by Kate Anderson and Abbie Raikes

dia del nino

Photo credit Sacha Fernandez

The world celebrates one of the most important dates of the year in November, Universal Children’s Day. Fortunately, during the last UN General Assembly, global leaders agreed to give children (and adults) the best present: to champion early childhood development as a priority for all countries and as a goal for the post-2015 development agenda. Doing so requires indicators to measure progress reinforcing a growing momentum to improve the amount and quality of data.

One contribution to this emphasis on measuring early learning was a process led by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics and the Brookings Institution’s Center for Universal Education to build consensus on which learning outcomes should be measured globally and how. This process— called the Learning Metrics Task Force (the task force)—united multiple actors in the education field to generate broad agreement for including learning goals and targets in the post-2015 development goals.

Over 18 months, education actors from a wide variety of disciplines had an open and transparent debate about key issues related to measuring learning. In a sector known for deep divergence of opinions, the process was not an easy one. In addition to including the usual global actors—UN agencies, bilateral donors, prominent academics and international NGOs—the process also engaged more than 1,700 teachers, youth, scholars and education ministry officials from 130 countries. Anyone who was invested in the issue of learning outcomes had an opportunity to provide feedback on the task force’s recommendations, and this feedback was synthesized in the ultimate set of recommendations.

How has the group of experts worked to set the recommendations?

1.        The actors engaged in debates about what learning outcomes are important for all children and youth, no matter where they live. They proposed seven domains of learning spanning early childhood through lower secondary, with more than 100 subdomains included in the framework. The seven domains are in the following graph:

2.       The group discussed how to draw out from the seven domains and sub-domains a small set of measureable indicators for global tracking. Not surprisingly, early childhood development and learning emerged as an area in which there is high demand for inclusion in the post-2015 agenda and concurrent interest in having better data globally. Other measurement areas recommended included literacy and numeracy in the early grades and end of primary school and global citizenship competencies in lower secondary.

3.        Experts proposed readiness to learn upon primary school entry as a key measurement point to track in every country, acknowledging that earlier indicators of development and learning should be tracked at local and national levels. This recommendation built upon many existing national and regional efforts such as IDB’s PRIDI in Latin America, the East Asia Pacific Child Development Scales, the WCARO prototype developed by UNICEF West Africa, and international efforts such as UNICEF MICS and the Early Development Instrument (EDI). There are also a number of efforts to develop early learning measures for program evaluation, such as Save the Children’s IDELA tool. Adapting and scaling up existing tools is a key strategy in getting data for all countries.

4.        Actors examined how learning measurement can be implemented to improve learning. Ministries of education, teachers, civil society organizations, and many other stakeholders were asked about the barriers to have a system of assessment that supports learning from early childhood education through lower secondary, including non-formal education programs. The third report of the task force describes the barriers and support needed to effectively use measurement to improve learning. They are:

  • Technical  expertise to design and implement assessment systems and analyze the data
  • Strong institutional structures that have the capacity to provide regular and timely data
  • Political will to report results publicly and take action
  • Lack of data globally on how learning data is best used to support improvements in policy and practice

What happens now?

The task force entered a second phase, Learning Metrics Task Force 2.0. Organizations such as UNESCO, UNICEF, the World Bank, the IDB, WHO, and the Center for Universal Education at Brookings are working to improve the quality and coverage of data on early learning and pre-primary program quality. Also, 15 countries and cities joined the task force as “Learning Champions.” In Latin America, the Education Secretaries in Bogota and Buenos Aires have both been selected and they will be reaching out to other countries in the next year to examine successful regional approaches.

Are you working on issues related to assessment and learning? We are especially interested in knowing how countries and municipalities use information on early learning and program quality to improve outcomes. Please share your stories!

Kate Anderson is ­­­Senior Policy Analyst at the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution.

Abbie Raikes is Program Specialist at UNESCO.

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