Using data to tackle inequalities in education

21 June 2019


EDD Brussels
Manos Antoninis, Director of UNESCO’s Global Monitoring Report, Alain Mingat, education scholar, Amélie Gagnon, senior programme specialist at IIEP-UNESCO, and Javier Terán, a statistician with OCHA.

Europe’s leading development conference featured a Lab Debate on how to scale up an innovative methodology for identifying where education interventions would be most impactful.

This year’s European Development Days (EDD), in Brussels, Belgium (18-19 June) focused on leaving no one behind. In education, this means reaching the 262 million out-of-school children worldwide, as well as the millions of others who are failing to attain expected levels in basic subjects such as reading and math.

Yet, a lack of timely, interoperable data on who and where these children are complicates efforts to try to reach them. Adding to the challenge, foreign policy, such as trade ties or colonial histories, often guides the allocation of international aid.

Reaching the unreached 

A new model for looking at data in education is showing the untapped potential of using existing household survey data to highlight levels of need in and across countries.

In the EDD Lab Debate Efficiently Tackling Inequalities in Education, co-organized by IIEP-UNESCO and the Centre for Humanitarian Data, the panellists put forward an innovative idea to scale up a methodology to create an education status index for children and youth worldwide as a way to better guide interventions in education.

Ranking need in and across countries

The education status index (ESI) is an idea first created by scholar Alain Mingat, formerly with the University of Bourgogne in France. While various sources document the distribution of external aid, Mingat knew there was a dearth of information on who could benefit the most from interventions in education. 

To address this, he teamed up with IIEP-UNESCO to test an original methodology in a sample of nine Francophone sub-Saharan African countries. Mingat drew from existing and similar household surveys and data on student learning from the end of primary education (PASEC).

He used this to show key information on a child’s school experience and performance across sub-national areas in the selected countries. The ESI is then ranked to show the level of need compared to actual external assistance received. However, the results showed virtually no relationship between the proportion of official development assistance (ODA) allocated and the proportion of children with a lower ESI.

“You can have good intentions but bad results,” Mingat said during the EDD Lab Debate. “In their standard rhetoric, donors put beneficiaries at the heart of their action. They stress that children should be nourished, vaccinated, educated, protected, and that assistance should be channelled to those who are deprived.”

However, his research drew the conclusion that actual aid distribution is at odds with that of the needs of children who are “lagging behind.”

Scaling up: addressing inequalities in education worldwide

Tried and tested in a small sample of countries, IIEP-UNESCO is now working on applying this methodology - with some variation - at a global scale, starting with 52 countries across Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Latin America. The research team is using similar indicators from Mingat’s study and is drawing from comparable data already available from household surveys to present a clearer, global picture of where levels of need are greatest.

“This is not just to hold donors accountable,” said Amélie Gagnon, senior programme specialist at IIEP, during the EDD debate. “It is also for countries to strengthen dialogue. We are trying to find solutions now, because the international community cannot wait for the generalization of different surveys to better target its interventions.”

So far, the mapping is revealing which countries are receiving a disproportionate level of support compared to their level of need. It also looks deeper within countries, at the sub-national level, to highlight pockets of need by region or district.

Demographic and health surveys also allow for the use of geographic information to map the ESI back to districts and see transnational patterns. “Such information is helpful at national level to identify areas with children with lower ESI, and also at the global level, for donors to reassess old ways of allocating aid and see where their ODA would have greater impact and perhaps diversify their investments,” said Gagnon.

Gagnon hopes this new model for looking at data could help inform international aid flows, to not only address current inequalities, but also prevent future ones. As the methodology is geo-localized, the education status index could also be combined with predictive humanitarian data analysis such as risk of flooding, earthquakes, or wildfires, or areas prone to conflict, for example. This would reveal additional vulnerabilities around the education of youth worldwide.

“We are trying to find solutions now, because the international community cannot wait for the generalization of different surveys to better target its interventions.”
- Amélie Gagnon, senior programme specialist at IIEP

Building on this potential, Javier Terán, a statistician with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), also a panellist at the event, gave an inside look at data from the free and open Humanitarian Data Exchange (HDX) platform.

Launched in 2014, HDX averages 50,000 users per month and currently includes more than 9,000 humanitarian datasets from over 1,000 sources in 240 locations. However, when it comes to education data, Teran said that while seen as essential, it is an undervalued resource in the humanitarian sector.

“Education is often the first and hardest hit in a crisis but due to its lack of priority, the data collected during or post-crisis is very limited,” Terán said. Consequently, poor data translates into an inability to completely understand issues. “There’s a lot of data missing, I wish I had the magic wand to get it.”

Scaling up the education status index would help fill many of the current gaps in the efficiency and impact of education interventions. Not only would it show donors where to invest, it would also help recipient countries advocate for more resources for education. As stressed by Manos Antoninis, Director of UNESCO’s Global Monitoring Report, who moderated the Lab Debate session, education remains under-prioritized at the international level. “While global aid is increasing, unfortunately education is not being prioritised by donors, even though it is a catalyst in addressing inequalities,” Antoninis said.