Rationale for a Lower Primary indicator for SDG 4.1:

We are concerned by news that several constituencies have been advocating to remove the tracking of reading and numeracy in early primary from the SDG indicators.

The People’s Action for Learning (PAL) Network is a south-south collaboration across organizations in nine countries who have conducted nationwide, household-based learning assessments that collectively assess over 1 million children annually. These assessments have made visible what for a long time remained hidden: the fact that while most children are now enrolled in school, very large numbers of them are not learning even fundamental skills like reading and math.

Our collective experience over the past 10 years has shown us the importance of measuring proficiency in reading and mathematics for children early in their school career. Children who do not learn fundamentals in math and reading in the early primary years and cannot make progress later. This has tremendous implications for equity: the most marginalized are the most likely to fall behind. There can be no quality unless the foundational skills are in place on time. It is critical to measure learning early so that corrective measures can also be taken early.

We have enough experience in many countries in South Asia, East and West Africa and Mexico to show that one-on-one simple assessments can be done at low cost, high speed, and high quality by local groups without any commercial interests. The assessments conducted by members across the PAL Network are inclusive on many dimensions: across languages, and across all children, regardless of whether and what type of school they attend. Such assessments are easy to understand, even for parents who are not educated. The fact that parents can engage with the results and that a broad range of stakeholders are involved in conducting the assessments makes the entire process participatory in nature.

We applaud the high level of ambition embedded in the SDG 4 and think this ambition is a necessary pre-condition to meeting all the other SDGs. However, we do not think the high level of ambition for the end of primary school can be met unless complemented by measurement of children’s learning in the early years of primary. Early measures of reading and math can inform early corrective measures.  If children’s learning is not made visible until grade 5, many children—especially the most marginalized—will have already dropped out and the costs of remediation and repeated content will have mounted.

We, from the PAL Network, representing 9 countries (and growing!) appeal for the following:

  • To include within SDG 4 a lower primary assessments for proficiency in reading and mathematics or literacy and numeracy.
  • To ensure that such an indicator is conducted in a low stakes manner for diagnostic purposes. This indicator could be collected once every two years through low-cost, high-impact methods that are government and citizen led at the household level so that there is no stress on teachers and children.
  • To have a high degree of government buy in and joint ownership. Where possible, the government’s monitoring teams can build this as a formative assessment that is technology enabled as a mobile app (this is already in place in some countries).

The purpose of this assessment is to provide timely help. Without foundational skills, children cannot progress meaningfully in the education system. Not helping children effectively early in their school career has huge implications for equity and inclusiveness in each subsequent year and transitions as envisaged in SDG 4.

Recommended Indicators: 

Percentage of children/young people (i) in Grade 2/3, (ii) at the end of primary and (iii) at end of lower secondary achieving at least a minimum proficiency level in (a) reading and (b) mathematics collected alternate years especially for lower primary grades through low cost non-invasive child centred/friendly methods

Recommended Process:

PAL Network members can work alongside governments to undertake: for lower primary and lower secondary levels every alternate year, a citizen and government led, country wide and household based assessment (grades 2/3 and grades 6/7) with track record of widely accepted results bench marked for lower primary and even lower secondary learning outcomes.

The SDGs represent a critical opportunity to move our collective focus toward learning, which is the cornerstone of meaningful education. Not only is it possible to measure learning for children early in their schooling career through a meaningful, child-friendly, participatory approach, it is also critical that we do so if we want to meet our collective ambition of lifelong learning for all.

Thank you for your consideration of these views as you engage in deliberations on the final Framework for Action and SDG indicators.

Members of the PAL Network

Baela Raza Jamil – Trustee/Advisor Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA), Pakistan

Rukmini Banerji – Director, Pratham, India

Sara Ruto – PAL Network Secretariat, Nairobi, Kenya

Wilima Wadhwa – Director
 ASER Centre, India

John Mugo – Director Uwezo East Africa, Kenya

Emmanuel Manyasa – Country Manager Uwezo Kenya

Mary Goretti Nakabugo – Country Manager Uwezo Uganda

Zaida Mgalla – Country Manager Uwezo Tanzania

Abdou Salam Fall – Director Jàngandoo, Senegal

Sinaba Massaman – Director Bɛɛkunko, Mali

Felipe Hevia – Director
 Medición Independiente de Aprendizajes (MIA), Mexico

Modupe Adefeso-Olateju – Director LEARNigeria, Nigeria