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World Needs New Indicators for Assessing Education

UNITED NATIONS, Jun 14 2013 (IPS) - Addressing the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Global Education First Initiative (GEFI), a programme aimed at improving the quality of education worldwide, a group of panelists at the United Nations Tuesday highlighted the urgent need to tackle what they called the global learning crisis by improving the quality of learning in schools as well as ensuring children all over the world have access to quality education.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO)’s 2012 Global Monitoring Report, 250 million children of primary school age cannot read or write, even though some of them are enrolled in schools.

Ban’s message, which was read out by U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, emphasised that there could be no development without education, and that governments should strive to improve the quality of learning.

Education also holds the key to sustainable development, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova told IPS.

For example, data suggest that children born to mothers with primary school education have a greater chance of survival beyond the age of five than those born to mothers who are uneducated, Bokova added.

But there is also a need to sharpen indicators to measure how much children are learning in schools.

Assessing education in the poorest countries, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has relied heavily on proxy indicators, such as pupil-teacher ratios and textbook availability, said Jo Bourne, associate director of education at UNICEF.

“These things do matter for learning but the relationship between these inputs and the learning outcomes is not actually guaranteed,” she added.

Challenges arise when attempting to assess learning through a fixed set of indicators, experts say.

There is a need for flexibility when it comes to assessing what constitutes learning among people who belong to different age groups and come from all walks of life.

“Something as basic as learning to read, preferably in your mother tongue, is your life saving vaccine. Learning to read is a very basic and important indicator but that is not where (our assessment) should stop,” Bourne said.

In fact, critical thinking and skills-based learning that could contribute towards youth employment are also important, suggested the experts.

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