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As equity became a key feature of the global education agenda most stakeholders are worried that the current statistical capacity to monitor equity in education at the global, regional and national level is insufficient. There have been calls for a data revolution, for more and better data, and to bring education data collection and production to the technological and knowledge frontier. Yet the education community remains far from having adequately framed what it means exactly to monitor progress towards target 4.5; “by 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, and children in vulnerable situations.”, and equitable quality education.
This paper argues that working towards a data revolution should also include working towards improved data literacy and should result in better use and understanding of education data and indicators. It paper reviews the most recent attempts at monitoring equity in education at the global level and discusses some of the key issues with regard to defining progress towards target 4.5 and equitable quality education.
It highlights that the current focus on pairwise comparison, through the proposed use of parity indices, can be misleading, especially with the introduction of dimensions of exclusion which are coded by ordered categorical variables (as with the example of wealth) or nominal variable (as with example of ethnicity). With regard to wealth for instance, focusing only on the top and bottom quintiles ignores the structure of wealth distribution in some of the poorest countries where the situation of the poorest 20% is often exactly the same as the situation of the second and third wealth quintiles. And consequently the parity indice will simply not reflect any substantial progress even if improvement were to happen with regard to the situation of populations of identical characteristics than those of the bottom quintile.
Further, the use of the parity indice which exhibits floor and ceiling effects implies that a marginal increase in the early stages of development (i.e. from low access rates for instance) is more valued than a marginal increase in the late stages of development, as the ratio will not vary by the same marginal variation even if a similar unit increase is observed. This has consequences on the conceptual approach to progress and good performance implicitly disseminated by the global education community and could even have deterring effects that would prevent countries to address their last pockets of exclusion. This paper argues that further thinking is needed around the definition of progress and properties of education indicators and that at the minimum an axiomatic approach to education equity indicators should be developed.
Lastly, as progress is also often associated with changes in ranking, this paper argues that, for a number of indicators, global rankings contain a certain degree of randomness that prevents from firmly concluding about progress and needs to be taken into account in international comparative exercises.