PAL Network Highlights 2023


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Keeping Foundational Literacy and Numeracy on the Global Agenda
A campaign to maintain SDG 4.1.1a’s status as a Tier I indicator

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls on world leaders to achieve 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 to promote inclusive and sustainable economic development within each country and globally. These 17 SDGs are accompanied by 169 associated targets and specific indicators to measure each target. Among these is indicator SDG 4.1.1a designed to measure target SDG 4.1 under goal SDG 4.


SDG 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all


SDG 4.1: By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes


SDG 4.1.1a: Proportion of children and young people in grades 2/3 achieving at least a minimum proficiency level in (i) reading and (ii) mathematics, by sex

SDG 4.1.1a is part of a global indicator framework which was designed to hold countries accountable on their commitments towards achieving the SDGs. This global indicator framework was designed by the Inter-agency and Expert Group on Sustainable Development Goal Indicators (IAEG-SDGs)[1], and was approved by the United Nations (UN) Statistical Commission[2]. The IAEG-SDGs is tasked with regularly reviewing indicators, with final decision-making on indicators resting with the UN Statistical Commission.

Each indicator under the global indicator framework is classified into three tiers, as follows.

Tier I

Indicator is conceptually clear, has an internationally established methodology and standards are available, and data are regularly produced by countries for at least 50 per cent of countries and of the population in every region where the indicator is relevant.

Tier II

Indicator is conceptually clear, has an internationally established methodology and standards are available, but data are not regularly produced by countries.

Tier III

No internationally established methodology or standards are yet available for the indicator, but methodology/standards are being (or will be) developed or tested. (As of the 51st UNSC, the global indicator framework does not contain any Tier III indicators)

SDG 4.1.1a was recently downgraded to Tier II in December 2023,  based on decisions by the Inter-agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs) at its 14th meeting held in October 2023 and its monthly meetings in November and December 2023 [3].  The downgrading from Tier I to Tier II  was due to a lack of regularly produced data by countries and places the indicator at risk for potential deletion or removal if more data isn’t made available soon. We must collectively act to maintain SDG 4.1.1a’s status as a Tier I indicator to keep foundational literacy and numeracy on the global agenda, as no other SDG indicator measures foundational literacy and numeracy.

What does the downgrading of SDG 4.1.1a mean?

The global indicator framework is regularly reviewed and refined based on numerous factors including the purpose of the indicator and the availability of data. As we approach 2030, indicators are closely reviewed to ensure required data is made available. For example, it was decided at the 51st session of the UN Statistical Commission to remove all Tier III indicators from the global indicator framework, resulting in any indicator classified as ‘Tier III’ being dropped.[4]

A review process of the remaining global indicator framework has been initiated, with a comprehensive review process taking place in 2025 “with the aim to submit […] proposed refinements, revisions, replacements, additions and deletions to the 56th session of the United Nations Statistical Commission in March 2025 for its consideration”.[5] This process will entail discussions on the deletion of Tier II indicators with insufficient data, a category under which SDG 4.1.1a falls.

What does the review process look like?

As per the 2025 Comprehensive Review Process, decisions will be taken on the status of indicators at the 56thsession of the UN Statistical Commission in March 2025. However, there are numerous milestones leading up to March 2025 which will inform the decision.

SDG review process

In order to maintain SDG 4.1.1a’s status as a Tier I indicator, we must increase the availability of data to have data “regularly produced by countries for at least 50 per cent of countries and of the population in every region where the indicator is relevant”.

We must also factor in assessments that are planned and upcoming, which are positioned to report on SDG 4.1.1a across numerous countries. These assessments include the PAL Network’s ICAN and ICARe in 2024/25, CONFEMEN’s PASEC in 2024, and the AMPL. Incorporating the data provided by these planned assessments allows us to meet most Tier I reporting criteria.
SDG 4.1.1a Advocacy Campaign

According to UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), there is a high chance that low country coverage of the indicator on minimum proficiency in early grades, 4.1.1a, will lead to it being dropped from the list of global SDG indicators in 2025 [6]. As the key indicator tracking children’s foundational learning at the beginning of their academic journey, its potential removal will negatively impact the ability of countries to make timely interventions and support learners who are at risk of being left behind due to gaps in foundational learning.

In collaboration with the global coalition for foundational learning, we are initiating an advocacy campaign under the motto: Measure Early, Measure All, Measure Well: Safeguard Data for the Future of Foundational Learning. The campaign’s main goal is to advocate for the retention of SDG 4.1.1a as a Tier I indicator.

