Are children learning in school?

We know that millions of children have gained access to education in the past few decades but we don’t know how many of these children are actually learning. Can a child read and understand a simple piece of text after 4 years of school? Data on how many children are learning or “learning achievement” is either limited or non-existent in many countries.  There is a growing demand for data which reflects both access to and quality of education, particularly in the early years which are pivotal for every child’s development and where learning provides a foundation to jump start progress in later years.

We don’t have data on how many children have acquired basic literacy and numeracy skills in low- and middle-income countries around the world. Between 2005 and 2013, only 61 countries measured the foundational reading skills of children in the early grades of primary schooling. The ability to read and understand a simple text is one of the most fundamental skills a child can learn. Yet in many countries, students enrolled in school for as many as 6 years are unable to read. A strong foundation in basic numeracy skills during early education is crucial for success in mathematics in the later years yet here too we lack robust data at the individual, country level.

As the leading global advocate for children, UNICEF has a pivotal role in facilitating the generation of high quality, up-to-date information on the wellbeing of children. UNICEF has developed one of the most comprehensive data collection efforts focused on statistics documenting child outcomes in the world, the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS).  The development of two new MICS modules on parental involvement and foundational learning skills are aimed at gauging children’s learning and the role of parents in this process.

Since its inception in 1995, MICS has become the largest source of statistically sound and internationally comparable data on children and women worldwide. In more than 100 countries, trained fieldwork teams have conducted face-to-face interviews with household members on a variety of topics that directly affect the lives of children and women, including education.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), call for a greater focus on inclusiveness, equity and quality in education for which comparatively little data currently exists. To enable monitoring of the proposed new global education targets under the SDGs, in particular 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 – more data on cross-nationally comparable learning outcomes are needed. The modules respond to growing demands to measure progress towards these targets by providing countries with tools that can be used to measure children’s learning and understand how parents influence this process.

Find out more about the MICS modules on parental involvement and foundational learning skills here.


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