight existing concerns around poor learning environments. However, this moment can also serve as a catalyst to improve learning conditions and outcomes for all children.
The recent SDG 4 Data Digest illustrates the range of partners working with the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) to help countries produce and use assessment data to strengthen lifelong learning. This blog highlights the work of one of these vital partners: the Conférence des Ministres de l’Éducation des États et Gouvernements de la Francophonie (CONFEMEN). CONFEMEN works with the world’s French-speaking countries to implement the Programme for the Analysis of Education Systems (PASEC), a renowned regional learning assessment.
International Women’s Day on 8 March is a time to celebrate achievements in advancing gender equality. It’s also a day to push for more progress, and this year’s theme “think equal, build smart, innovate for change” suggests that real change requires a new approach. We need innovative solutions to reach the remaining out-of-school girls and to ensure that all children finish school with the skills to thrive in today’s modern, global economy.
By Friedrich Huebler, Head of Education Standards and Methodology at the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, and Kevin McGee, Economist in the Development Data Group at the World Bank.
A new guidebook published by the World Bank and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) casts light on how to measure the heavy burden of education spending that falls on the world’s families. Measuring Household Expenditure on Education: A Guidebook for Designing Household Survey Questionnaires will help countries report on SDG 4 Indicator 4.5.4: education expenditure per student by level of education and source of funding. The guidebook also aims to ensure proper representation of education expenditure in consumption-based poverty and inequality measures, and enable more micro-econometric research on resource allocation in households.
By Élisé Wendlassida Miningou, Education Economist, and Ramya Vivekanandan, Senior Education Specialist, Global Partnership for Education (GPE)
Political leaders and policymakers the world over share one common challenge: relentless demands for resources. They have to make tough choices about resource allocation, particularly in countries that are most fragile and conflict-affected where the needs are vast and the available resources are constrained by numerous other priorities. It is hardly surprising that learning assessments may not be at the top of their ‘to do’ list.
The latest figures on out-of-school-children are sobering, to say the least. According to new data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), progress remains at a standstill. We still have about 263 million – or one out of five – children, adolescents and youth worldwide out of school and this number has barely changed over the past five years.
Despite strenuous efforts to get every child into primary school, there has been little or no progress at the global level over the past decade, with 9% of children of primary age denied their right to education in 2008, and 9% still out of school today (see our video). Continue reading →
By Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), and Karen Mundy, Chief Technical Officer at the Global Partnership for Education (GPE)
New data released today by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) show that 617 million children and adolescents worldwide are not reaching minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics. This signals a learning crisis that could threaten progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Continue reading →
By Aaron Benavot, Director of the Global Education Monitoring Report, and Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics
In a few weeks, the UN High-Level Political Forum will gather to discuss poverty eradication as a cornerstone of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Agenda. Debates over how to tackle entrenched poverty often centre on different political ideologies. For some, the answer may be the pursuit of free-market economic growth, in the hope that some of the wealth generated will ‘trickle down’. For others, the answer may be social and economic interventions aimed at levelling the playing field, where everyone has something, even if that something is – at best – meagre. Continue reading →
By Rolland Rabeson, Secretary-General of National Education Ministry, Georges Solay Rakotonirainy, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Employment, Technical and Vocational Education and Training, and Christian Guy Ralijaona, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Higher Education Education and Scientific Research
A recent blog in this series dubbed the world’s line ministries and National Statistical Offices (NSOs) “the unsung heroes of the push for sustainable development”. In Madagascar, we are fully committed to producing and using good data to monitor progress and achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4). But we need an effective compass to ensure that we are going in the right direction at every level and programme – from basic education to technical and vocational education and training (TVET) and higher education. Continue reading →