Building a true picture of lifelong learning

Teachers post exam results. Nyeri county, Kenya

CREDIT: GPE/Kelley Lynch

New data on learning are steadily coming on-stream, helping us to gauge the extent to which children and youth, in school and out, are learning acquiring the skills they need to build their lives. This week at the UKFIET (The Education and Development Forum) Conference in London, the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS) has set out progress on the development of a global approach to measure learning. The UIS presentation showed the challenges and the most feasible solutions to resolve them. All of this information is vital for the pursuit of Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) on education: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

That is why the UNESCO Institute for Statistics is calling for the full implementation of the UIS Reporting Scales (also known as common learning scales), to describe and quantify the progression of learning skills in a particular domain of the SDG 4 targets. The scales will also serve as a backbone for countries to interpret the expression of minimum proficiency levels in domains such as reading and mathematics.

New scales to monitor how children learn

As shown in the Learning Progression Explorer, a prototype developed with the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), the reporting scale on reading, for example, will describe how children typically move from decoding written words to the comprehension of text. It will also show how these different skills are commonly assessed as part of the package of tools being developed by the Global Alliance to Monitor Learning (GAML) to help countries produce internationally-comparable data for SDG 4 while strengthening their capacity to monitor learning.

The scales are an integral part of GAML`s  fit-for-purpose approach to international monitoring which supports consistency in reporting of outcomes, while being flexible enough to accommodate the variety of measurement approaches taken by countries and facilitating their access to a wide range of tools and methods.

In short, the scales make it possible to reflect and respect very diverse assessments without imposing one single definition of what children should be learning or when, or imposing one way in which countries should measure that learning. They are therefore more than just a measurement tool but a resource for education policy planners, researchers and practitioners.

Expanding learning measurement beyond reading and mathematics

To date, the development work has largely focused on SDG target 4.1, which calls for effective learning outcomes, and its related indicator, 4.1.1: the proportion of children and young people in grades 2/3; at the end of primary; and at the end of lower secondary achieving at least a minimum proficiency level in reading and mathematics. The priority given to tracking progress on 4.1.1 is understandable, given the critical importance of early proficiency in reading and mathematics for lifelong learning.

But reading and mathematics, while important, are only part of the picture. The UIS is excited at the prospect of expanding this work beyond Target 4.1 to include other crucial SDG 4 targets and indicators to be achieved by 2030. This expansion is needed if we are to build a true picture of progress and challenges related to lifelong learning, from the earliest years right through to adulthood. Targets 4.2 and 4.6 in particular seem to naturally extend the approach taken with 4.1

Target 4.2 requires that all children have access to quality pre-primary education, so that they are ready for primary school – measured by the percentage of children who developmentally on track and receiving at least one year of quality pre-primary education between the ages of 3 and 5. If we were able to see this mapped out on a scale, we could see – at a glance – whether children have this essential spring-board for later learning. And if we see that they are not, we have a better chance of intervening at an early stage – a sound investment that can save the greater resources needed to help children catch up later on in their schooling.

Target 4.6 aims to ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults are literate and numerate, measured by the percentage of population in a given age group achieving at least a fixed level of proficiency in functional literacy and numeracy skills.

The scales could also help with Target 4.4, which envisages a substantial increase in the number of youth and adults with the skills they need for the workplace, measured by the proportion of youth and adults with information and communications technology (ICT) skills, by type of skill extends the concept of literacy to the digital domain.

And Target 4.7 digs deeper into the kind of learning that children acquire, aiming for all learned to gain the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including human rights, gender equality, peace and non-violence, global citizenship, environmental awareness and an appreciation of cultural diversity. Here, the relevant indicator measures the extent to which education for global citizenship and sustainable development are mainstreamed at all levels in national education policies, curricula, teacher education and student assessment.

Join the discussion on measuring learning

From the earliest experiences of learning at preschool to the skills applied in the workplace, and from learning the letters of the alphabet to surfing the web, the full range of lifelong learning is a precious vital human asset that deserves to be measured.

We have a potential approach, based on the UIS reporting scale. Now we need agreement and action to make this approach a reality at the national, regional and global levels. The UIS is urging all stakeholders to join this discussion, and to participate in the push for accurate, comprehensive and meaningful measurement of learning.

Author(s)

Dr Silvia Montoya is the Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Dr Montoya has extensive experience in a wide range of national and international initiatives to improve the quality, management...

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