Good news: Gender equality due to make its way into the global education indicators

POSTER_KThis blog celebrates the expectation that there will be a new indicator proposed to monitor target 4.7 on sustainable development and global citizenship from the one currently listed in the reports by the Inter-Agency and Expert Group. Moreover, it is expected that the change to the proposed indicator will refer to ‘gender equality’, a term included in the target. This change will demand us all to put our minds to ensuring there’s a way we can actually measure the term and ensure progress towards it over the next fifteen years and beyond.

The group working on the task of setting indicators for measuring the SDG goals,, the Inter Agency Expert Group on Sustainable Development Goal Indicators (IAEG-SDGs) submitted its final proposal to the UN Statistical Commission. The latter is meeting in March 8-11 to decide whether to forward this proposal for endorsement by the Economic and Social Council and the United Nations General Assembly.

How these indicators develop is being watched closely, as it reveals how the ambition of the targets is going to be translated into reality in countries around the world. While global campaigns were run to lobby for particular words to be included in targets, the same consultative process is not taking place for how progress will be measured, arguably even more important at the end of the day for how people’s lives will change as a result of the SDG Agenda.

One of the targets being watched most closely is Target 4.7: By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.


With no consensus on what the actual outcomes to come out of this target should be, and no relevant data for it either, the December report and February Report produced by the IAEG-SDG initially proposed the following indicator for 4.7:

Percentage of 15-year-old students enrolled in secondary school demonstrating at least a fixed level of knowledge across a selection of topics in environmental science and geoscience. The exact choice/range of topics will depend on the survey or assessment in which the indicator is collected.

However, scientific literacy – while measurable and relevant – is only a small part of the desirable knowledge and skills that this target aims to achieve. Led by UNESCO and its Institute for Statistics, efforts to propose a revised and more relevant indicator now appear to have gained traction. The expected recommendation for the March final collection of indicators is that it reads as follows:

Extent to which (i) global citizenship education and (ii) education for sustainable development, including gender equality and human rights, are mainstreamed at all levels in (a) national education policies, (b) curricula, (c) teacher education and (d) student assessment

The change would reflect a realization that instead of focusing on outcomes that are hard to measure and monitor in a comparative way across countries, it could be preferable to focus on the efforts countries are making to promote sustainable development, global citizenship and gender equality through education. This would include an analysis of the emphasis countries place on these and related concepts in their curricula, teacher education and learning assessments.

One way of measuring gender equality in education is to analyze how the notion is covered in authorized textbooks. On March 8th, for International Women’s Day, we will be launching a campaign on Instagram – @GEMReport – looking at how pervasive gender bias is in textbooks around the world. Pre-releasing some of the findings from our full report, a GEM policy paper on how gender equality as well as human rights and other terms embedded in target 4.7 are covered in textbooks will be released later this year.

1zChanging the way this target will now be measured also opens the door to new opportunities for partnership to meet the challenge. Education International, for instance, could partner with gender experts to look at mainstreaming gender perspectives in teacher training; GPE and UNGEI could look at Gender Responsive Education planning together; research partners could bring together education and gender communities, as we are intending on doing at a side-event during the Women Deliver Conference this May.

As all this shows, there are many struggles over definitions, reliable and comparable data and the feasibility of countries to practically respond to the ambition in the SDGs. This demonstrates that having a set of targets is only the first step in a long line of steps needing to be taken before reaching our goals. Our 2016 GEM Report due out this September will be discussing how to measure and monitor each of the new education targets in the SDG Agenda. Gender equality is just one of the challenges we’ll be carefully examining from this standpoint. Indeed, measuring the newly proposed global indicator for Target 4.7 will require a major effort by countries and international partners. We hope that all our reports over the next fifteen years will help ease some of the next steps in our common journey.



  1. A possible focus on gender equality within the global education indicators will, indeed, be yet another important step in promoting full access for all to quality learning opportunities. Central to such access is the recognition that teaching and learning materials can play a central role in either reinforcing or helping to break harmful stereotypes. The USAID Guide for Strengthening Gender Equality and Inclusiveness in Teaching and Learning Materials ( promises to be a useful, and user-friendly, tool for evaluating and developing curricular materials that are free of bias and that promote equality and inclusiveness of all marginalized, disadvantaged, and underrepresented groups.

  2. I agree fully with Jennae Bulat’s who wrote “… gender equality within the global education indicators will, indeed, be yet another important step in promoting full access for all to quality learning opportunities” but actually changing traditional and cultural community attitudes towards females is the root problem. I believe measuring and monitoring each of the new education targets in the SDG Agenda is worthwhile (and a MoE bureaucrat’s dream) but it will these result in behavioural and attitudinal change?. I have been a teacher/teacher educator for 50+ years in developing and religious countries and I don’t think Education has the answers to gender and equity. Could an experienced social anthropologist be invited to join the discussions?

  3. While it’s a good start, I wonder how well the indicators will be able to measure global citizenship education (GCE) or education for sustainable development (ESD) in schooling. For example, we know in England that GCE and ESD is not currently mainstreamed through education policy and the national curriculum, but comes more from the drive of teachers and senior leaders in schools, and the support they get from NGOs, development education practitioners and national programmes such as GLP and Connecting Classrooms. Much of this work takes place in the informal rather than formal curricula. Schools in England are doing some of the most innovative work in this field in the world and yet the monitoring mechanisms suggested wouldn’t necessarily pick up on this. On the other hand, there are countries with strong evidence of GCE / ESD in policy and curricula, but with less evidence of good, practical engagement at the school level. I wonder if there needs to be an additional indicator that can link more to practice / access to information or resources / civil society support?

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