The challenges of monitoring education in the Sustainable Development Goals

Vang Seo Phu, a 9-yr-old Hmong, during a Math class at PS La Pan Tẩn, Vietnam.

CREDIT: Nguyen Thanh Tuan/ UNESCO

The challenges of monitoring education in the Sustainable Development Goals

SDG 4, with its 10 targets, represents a level of ambition for the next 15 years that goes beyond any previous global education agreement. The GEM Report presents the challenges of monitoring progress on education in the 2030 Agenda. It analyses all SDG 4 targets – some of which are poorly formulated – and discusses the technical challenges of monitoring the respective indicators. It also examines efforts to develop valid, reliable and comparable measurement tools.

The GEM Report asks what the priorities are for global education monitoring and where countries and organizations need to focus resources. It examines the institutional, political and technical context within which indicators will be measured.


The GEM Report has a mandate to help the international community understand whether and how the world is making progress in education and lifelong learning. While the EFA Global Monitoring Report is seen as having fulfilled its mandate, the landscape is rapidly changing, with the expanded scope of the 2030 Agenda posing new challenges.

The GEM Report has a mandate to show whether and how the world is making progress in education and lifelong learning Click to Tweet

A set of monitoring indicators has been formulated (Box 1), though the methodology for measuring many of them is still being developed. Many indicators only partly cover the concepts in each target. Alternative ways to measure and monitor targets at the national and regional levels should also be explored.

In coming years, the GEM Report will take a comprehensive look at global progress in education using available indicators, questioning their usefulness, reflecting on the quality of sources, introducing new ways of looking at evidence and advocating for improvement.

Targets and proposed global/thematic indicator framework for SDG 4 on education

GOAL 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all


Target 4.1. By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes

1. Percentage of children and young people: (a) in grades 2/3; (b) at the end of primary; and (c) at the end of lower secondary achieving at least a minimum proficiency level in (i) reading and (ii) mathematics, by sex. [Global indicator 4.1.1]

2. Administration of a nationally representative learning assessment (i) during primary (ii) at the end of primary and (iii) at the end of lower secondary education

3. Gross intake ratio to the last grade (primary, lower secondary)

4. Completion rate (primary, lower secondary, upper secondary)

5. Out-of-school rate (primary, lower secondary, upper secondary)

6. Percentage of children over-age for grade (primary, lower secondary)

7. Number of years of (i) free and (ii) compulsory primary and secondary education guaranteed in legal frameworks


Target 4.2. By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education

8. Proportion of children under 5 years of age who are developmentally on track in health, learning and psychosocial well-being, by sex [Global indicator 4.2.1]

9. Percentage of children under 5 years of age experiencing positive and stimulating home learning environments

10. Participation rate in organized learning (one year before the official primary entry age), by sex [Global indicator 4.2.2]

11. Gross pre-primary enrolment ratio

12. Number of years of (i) free and (ii) compulsory pre-primary education guaranteed in legal frameworks


Target 4.3. By 2030, ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university

13. Gross enrolment ratio for tertiary education

14. Participation rate in technical-vocational education programmes (15- to 24-year-olds)

15. Participation rate of youth and adults in formal and non-formal education and training in the previous 12 months, by sex [Global indicator 4.3.1]


Target 4.4. By 2030, substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship

16.1. Percentage of youth and adults who have achieved at least a minimum level of proficiency in digital literacy skills

16.2. Percentage of youth and adults with information and communications technology (ICT) skills by type of skill [Global indicator 4.4.1]

17. Youth/adult educational attainment rates by age group, economic activity status, levels of education and programme orientation


Target 4.5. By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations Parity indices (female/male, rural/urban, bottom/top wealth quintile and others such as disability status, indigenous peoples and conflict-affected as data become available) for all education indicators on this list that can be disaggregated [Global indicator 4.5.1]

18. Percentage of students in primary education whose first or home language is the language of instruction

19. Extent to which explicit formula-based policies reallocate education resources to disadvantaged populations

20. Education expenditure per student by level of education and source of funding

21. Percentage of total aid to education allocated to low-income countries


Target 4.6. By 2030, ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy

22. Percentage of population in a given age group achieving at least a fixed level of proficiency in functional (a) literacy and (b) numeracy skills, by sex [Global indicator 4.6.1]

23. Youth/adult literacy rate

24. Participation rate of youth/adults in literacy programmes


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

25. 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 [Global indicator 4.7.1]

26. Percentage of students by age group (or education level) showing adequate understanding of issues relating to global citizenship and sustainability

27. Percentage of 15-year-old students showing proficiency in knowledge of environmental science and geoscience

28. Percentage of schools that provide life skills-based HIV and sexuality education

29. Extent to which the framework on the World Programme on Human Rights Education is implemented nationally (as per UNGA Resolution 59/113)


Target 4.a. Build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all

30-32. Percentage of schools with access to: (a) electricity, (b) the Internet for pedagogical purposes, (c) computers for pedagogical purposes, (d) adapted infrastructure and materials for students with disabilities, (e) basic drinking water; (f) single-sex basic sanitation facilities and (g) basic handwashing facilities (as per the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) indicator definitions) [Global indicator 4.a.1]

33. Percentage of students experiencing bullying, corporal punishment, harassment, violence, sexual discrimination and abuse

34. Number of attacks on students, personnel and institutions


Target 4.b. By 2020, substantially expand globally the number of scholarships available to developing countries, in particular least developed countries, small island developing States and African countries, for enrolment in higher education, including vocational training and information and communications technology, technical, engineering and scientific programmes, in developed countries and other developing countries

35. Number of higher education scholarships awarded, by beneficiary country

36. Volume of official development assistance flows for scholarships by sector and type of study [Global indicator 4.b.1]


Target 4.c. By 2030, substantially increase the supply of qualified teachers, including through international cooperation for teacher training in developing countries, especially least developed countries and small island developing states

37. Percentage of teachers qualified according to national standards, by education level and type of institution

38. Pupil/qualified teacher ratio, by education level

39. Proportion of teachers in: (a) pre-primary; (b) primary; (c) lower secondary, and (d) upper secondary education who have received at least the minimum organized teacher training (e.g. pedagogical) pre-service and in-service required for teaching at the relevant level in a given country [Global indicator 4.c.1]

40. Pupil/trained teacher ratio, by education level

41. Average teacher salary relative to other professions requiring a comparable level of education qualification

42. Teacher attrition rate, by education level

43. Percentage of teachers who received in-service training in the last 12 months, by type of training


Source: UNESCO (2016). Education 2030 Incheon Declaration and Framework for Action: Towards Inclusive and Equitable Quality Education and Lifelong Learning for All. Paris, UNESCO