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Education is defined as all deliberate and systematic activities designed to meet learning needs. In particular, education can be understood as the “organised and sustained communication designed to bring about learning”.

  • “Communication” is a relationship between two or more persons involving the transfer of information (messages, ideas, knowledge, strategies, etc.) and can be verbal/non-verbal, direct/face-to-face or indirect/remote.
  • “Organised” communication is communication which is planned in a pattern or sequence, with established aims or curricula. It should involve an educational agency that organises the learning situation and/or teachers who are employed (including unpaid volunteers) to consciously organise the communication.
  • “Sustained” communication is that which has the elements of duration and continuity as part of the learning experience.
  • “Learning” is taken as any change in behaviour, information, knowledge, understanding, attitude, skills, or capabilities which can be retained and cannot be ascribed to physical growth or to the development of inherited behaviour patterns. Persons in education may be in initial or in continuing education.[1]

Education is further classified into levels. An overview over the six education levels is given below. More detailed criteria of classification into the different levels can be found on ISCED.

Pre-primary education

The initial stage of organised instruction “designed primarily to introduce very young children to a school-type environment”. Early Childhood Care and Education are part of this category.

Primary education or first stage of basic education

This level functions on a project basis to give students a sound basic education in reading, writing and mathematics along with an elementary understanding of other subjects. The core of this level consists of education provided for children, the customary or legal age of entry not being younger than five years or, older than seven years. The primary education takes typically six years of full-time schooling.

Lower secondary or second stage of basic education

In many, if not most countries, the educational aim here is to lay the foundation for lifelong learning and human development on which countries may expand, systematically, further educational opportunities. The programmes are usually more subject-oriented and taught by specialised teachers. The end of this level often coincides with the end of compulsory education where it exists.

(Upper) secondary education

This level typically begins after the end of full-time compulsory education for those countries that have the system in place. More specialisation may be observed at this level.” Typically, the entrance age is 15 or 16 years. The entry requirement for such programmes is the completion of some 9 years of full-time education or some combination of education and vocational or technical experience.

Post-secondary non-tertiary education

Programs within this level are often not significantly more advanced than programmes at (upper) secondary education but they serve to broaden the knowledge of participants having completed at the previous level. Typically, programmes are designed to prepare students for studies at ISCED 5 (first stage of tertiary education, see below), as i.e. pre-degree foundation courses or short vocational programmes.

First stage of tertiary education

This level consists of tertiary programmes that have an educational content more advanced than those offered at levels 3 and 4 and usually require successful completion of these levels. This level does not lead directly to an advanced research qualification which is obtained only in programmes of the following level.

Second stage of tertiary education

The final level of tertiary programmes leads to the award of an advanced research qualification. The programmes are therefore devoted to advanced study and original research and are not based on course-work only”.

Specifics of education in developing countries

Education is considered a powerful instrument to lift people out of poverty. Achieving universal primary education worldwide by 2015 is the second of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It is recognized that not only school attendance matters, but also the quality of schooling i.e. class sizes or teacher’s qualification. Furthermore, school attendance must be regular for results to be attained. The time allocated for schooling might be diminished by child labour or work. In some countries, child work is socially accepted and considered an important part of children’s education.[2] Such informal learning opportunities is increasingly recognised in economically developed countries as being vital to a child’s holistic development and the build-up of life skills. Around domestic duties and minor economic activities, children must also have time to do their school work for not impeding educational attainment.

Research evidence suggests an ambiguous effect of family’s material well-being and children’s schooling rate. Ownership of assets, such as livestock and land, might increase in some countries the amount of child labour and decrease the likelihood of regular school attendance. Children are needed to help the family manage their assets, i.e. through herding or harvesting.

