GAML: Monitoring data for SDG 4.6.1

22 December 2017

The Global Alliance to Monitor Learning (GAML) is an initiative to support national strategies for measuring learning. Led by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), it provides stakeholders, researchers, UN agencies and NGOs with a platform for discussion to facilitate data collection on a global scale.

As part of the GAML, a thematic task force was established to address Target 4.6 of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, which calls on UN Member States to ‘ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy’ by 2030. Specifically, the task force looks at ways to monitor data related to SDG Indicator 4.6.1, which measures ‘the percentage of the population in a given age group achieving at least a fixed level of proficiency in functional (a) literacy and (b) numeracy skills.’ The target age group for this indicator are those aged 15 and over.

In contrast to a dichotomous measurement of adult literacy as ‘literate’ or ‘illiterate’, SDG 4.6 defines adult literacy as a continuum of functional literacy and numeracy skills to which a fixed level of proficiency can be assessed. Currently, how ‘proficiency’ is defined can vary from country to country, which makes comparability of data a challenge.

To address this, a meeting co-organized by UIS, the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) and UNESCO’s Capacity Development and Field Support Unit convened at UNESCO HQ in Paris from 7 to 8 November 2017. The meeting brought together experts in literacy assessment, as well as representatives from statistical bureaux and education ministries.

Participants analysed challenges to and opportunities for reporting on 4.6.1, and agreed that there is a need to establish criteria for data and measures. The experts concluded with the following suggestions for a strategy to measure SDG Indicator 4.6.1:

  • Adopt UNESCO’s (2005) definition of functional literacy, including reading and numeracy.
  • Reach a consensus on methodological comparability, especially when the literacy continuum is taken into consideration in the interim and long-term reporting contexts.
  • Develop a common global framework that defines the constructs to be evaluated across all contexts from a long-term perspective.

As a pragmatic step for interim reporting, the following practical steps were recommended for advancing the development of Indicator 4.6.1:

  • Define common domains and subdomains, as well as a continuum of functional literacy and numeracy skills.
  • Establish the number of proficiency levels.
  • Determine labels and write policy descriptors for proficiency levels.
  • Develop full descriptions for proficiency levels using the UIS reporting scale.
  • Choose a global or regional reference level of functional literacy and numeracy.

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