Mixed results for India in 2023 SDG4 Scorecard by UNESCO

Poor performance in out of school, upper secondary completion rates & learning outcomes


January 27, 2023

/ By / Paris

Mixed results for India in 2023 SDG4 Scorecard by UNESCO

India produces mixed results in 2023 SDG4 Scorecard: UNESCO

While India managed to progress in primary education, its performance in upper secondary school attendance, completion as well as in learning outcomes across all segments suffered a setback in the period 2015-2020, says UNESCO.

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The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation has released its first scorecard to measure the progress made by countries in meeting their targets for education, as under the Sustainable Development Goal 4 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals set up in 2015 and which have to be met by all countries by the year 2030.

UNESCO says that the 2023 SDG4 Scorecard shows how fast countries are progressing towards their national benchmarks. It is the start of a new annual series of reports that will be published on the International Day of Education on January 24 each year.

Manos Antoninis, Director of the Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report and author of the scorecard says that India has produced mixed results. While it did increase the spending on primary education, its performance in learning outcomes and upper secondary completion rates failed to meet the targets. ‘‘India traditionally did not spend much on public education but over the last few years it has been investing more and more but it is off track in meeting target for upper secondary completion where progress is slow and the probability that India will meet its target is low,’’ Antoninis tells Media India Group.

Antoninis says that in 2019, countries set up their national SDG4 benchmarks, pretty much on the lines of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Climate Change Agreement where each country sets its own target for cutting carbon emission. And like under the climate change treaty, the SDG4 benchmarks are voluntary and non-enforceable, in case countries miss their targets.

These targets have to be achieved by 2025 and 2030 on seven key education indicators namely, early childhood education attendance; out-of-school rates; completion rates; gender gaps in completion rates; minimum proficiency rates in reading and mathematics; trained teachers; and public education expenditure.

UNESCO says that so far only three in four or about 75 pc of member countries have submitted benchmarks to be achieved by 2030. It says that the benchmarks vary sharply while some nations have set very ambitious targets, committing to improve faster than the historic rate of the top 25 pc of countries. It adds that ambitions are particularly high for improving learning outcomes in primary level among poorer countries with low starting values, which may be because these countries lack data and are less familiar with its progress.

UNESCO says that setting benchmarks has shown an acute lack of data as half of the countries have no data on learning levels or the percentage of trained teachers in primary schools; a third have no data on completion or out-of-school rates.

In terms of progress, UNESCO says that most are progressing well on primary completion rates, but out-of-school rates regressed in 1 in 10 countries between 2015 and 2020. At least one in three countries regressed in learning proficiency and in trained teachers at the pre-primary and primary level.

Some successes, many failings

The first scorecard by UNESCO examines in depth at two key indicators, the upper secondary completion rates and early childhood education participation. It says that in both the categories, barely one in three countries is well placed to achieve its national benchmark for 2025 with high probability. UNESCO says that the countries likely to meet their targets were mostly richer countries, meaning the poor countries would suffer.

The scorecard notes that for upper secondary completion rate, most countries have made slow rather than fast progress. It adds that Rwanda is the only low-income country to have achieved fast progress and most other low-income countries either have insufficient data or no national target. It also commends seven other countries for their fast progress. These are Bangladesh, Bolivia, Egypt, El Salvador, Ghana, Kyrgyzstan and Nepal.

UNESCO says that in the case of the pre-primary education participation rate, high-income countries are more likely to have achieved fast progress. By contrast, lower-middle income countries have achieved slower progress and are less likely to achieve their national target by 2025. Nevertheless, UNESCO adds that 14 low- and lower-middle-income countries, including India, are on track to achieve their benchmarks.

It adds that one in three countries, and two in three low-income countries do not meet either of the two minimum benchmarks on education finance. Among countries with data, 64 pc of low-income countries relative to 29 pc of middle- and high-income countries fell below both benchmarks. Data availability is a more important issue in poorer countries as 24 pc of low-income countries, 15 pc of middle-income and 6 pc of high-income countries report no data on public expenditure.

Antoninis points out that countries are more likely to meet their benchmarks for completion rates for lower secondary and primary education rather than upper secondary. ‘‘The share of countries that have high probability or already achieved their 2025 completion rate national benchmark falls from 59 pc in primary to 42 pc in lower secondary and 31 pc in upper secondary education,’’ he says.

Same is true for out of school rates. It says that share of countries that have high probability or already achieved their 2025 out-of-school rate national benchmark falls from 61 pc in primary to 45 pc in upper secondary education, but the out-of-school rate also increased between 2015 and 2020 in 30 pc countries among both children and youth.

Large learning losses 

One of the biggest challenges for the countries lies in improving learning outcomes, which measure exactly where the students stand in terms of knowledge or capabilities. ‘‘Learning outcomes are at the centre of attention and many countries lack data to assess it. Under 20 pc of all countries could present data to measure their learning outcomes and of these 1 in 3 or over 33 pc, including rich nations, moved backwards in learning,’’ says Antoninis.

He warns that the actual situation is likely to be far worse as the data released now covers the period before the pandemic and the situation on the ground is expected to have worsened significantly in many countries, including India.

‘‘India is taking huge interest in learning outcomes and there is a commitment to start monitoring learning outcomes in a much more systematic manner. However, India is not yet fully reporting, so we still dont know to what extent learning suffered during Covid-19, even though conventional wisdom is that it suffered. But we don’t have any data yet and we dont know if next year it will continue to slide as the losses due to Covid-19 may continue to have longer term implications,’’ says Antoninis.

He goes on to caution that in poorer countries where schools were closed to very long time, the outcomes would have suffered significantly more. ‘‘In countries like India where the schools were closed for a very long time, there is a concern that this negative impact would continue for the long-term, but i twill be difficult to guage the exact impact as there is no data from pre-pandemic period to compare with the situation now,’’ Antoninis goes on to say.

How to fix it ?

UNESCO says that to mitigate the situation, countries ought to offer free and compulsory pre-primary education. In 2020, 91 out of 188 countries guaranteed zero years of free and compulsory pre-primary education in their legislation. Yet countries which guarantee at least one year of free education, have higher participation rates and higher benchmark values, it says.

UNESCO also calls for strict regulation of the private providers of pre-primary education. ‘‘Given the large share of private providers in pre-primary education, governments must regulate them to ensure quality and equity. While 97 pc of countries regulate approval, licensing and establishment of private pre-primary education providers, only 26 pc of countries support specific vulnerable populations’ tuition fee payments and just 15 pc prohibit non-state providers from operating for profit.  In countries where tuition fees for specific population groups are subsidised, the percentage of children who participate in organised learning one year before entry to primary school is higher by 13 pc, whereas countries with fee-setting regulations have a 7 pc higher participation,’’ says UNESCO.

Another recommendation by UNESCO concerns public investment in education and calls for higher government spending. UNESCO says that spending on publicly provided pre-primary education increases enrollment. Among the 80 countries with data in 2018–20, 0.43 pc of GDP was spent on pre-primary education, while four countries spent above 1 pc of GDP, namely Belarus, Ecuador, the Republic of Moldova and Sweden. UNESCO says that there is enough evidence to show that doubling spending from 0.25 pc to 0.50 pc of GDP, triples participation rates from 20 pc to 60 pc on average.



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