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Measuring education progress to ensure no one is left behind

Jane Sullivan, Program Officer, EPDC

EPDC provides guidance on the operationalization of equity measurement in Chapter 3 of the Handbook on Measuring Equity in Education, produced by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS).

EPDC’s contribution to the handbook is through Education Equity Research Initiative, a collaborative partnership that connects organizations and individuals committed to building stronger evidence and knowledge for improving solutions for equity in and through education. It serves to help ensure that an equity lens is incorporated into data production and research across all education and development programs and policies. Learn more at

Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) calls for inclusive and equitable quality education for all, spanning not only gender parity in learning but also equitable educational opportunities for persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, disadvantaged children and others who are at risk of exclusion from education. Yet today, these groups are extremely difficult to track because they are often invisible in education data.

The new Handbook on Measuring Equity in Education, produced by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), the FHI 360 Education Policy Data Centre, Oxford Policy Management and the Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre at the University of Cambridge, provides all those involved in the measurement of educational equity with not only the key conceptual frameworks but also the practical tools to do the job.

The handbook explains what it means to measure equity in learning, recognising that equity itself is a political issue and cannot be isolated from political choices.

Proposed operationalisation of equity measurement

If equity can be conceptualised from a myriad of different perspectives, how, then, can it be measured?

 In Chapter 3 of the handbook, EPDC focuses on the technical aspects of measurement and delves deeper into two key families of metrics: impartiality and equality of condition. The two groups are closely related, and in many cases are sufficient for reporting on key education indicators. It focuses on two key principles – impartiality and equality of condition. 

Impartiality zooms in on the idea that it is unfair to discriminate by characteristics such as gender, wealth or ethnicity when it comes to the distribution of education. Measures of impartiality quantify the extent to which an educational input or outcome differs by such characteristics.

Equality of condition focuses on the dispersion of education in the population, without regard for differences between groups. While perfect equality of condition in education outcomes might not be possible or desirable, wide or growing gaps between the least and most educated are likely to be a cause for concern.

The chapter guides the reader through a common process for identifying relevant equity considerations and provide the basic technical and operational framing for some of the most common metrics for equity that can be applied towards education indicators. The concept of inequality is used here to denote the simple condition of a lack of mathematical equality, which should further lead the reader to explore whether this inequality has social and economic dimensions. If it does, this would indicate the presence of inequity. The reader is introduced to visualisation and measurement techniques that represent equality of condition (univariate measures of inequality) and impartiality (bi- or multivariate measures of inequality). We begin with an initial, dimension-agnostic visual process for gauging inequality, and proceed using each of the highlighted approaches through several examples drawn from country- and programme-level data.

In each case we address the requirements needed for using the underlying data to measure (in)equality of condition and impartiality, as well as the appropriateness of the given measure – its advantages and disadvantages – for generating insights into the magnitude and nature of the inequality. The chapter continues with a discussion of key metrics of inequality, such as measures of disparity, dispersion and more complex indices like Gini and Theil that require continuous and cumulative information. It offers an overview of the current equity in education landscape and makes some recommendations for improving data availability, as well as listing a simple sequence of steps to follow for analysing equity.

Allocating education funding more equitably

Finally, the handbook examines government spending on education to reveal who benefits, who misses out, and how resources could be redistributed to promote equity. It points out that in many countries, the children and young people who are the hardest to reach are often the last to benefit from government spending. It is simply more expensive to ensure their quality education, given the cost of measures to tackle the root causes of their disadvantage, from poverty to discrimination – and this should inform the distribution of resources.

While equal funding means the same amount of money for each student or school, equitable funding means additional resources for the most disadvantaged children to ensure that every child can enjoy the same educational opportunities. As the handbook argues, progress towards SDG 4 demands the equitable distribution of resources within education systems, with the most disadvantaged receiving the largest share of government resources, and paying the smallest share from their own pockets. It highlights national education accounts as an important way to track progress, and the funding formulae that are being used across a number of countries.

The new handbook has been inspired by the urgent need to position educational equity at the heart of global, national and local agendas to promote access and learning for all children, young people and adults.  With countries under pressure to deliver data on an unprecedented scale, the Handbook also recognizes that no country can do this alone, making a strong case for greater cooperation and support across governments, donors and civil society.

*The authors are presented in the order of their respective chapters: Chiao-Ling Chien and Friedrich Huebler of the UIS; Stuart Cameron, Rachita Daga and Rachel Outhred of Oxford Policy Management; Carina Omoeva, Wael Moussa and Rachel Hatch of FHI 360; Ben Alcott, Pauline Rose and Ricardo Sabates of the REAL Centre at the University of Cambridge as well as Rodrigo Torres of UCL Institute of Education.

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