In 2015, Member States of the United Nations agreed on 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) including SDG 4 to ‘ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’ (United Nations, 2015). Progress towards SDG 4 targets are measured using 11 global and 32 thematic indicators (UNESCO-UIS, 2022).
The Education 2030 Framework for Action outlines strategies for achieving SDG 4 that include (UNESCO, 2016):
- Strengthening national policies, plans, legislation, and systems
- Emphasizing equity, inclusion and gender equality in cross-sector policies and plans
- Focusing on quality learning and learning, and promoting lifelong learning
- Addressing education in emergency situations
Fulfilling the commitments set seven years ago requires mobilizing all countries and partners involved as well as coordinating the implementation, financing, and monitoring of SDG 4 and its targets. Since the Framework’s publication, several initiatives have been launched to support and monitor SDG 4 progress.
Governed by the SDG 4 Education 2030 High-Level Steering Committee, the GCM is an ‘ecosystem consisting of all global education actors that participate in the Global Education Meeting and have agreed to work cooperatively in support of SDG 4’. The GCM convenes all global education actors from country leaders to private sector actors to monitor the Education 2030 Agenda, ensures systematic alignment of education-related targets to the wider SDG framework, and incentivizes coordination and international action on SDG 4 .
The LMTF was convened by the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS) and the Brookings Institution Center for Universal Education to build global consensus on the importance of learning in addition to access, and to focus on strengthening learning assessment systems and improving the use of assessment data to advance SDG 4. The LMTF identified seven essential learning domains for children globally, provided recommendations for high-quality national learning assessments, and provided technical and institutional support to advance assessment as a public good. The LMTF concluded its work in 2016 .
Following on from the work of the LMTF, the GAML is designed to improve learning outcomes by supporting national learning assessment strategies and developing tools and indicators to monitor progress towards SDG 4. The GAML’s Learning Data Toolkit helps ministries of education and country-level decision makers access tools and methodologies to link international and national assessments to one another and the SDG 4 targets. The GAML works in tandem with the Technical Cooperation Group on the Indicators for SDG 4 – Education 2030 (TCG) to support the use of learning assessments for progress on SDG 4 indicators.
Also following on from the LMTF, the Global Partnership for Education’s A4L was launched in 2017 to provide financial and technical assistance to strengthen learning assessments (Read and Anderson, 2021). It concluded in 2020, launching initiatives such as the Analysis of National Learning Assessment Systems (ANLAS), a tool to help countries evaluate their learning assessment systems to inform education sector planning and provided support to regional networks, the Network on Education Quality Monitoring in the Asia-Pacific (NEQMAP), and the Teaching and Learning Educators’ Network for Transformation (TALENT) in sub-Saharan Africa.
Hosted by UNESCO but editorially independent, the GEMR is published annually to measure the global state of learning and progress on global education goals. It was first published in 2002 as the Education for All Global Monitoring Report to hold the global community accountable for Education for All commitments, and it now monitors progress on SDG 4 . The 2021/2022 GEM Report examined the role of non-state actors in education and the delivery of inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all. The GEMR has developed four tools:
- World Inequality Database on Education (WIDE): WIDE uses Demographic and Health Surveys, Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys and other national household surveys and learning assessments from over 160 countries to compare inequality across countries, between groups within countries, and across overlapping disparities using 26 indicators.
- Scoping Progress in Education (SCOPE): SCOPE summarizes data and global trends in education using five themes, namely: access, equity, learning outcomes and trajectories, quality, and finance.
- Profiles Enhancing Education Reviews (PEER): PEER collects and publishes data on countries’ education laws and policies to strengthen national education systems. Country profiles include information on themes such as inclusion, financing for equity, climate change communication and education, non-state actors in education and comprehensive sexuality education.
- Visualizing Indicators of Education for the World (VIEW): VIEW compiles multiple data sources to track out-of-school and completion rates. This work creates concise and trackable data sources to enhance understanding of regional and global trends on these two indicators.
International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity (The Education Commission)
The Education Commission seeks to ensure progress on SDG 4 through more effective reform and investment. Initiatives look at the education workforce, education finance with the newly created International Financing Facility for Education, effective education delivery, and new models of learning. The 2016 Learning Generation Report put forward 12 recommendations to address the learning crisis (The Education Commission, 2016). Looking ahead, a Learning Generation Institute is planned to continue global advancement to SDG 4 (The Education Commission, 2021).
Learning losses due to COVID-19
UIS estimates that the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted education for over 1.5 billion students. In response, UNESCO founded the Global Education Coalition to ensure the continuity of learning amid global crises. First convened in March 2020, the Coalition has more than 175 members that span civil society organizations, UN agencies, and the private sector. It serves as a new model of international cooperation to mitigate learning loss and is focused on digital connectivity, teachers, and gender equality.
Launched by UNESCO and the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) and in partnership with the European Commission, Responses to Educational Disruption Survey focused on collecting international comparable data from schools to evaluate the impact of COVID-19 in secondary education. It is intended to provide data for tracking progress on targets SDG 4.1 (free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education for all) and SDG 4.4 (increasing the number of people with skills needed for twenty-first century financial success).
The 2022 report evaluated how schools continued to operate during the pandemic and the impact that the changed learning conditions had on teachers, teaching methods, curriculum, assessment, and students. Results have shown that teachers found it most difficult to reach students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and members of vulnerable populations during school closures (UNESCO and IEA, 2022). More research is needed to understand the factors that led to successful and unsuccessful outcomes during learning disruptions and to improve resiliency in education systems.
The Education Commission (International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity). 2016. The Learning Generation: Investing in Education for a Changing World. New York, NY: The Education Commission.
––––. 2021. The Education Commission: Creating a Learning Generation. New York, NY: The Education Commission.
Read, L.; Anderson, K. 2021. Summative Evaluation of GPE's Assessment for Learning (A4L) Initiative. Washington, DC: Unbounded Associates.
UNESCO. 2016. Education 2030: Incheon Declaration and Framework for Action for the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
UNESCO-UIS (UNESCO Institute for Statistics). 2022. Official List of SDG 4 Indicators.
UNESCO; IEA (International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement). 2022. The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Education: International Evidence from the Responses to Education Disruption Survey (REDS). Paris: UNESCO.