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This paper looks at the current state of the international monitoring architecture for equity in education. We propose a framework for classifying indicators of education equity, and review 22 initiatives that are explicitly or implicitly concerned with monitoring education equity. These include both primary data sources and databases compiling data from multiple sources. These initiatives predominantly use ratios, parity indices, or disaggregated statistics, to show the extent to which school attendance, attainment, or learning outcomes vary with gender, wealth, and rural/urban residence. Relatively few sources look at other dimensions such as disability, ethnicity or language, or at the distribution of school inputs, or at conceptions of inequality other than the differences between different population groups.
We reveal some of the strengths and potential shortcomings of current initiatives by applying the Data Quality Assessment Framework (DQAF), a system for identifying quality-related features of statistical systems governance, processes, and products. The review notes that quality control for secondary databases varies, with some describing their processes in detail while others say nothing. There is concern about whether household surveys are able to capture information about children living outside of households, such as those in orphanages, refugee camps, street children, and nomads. Equity raises a particular set of concerns around accuracy and reliability, because estimates are often required for small groups. Current mechanisms either do not ask questions about disability, mental health, sexuality, and ethnicity at all or ask them in non-standard ways that do not facilitate comparisons. Data gathered from national administrative systems is prone both to concerns around sound methodology – for example, coverage is often limited to government schools – and accuracy and reliability – for example, schools may have incentives to exaggerate enrolment numbers. Information relevant to equity is often not gathered or not made available.
We argue that international initiatives working on education equity should process micro data in a more open way – publishing methodological notes and statistical programmes – so that analysts can build on existing work rather than duplicating very similar analyses. There is also a need to improve coordination and agree on standards wherever possible. They should also consider broadening the scope of their analysis to consider, for example, the extent to which countries distribute educational resources equitably to different regions.
The review of the different initiatives makes clear the important role to be played by national administrative systems. Disaggregated household survey data, combined with the types of data currently coming from administrative systems and, where available, learning assessments, will not be sufficient for monitoring the SDG targets relating to education equity. Greater attempts are needed to link household and school data in order to provide a better picture of (for example) how school and household resources can both feed into educational inequalities. However, a concerted effort is needed to improve the capacity of national administrative systems to support this kind of analysis, in ways that also respond to each government’s own policy debates around educational equity.