Photo: Karel Prinsloo/ARETE

Addressing the challenges of measuring inequality in education

POST2015_equity_borderThis blog introduces a new series that will look at the framing and measurement of inequalities in post-2015 education targets. The series aims to elaborate an equity perspective in the future monitoring of education by examining issues related to disability, gender, poverty status, household wealth, residence, health and social mobility.

Social exclusion and the unfair distribution of the benefits of development and public services have become a serious concern for the international development community as it prepares to adopt a new agenda post-2015.  In the field of education, despite notable progress in some areas, there continue to be sharp inequalities by poverty status, household location, gender, disability and ethnicity, with many marginalized groups remaining invisible to governmental officials and development planners. Scarce economic resources, the lack of ‘voice’ and power imbalances exacerbate the sense of social injustice among millions. In this context, equity has become an important guiding theme of the current proposal of the Open Working Group for Sustainable Development as well as in the formulation of the education goal.

An equity perspective has been, and will continue to be, an overriding concern in the EFA Global Monitoring Report. Assessing progress in global education goals based solely on changes in national averages clearly fails to account for the discrimination and exclusionary practices faced by many marginalized groups, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.

Creating robust equity-oriented indicators 

Although the principle of equity has gained traction in development circles, there is considerable work to be done in creating robust equity-oriented indicators of education priorities, which allow for monitoring national progress over time.  Several key questions need to be addressed:

Photo: Karel Prinsloo/ARETE
Photo: Karel Prinsloo/ARETE
  • How should the monitoring of educational goals track inequalities in education participation and learning outcomes within and between countries, between schools and across different socio-demographic groups?
  • What are the limitations of existing data sources and what can be done to improve them?
  • How can we ensure that our measures of education inequality capture not only those in the education system but also those outside it?
  • How can we capture not only inequalities observed in children, youth and adults but also those structural inequalities engrained in education systems?
  • Since summary measures of inequality are yet to be routinely used in education, what indicators would be both robust and easy to communicate to the broader community?

Outcomes of the equity workshop

On 1-2 December 2014, the EFA Global Monitoring Report and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics convened a workshop that brought together leading experts in the social sciences of education as well as development professionals from governmental and non-governmental agencies. They considered new monitoring strategies and new forms of collaboration in order to address these post-2015 monitoring challenges in education and sustainable development.  Participants at the workshop specifically discussed insights from current research, more and less conventional indicators as well as recommendations for the measurement of inequalities in post-2015 education targets.

The workshop also looked at the importance of communicating equity-based indicators that are both rigorous yet simple for multiple stakeholders to understand and implement. Participants underscored the importance of developing equity-oriented measures of post 2015 education targets that maintain high standards of scientific rigor, while also informing the views of policy makers, media outlets, teachers and non-specialists.

Based partly on discussions emerging from the workshop, this blog series will consider the challenges facing the international community in measuring and monitoring inequalities in education, proposals to reduce them, and ways to ensure that equity concerns are understood by broad audiences involved in policy-making, financing and implementation.


Read all the blogs in this series so far:
Monitoring progress in education among individuals with disabilities




  1. One way of identifying inequality by ethnicity could be to disaggregate data by the language(s) spoken at home. The ISO 639-3 codes for the representation of names of languages give unique codes for each of the world’s living languages.

  2. The sentence used for the headline is too long, its time for the word “measuring” to be removed. We have become obsessed with measurement instead of with action to remove inequality! I have sat in Kathmandu hotels many times over the years and wanted to scream at the number of aid workers discussing feasibility studies, measurements, strategy reports …. but never listened to anybody discussing how they taught a class of disadvantaged children that day, or cured a sick mother, or worked with an illiterate group of parents. Time to spend our money on engagement, not on endless measurements.

  3. International agency blogs often write about the challenges of MEASURING inequality, outcomes, enrollments, etc.

    Imagine a woman who has fallen ill on the sidewalk. She is surrounded by people hired to care for the sick, but no one is even calling an ambulance. Instead they write and publicize advocacy placards that this woman needs help. And they discuss among themselves on how best to measure the symptoms of her agony.

    Such behavior would be bizarre for humans, but it is perfectly acceptable for donor agencies.

    A sick person needs actual medical help. Similarly, students need to fill their memory tracks with knowledge. They are about to drop out illiterate, and getting more knowledge is an emergency. Under what conditions do the very poor retain and recall more of the subject matter that they hear in class? What policies does the research lead to? What advice are governments receiving about increasing students’ recall? Who are the experts who can give this advice, which institutions can deliver it?

    The GMR can push donors for actual results. Please write more on the challenges and specific methods of TREATING inequality and increasing outcomes. There is lots to write about.

    1. Well said, Helen. You have followed up my own comment perfectly and we need more who will expire thus obsession with measurement, measurement, measurement!

  4. I understand the frustration with measurement and research before action. And it can be an easy way for governments to avoid working on a problem…”oh, we have to measure it and study it first.” But measurement is important. Without proper measurement we can’t allocate resources effectively, and we can’t evaluate all of our actions to see which are the most successful and cost effective. So measurement only? No. But action without measurement means we are probably not making our efforts as effective as possible.

    1. Daniel, our frustration is not with measurement before action! It’s frustration with measurement and NO action, or more measurement than action. It’s incessant. Just follow the volume of blogs and tweets at the moment about it, when we should be reading about programmes of actions, successes, etc.

  5. Steps should be taken for all schools to be provided with the same facilities and all students to benefit from equal opportunities. For instance, good schools should be set up equally in rural and urban areas to eliminate disparities between such areas. This aims to maintain a degree of parity of esteem between both state owned and private grant-aided centres of learning with a view to increasing equity within the system.

  6. “In the field of education, despite notable progress in some areas, there continue to be sharp inequalities by poverty status, household location, gender, disability and ethnicity, with many marginalized groups remaining invisible to governmental officials and development planners.”

    This statement really spoke to me, this is one of the reasons why I am passionate about my major, I want to be a bilingual educator because I want to be a part of the change that causes students to be successful despite their inequalities. I know one person cant make the whole change, but many individuals can!

    Interesting post!

    Ruby Luevanos-Clemente
    Texas A&M University Class of 2016

  7. To improve the quality of education, I agree with the need for economic investment for facilities, high technology, modern equipment. In particular, I agree that it is necessary to improve the quality of life for lecturers, in order to improve the quality of life of lecturers, the salaries for lecturers must be large. In this way, the trainers will be able to focus on their expertise.

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