This blog gives an update on the process of setting national SDG 4 benchmarks that has been led jointly by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics and the GEM Report along with countries since 2017. An update on the process is to be published tomorrow at the High-Level Political Forum in New York where the global education goal, SDG 4, is under review.
The national SDG 4 benchmarks are targets related to seven indicators that countries have committed to achieve by 2025 and 2030. They were submitted in two phases, by October 2021 and May 2022. Many of the benchmarks are disaggregated, mostly by education level, which means that, in total, countries needed to select 20 benchmark values each for 2025 and 2030 (Table 1).
How many countries have set benchmarks?
As tomorrow’s publication will detail, three out of four countries have now actively set benchmarks against at least some of the seven SDG 4 indicators identified for the benchmark setting exercise. In addition, some countries already have targets outlined in their national education plans. In total, almost 90% of countries now have benchmarks against at least some of the indicators.
What inspired the benchmarks?
In 2014, the UN Secretary-General’s Synthesis Report called for countries to embrace “a culture of shared responsibility” in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, based on “benchmarking for progress”. Building on this idea, the Education 2030 Framework for Action, which is the roadmap for achievement of SDG 4, called on countries to establish “appropriate intermediate benchmarks … for addressing the accountability deficit associated with longer-term targets” (§28).
The benchmark indicators were endorsed in 2019 by the Technical Cooperation Group on SDG 4 Indicators, the intergovernmental body responsible for the development of the SDG 4 monitoring framework.
What are the objectives of the benchmarking process?
National SDG 4 benchmarks serve multiple objectives:
- Contextualize monitoring of progress: The SDG 4 targets set a global aspiration but do not distinguish between countries at different stages of educational development. Benchmarks recognize that each country has a different starting point but also that all countries together have been observed historically to progress at a certain pace. The benchmarking process challenges countries to commit to progress faster than if they followed these past trends.
- Make countries accountable for their commitments: The national SDG 4 benchmarking process calls on countries to publicly state what contribution they are prepared to make to the global goal. This process represents an adaptation to education of the ‘nationally determined contributions’ approach used in climate change discussions to rally country action in recent years.
- Link national, regional and global education agendas: Countries have been asked to select national SDG 4 benchmarks that correspond to the targets they have set in their national education sector plans. Countries which are members of regional organizations have also been invited to align their benchmarks to any regional targets to which they are committed. The purpose is to ensure coherence and mutual understanding between these three levels to reduce duplication, improve transparency and facilitate policy dialogue.
- Strengthen country ownership: Conversely, there is a tendency, often among international organizations, to propose or even impose targets on countries, bypassing national policy making processes. The national SDG 4 benchmarking process places country ownership of education targets at the centre.
- Focus attention on data gaps: The SDG 4 monitoring framework, which consists of 12 global and 31 thematic indicators, aims to motivate countries to consider a wider range of important results and call for using a wider set of data sources than before 2015. However, not every country can report on all indicators nor are all indicators relevant to all countries. By contrast, the seven benchmark indicators represent a key set that every education system needs for management purposes and for which there should be no data gaps, helping focus national and international actions to fill them.
- Strengthen national planning processes: Likewise, despite the proliferation of national education sector plans, some do not have clear targets, while others do not follow the SDG 4 indicator definitions. The national SDG 4 benchmarking process aims to encourage countries to include targets in their plans and to align those targets with global indicator definitions.
- Promote peer dialogue: The national SDG 4 benchmarking process is just a means to prompt exchanges on challenges and good practices, promote mutual learning, and provide the evidence based for national policy reforms and international collective initiatives.
Where can I see what benchmarks have been set for my country?
The benchmarks set up October 2021 were presented in a report published in January 2022. The Global Education Observatory set up by the UIS also presents these values in an interactive format. Tomorrow’s publication, jointly produced by the GEM Report and the UIS, contains the updated benchmark values set by each country in annexes.
What do the benchmarks tell us about where we will be in 2030?
The analysis of benchmark values suggests that, even if countries reach then by 2030, the world will still fall short of the ambition expressed in SDG 4, before even accounting for the potential impact of COVID-19 on education systems. Nevertheless, for several benchmark indicators (e.g. out-of-school and completion rates), countries appear to be committing to accelerate progress at a rate faster than the progress countries managed to achieve over 2000–15. Tomorrow, an update on the benchmark-setting process will be launched in a new report available on this link. On July 7, a side-event is taking place at the HLPF to discuss these new findings, which anyone can watch online here.
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