Messaging Approach
    • Our messaging reiterates that foundational literacy and numeracy forms the bedrock for lifelong learning and overall socio-economic development for children.
    • We emphasise the significance of comparable data as a must have for building evidence to strengthen foundational literacy and numeracy skills, and to hold countries accountable for learning equity and inclusivity.
    • We seek to raise awareness on the usefulness of data on foundational learning and demonstrate how ongoing efforts from different actors have created a strong database of past and upcoming data with which to measure SDG 4.1.1a.
    • We underscore the anticipated scope and reach of various initiatives to collect data for SDG 4.1.1 by 2025. For example, showcasing PAL Network’s ICAN and ICARe’s potential to bring valuable insights, trends, and evidence for improvement of foundational literacy and numeracy and provide a significant contribution to comparable data for indicator 4.1.1a.
Key Messages
Measure Early
  1. Foundational skills remain crucial for lifelong learning. Foundational literacy and numeracy skills are the cornerstone of every child’s lifelong learning and are prerequisites for further learning. These skills are the platform on which children build their dreams and aspirations.
  2. SDG 4.1.1a indicator is critical because it measures children’s foundational learning at the time when it matters most: early in their schooling journey. This ensures necessary evidence-based interventions can be made early enough to ensure children can accelerate learning of critical foundational skills that help them learn and apply knowledge in higher grades.
  3. SDG indicator 4.1.1a is the only indicator that measures foundational learning, and therefore must be tracked under the SDG global indicator framework. If we do not safeguard the measuring of progress in foundational learning, there will be significant gaps in global accountability for quality learning, and equity and inclusivity in education, particularly in the Global South.
Measure All
  1. Assessment tools used by actors in foundational learning are designed to ensure data captures the learning progress of all.  This includes those from marginalized communities and hard to reach areas, aiming also to highlight the realities of the Global South. This data is therefore essential to inform evidence-based policy changes and resourcing to reduce educational inequalities.
  2. Measured data is a powerful tool for advocacy. Without evidence- based advocacy efforts, disparities in learning outcomes among vulnerable demographic groups such as out of school children, children with disabilities and children in emergencies may go unnoticed and unaddressed. The right to foundational learning belongs to all children, we must therefore continue to ask ourselves which children’s voices cannot be heard.
Measure Well
  1. There is urgent need for incorporating comparable data for foundational literacy and numeracy under SDG 4.1.1a. Current data has been instrumental in strides made so far in understanding and advocating for changes in foundational learning, however, there is urgent need to scale up and incorporate comparable data from both past and planned future assessments.
  2. Actors in foundational learning are working to close gaps in current data collection for SDG 4.1.1a.Specifically, we are advocating for the acceleration of data collection in Eastern and South-Eastern Asia region whose data reporting is the lowest in the region.
  3. Collectively, different actors in the foundational learning space are projected to provide significant data for SDG 4.1.1a by 2025. Past, current, and planned assessments across countries are projected to ensure compliance with Tier I classification requirements by meeting the 50% country and population coverage by region criteria by 2025. This includes:
  • PAL Network’s 2024/25 ICAN and ICARe assessment which will be collecting comparable data in 15 countries using internationally recognized tools.
Call to Action

Join the global campaign to retain and prioritise SDG 4.1.1a as a Tier I indicator. Our collective voice is the force that will shape the future of foundational learning. Urgent advocacy efforts are needed to influence the numerous milestones leading up to the 56th session of the UN Statistical Commission in March 2025 where a decision will be made on the retention of SDG indicator 4.1.1a.

Support the campaign by taking the following actions:

  1. Urgently share key messages in this note with key actors of influence in your countries who have links to decision makers in the UN that can influence the decision to retain SDG 4.1.1a as Tier I indicator.
  2. Leverage public communications for advocacy. Use diverse digital and traditional communication channels, events, and forums to share the campaign key messages. You can also help raise visibility on the need for comparable data for foundational literacy and numeracy, your country’s commitments to providing data, what the impact of foundational literacy and numeracy data has been in your country, and to advocate for countries to initiate and collect data on foundational learning. Digital communications should use the hashtag #DataForFoundationalLearning.
  3. Leverage key global events. There are upcoming global events that will be convening key actors of influence who can influence the 2025 decision on SDG 4.1.1a. PAL network will be advocating through side events, bilateral discussions, and presentations on this issue. Overall, we can collectively leverage these forums by sharing linkages, contacts and sharing the key messages of this campaign with actors of influence who can lobby for the retention of Indicator 4.1.1a in these forums. The events include:
  1. Support data collection in more countries to reach data requirements for SDG 4.1.1a. We must support data collection in regions that are not meeting data reporting requirements for SDG 4.1.1a tracking, such as the Eastern and South-Eastern Asia region, or increasing the number of countries for which data is collected in Central and Southern Asia. Any of the existing tools can be used to collect data in these countries.

References and resources

[1] Inter-agency and Expert Group on Sustainable Development Goal Indicators (IAEG-SDGs) is an internal United Nations body that was constituted by the United Nations Statistical Commission at its 46th session in 2015 and was tasked with developing the global indicator framework and supporting its implementation. For more, see https://unstats.un.org/unsd/statcom/46th-session/.

[2] The United Nations Statistical Commission was established in 1946 and is “the highest decision-making body for international statistical activities, responsible for setting of statistical standards and the development of concepts and methods, including their implementation at the national and international level”. This commission is comprised of Chief Statisticians from UN member states from around the world and is “the highest body of the global statistical system”. Among the tasks of the UN Statistical Commission is the measurement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. For more, see https://unstats.un.org/UNSDWebsite/statcom/.

[3] For more on the definition of each tier and the classification of each indicator, see https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/files/Tier Classification of SDG Indicators_29 Mar 2021_web.pdf/.

[4] For more on the reviewing of indicators, see at https://tcg.uis.unesco.org/indicators-development/.

[5] For more on the comprehensive review process in 2025, see https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/iaeg-sdgs/2025-comprehensive-review.

[6] Learning data: How do we measure progress towards SDG 4 – https://world-education-blog.org/2024/02/05/learning-data-how-do-we-measure-progress-towards-sdg-4-part-3/#more-33723