How do we gauge global progress on skills?

Français | Español

One of the challenges when setting targets like the Education for All goals (which the international community aims to reach by 2015) is knowing when you’ve actually reached them. It’s a particularly tough call with EFA goal 3, “ensuring that the learning needs of all young people and adults are met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life skills programmes.”

Skills development is intrinsically hard to measure. The issue was tackled at the 2010 Group of 20 meeting in Seoul, which adopted an action plan calling on the World Bank, International Labour Organization, OECD and UNESCO to “work together to develop internationally comparable and practical indicators of skills for employment and productivity in developing countries.”

We’ll look at progress in the 2012 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, which will focus in particular on the role of skills in giving vulnerable young people access to good jobs.

As Christian Kingombe of the Overseas Development Institute mentions in a blog post, the measurement conundrum was one of two fundamental Goal 3 challenges brought up by Pauline Rose, director of the GMR, at the 11th conference on education and development hosted in Oxford this month by the UK Forum on International Education and Training (UKFIET).

The other big challenge is settling on a meaning of “skills” that international organizations can usefully agree on. While many development economists often focus on the vocational skills that employers seek, the education and development community tends to favour a broader, more holistic approach that includes “life skills” and “basic skills.”

Both approaches converge on a general agreement that skills development is crucial for economic growth that can lead to better lives. The stakes are high. As we reported in a previous post on this blog, many regions of the world are plagued by a chronic mismatch between education systems and labour markets – a recipe for social unrest as well as economic stagnation.



  1. We haven’t come together yet on How to teach, i.e., best practices. Issues about assessment are very nuanced and could and have dragged on for decades. Please look in on our early efforts to develop a schema for identifying and vetting Best Practices at: We have recently formed a non-profit Foundation to advance this cause. Please tell us if you would be interested in collaborating.

  2. We can gauge the global progress on skills by measuring aspects of procedural memory, which makes up basic skills. Their necessary components include basic reading, writing, and numeracy. But it’s not enough to get paper-and-pencil scores on these. To be used effectively for the purpose of the needed skills, these must be performed fluently, effortlessly. Reading must be automatic, math calculations must be instant, writing must similarly be effortless. The underlying necessity is SPEED. And there are several tests developed to gauge reading, math, writing speed.

    For reading speed, words per minute will do, at least 45 (Conventions are needed what to consider words in various languages, and they can be easily done.) Wriring and math speed tests exist, see Fuchs and Fuchs in the 1990s.

    Best regards,
    Helen Abadzi
    Senior Education Specialist
    Partnership for education (EFA FTI)

Leave a Reply