New statement on framing and measuring inequalities in education

By Aaron Benavot, Director of the EFA Global Monitoring Report, and Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

POST2015_equity_borderAs reported in a previous series on this blog site, a two day workshop with 40 attendees was organized by the EFA GMR and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) last December on ‘Framing and measuring inequalities in post 2015 education targets’. Today, participants are publishing a short consensus outcome statement summarizing key points made during the workshop, which aims to contribute to on-going discussions on measuring and monitoring inequalities in education in the coming decade and beyond.

The statement presents the following key findings:

  • Education systems are neither inherently equal, nor designed to create an egalitarian society. Even as education expands, enabling all children and youth to exercise their right to education, better resourced groups will continue to enjoy an advantage. Indeed, patterns of education inequality persist from one generation to the next. Circumstances of birth and the household are still the major determinants of inequalities in school performance and attainment. Nevertheless, while education systems cannot serve as the ultimate solution to inequalities, they should not augment them. Education systems should be designed to lay the foundations towards greater equity.
  • In a rights-based agenda, there is value in measuring whether everyone achieves minimum thresholds of education attainment regardless of their endowments.

  • Beyond a minimum threshold, it is critical to measure the distribution of educational outcomes across sub-populations, assessing which inequality indicators are most appropriate. Regardless of the indicator used, it is important to compare results among countries with similar levels of educational development.
  • Inequality measures should also be applied to inputs, processes and systems, especially as these shape inequalities of outcomes. Equity-oriented policy responses require well-documented evidence of all such forms of disadvantage and inequality.
Photo: Binh Duong/UNESCO
Photo: Binh Duong/UNESCO

Meeting the measurement challenge: To better track and report on education inequalities, the statement suggests improving existing data sources – including school censuses and surveys, learning assessments, household surveys and population censuses – by reviewing questionnaire content, improving measures of socioeconomic status and other background characteristics and refining approaches to sampling design to better identify disadvantaged groups.

Communicating equity targets: The workshop attendees supported the need for inequality indicators to be easily communicated in order to foster a sense of ownership among all those individuals and groups seeking to improve equity within education.

Equity has emerged as an integral component of the post-2015 sustainable development agenda. Members of international education community at the World Education Forum in Incheon, Republic of Korea, and elsewhere, have underscored the critical importance of improving how we identify and respond to the needs of all marginalized groups, whether due to poverty, gender, location, race or disability. It is therefore essential to accurately measure and monitor progress in education and learning. We encourage all agencies and organizations–including the interagency Technical Advisory Group on Education Indicators led by UNESCO—to take concrete steps in developing robust approaches to measuring equity in the delivery and outcomes of quality education for all. This statement on measuring equity in education aims to contribute to discussions about the monitoring tools and mechanisms needed to ensure that ‘no one is left behind’ as policies and plans for Education 2030 are put into place.



  1. Very nice summary of the use of data to create and inform equity indicators in terms of the equal right to quality education, full agree that use of data and application of equity lense to the entire education process (census, household, econmic data as well as learning assessments and outcomes) is vital to informing more equitable and quality education for all. I DO HOWEVER DISAGREE about the use of data to compare countries as this may lead to cherry picking of policy choices rather than contextualising the entire system also this comparative approach pitches countries and children against one another through the misuse or overuse of learning assessments and high stakes exams. Education is complex social traction which must be examined within the social, cultural, political and economic country context.

  2. For sure social ,cultural,politcal and economic within one’s country cannot be compared to another of they affect the whole setup in attainment of education equality can never be measured

  3. I Like the quote “Education systems are neither inherently equal, nor designed to create an egalitarian society”, this is rarely stated and should be an important discussion and action area to focus on. Yes good data can help analyse where we are in terms of inequalities of provision and outcome, as well as transforming education systems for the future, not just adjust failing systems.

  4. Good summary. Planners and policy framers of third world countries need to view iniquities. In 21st century quality is needed.Trasforming education system to bring eqity need to be prioritised:ProfRanga

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