Many developing countries have placed education at the centre of their social and economic development strategies and have invested in strengthening the ability of their education systems to enrol more children and youth. As a result, enrolment rates are much higher today than they were in the 1980s, and the average number of years of schooling has increased dramatically in the past 25 years.
Yet, although much has been achieved, many challenges remain. In 2012, pre-primary gross enrolment rate in the low income countries was only 19 percent. Worldwide, 58 million primary and another 63 million lower secondary school-aged children were still out of school, some dropping out too early and others never even entering school. Girls, children with disabilities, rural dwellers, and those from poor families are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to schooling and learning, especially when these sources of disadvantage overlap.
Above all, learning levels in developing countries are dismally low. Millions of children who go to school do not learn the basics. Out of around 650 million children of primary school age, as many as 250 million either do not reach Grade 4 or have not learned to read or write. Although young people are spending a lot more time in school and training, they are too seldom acquiring the knowledge and skills they will need to lead productive working lives. This takes a heavy toll on the prospects for inclusive growth and poverty reduction in their countries.
The Millennium Development Goals and Education for All goals remain an unfinished business. Today, as the post-2015 agenda and implementation modalities are being defined through large consultations and intense debates worldwide, the ability of education systems to deliver better quality education presents a critical challenge. Evidence-based analytical work to inform and monitor national education sector plans may help to meet this challenge, but only, of course, if the findings from these analyses serve as a basis for reform.
Greater ownership of evidence and education sector analyses and improved capacity to use these are needed to ensure that this happens.
These guidelines, a joint product of more than 25 UNESCO, World Bank, UNICEF, and GPE Secretariat education economists and specialists who have been providing technical support to government teams during the last 15 years, constitute a substantive contribution to fulfilling the need for more evidence. They present methodologies for the analysis of policy issues with the aim of strengthening the knowledge required for the development of more equitable and efficient education sector plans. They can help provide government teams with increased autonomy with the process of data collection, analysis and interpretation as they also include detailed tools for the interpretation of findings. But while government teams responsible for monitoring and planning education policies are the target audience for this work, other potential users include development partners, research centres and universities. Ultimately, the goal is for these guidelines to encourage greater accountability for better and more equitable education and learning, from the classroom to the halls of policymaking, and for greater effectiveness in the use of public and external resources.