Indicators for education measurement

The South African‘s Children’s Institute uses the following indicators to monitor through the project Children Count how children fare in their country:

  • School Attendance

This indicator reflects the number and proportion of children aged 7 – 17 years who are reported to be attending any school or educational facility

  • Learner-to-educator ratio

The learner-to-educator ratio (LER) is the average number of learners per educator at a specific level of education, or for a specific type of school, in a given school year.

  • Gender Parity Index

The Gender Parity Index (GPI) reflects females’ level of access to education compared to that of males. This is calculated for each school phase. A GPI of less than 1 indicates that there are fewer females than males in the formal education system in proportion to the appropriate school-age population. A GPI of more than 1 means that there are proportionately more girls than boys attending school. A score of 1 reflects equal enrolment rates for boys and girls.

  • Children living far from school

This indicator reflects the distance from a child’s household to the nearest school. Distance is measured through a proxy indicator: length of time travelled to reach the nearest (primary or secondary) school. The nearest school is regarded as ‘far’ if a child would have to travel more than 30 minutes to reach it, irrespective of mode of transport. For children aged 7 – 13, distance is measured to the nearest primary school. For children aged 14 – 17, distance is measured to the nearest secondary school.

  • Schools with adequate water

This indicator shows the number and proportion of schools with access to water on or near the site, as a proxy for adequate water. Data for 2006 includes schools served by the municipality, boreholes on site and/or rainwater harvesting systems.

  • Schools with adequate sanitation

This indicator reflects the number and proportion of schools with adequate sanitation facilities. “Type of toilet” is used as a proxy for “adequate sanitation”. For the purposes of this indicator, basic sanitation facilities include flush toilets, ventilated improved pit latrines (VIPs) and Enviroloos. Inadequate sanitation facilities include ordinary pit latrines, buckets or no toilets.

Measuring Education

Programme for International Student Assessment

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an internationally standardised assessment which is administered to 15-year-olds in school. PISA assesses the acquisition of some of the knowledge and skills essential to participation in society by students near the end of compulsory education.[3] PISA tests reading mathematical and scientific literacy. PISA is coordinated by the OECD with a view to improving educational policies and outcomes. The assessments have been carried out every third year since 2000.

Trends in International Mathematics and Sciences Study

The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) is an international assessment in mathematics and science achievement. It is coordinated by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement and will be administered in 2011 in more than 60 countries. The TIMSS has assessed U.S. American 4th- and 8th-grade students since 1995.

Progress in International Reading Literacy Study

The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) is an international study comparing the reading literacy of fourth-grade student (USA) or equivalent. PIRLS is coordinated by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA). PIRLS was administered in 2001, in 2006 with an increased number of participatory countries and is scheduled to be carried out again in 2011.

Teaching and Learning International Survey

The Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) is an international evaluation on the conditions of teaching and learning. TALIS is coordinated by the OECD and was performed first in 2007. The goal is to improve educational policies and outcomes.

Education for All Development Index

The global movement Education for All (EFA), coordinated by the UNESCO, adopted the Dakar Framework for Action, Education for All: Meeting Our Collective Commitments in April 2000. The Education for All Development Index is used as a monitoring instrument for progress on the EFA goals and the second of the Millennium Development Goals. The Education for All Development Index(EDI) is a composite index that provides an overall assessment of a country’s education system in relation to the EFA goals. Due to data constraints, the index currently focuses on the four most easily quantifiable goals that are equally-weighted: universal primary education, adult literacy, gender parity and equality, and quality of education.

System Assessment and Benchmarking for Education Results

The System Assessment and Benchmarking for Education Results (SABER) is an initiative by The World Bank. Its goal is to help countries identify how to improve their education systems to improve education for all.

Knowledge Assessment Methodology

The Knowledge Assessment Methodology (KAM) is an interactive benchmark tool developed by The World Bank. It is designed to help countries identify the challenges they face to manage the transition to the knowledge-based economy. The KAM consists of 109 structural and qualitative indicators that are groups in 4 Knowledge Economy pillars: economic incentive and institutional regime, education, innovation and information and communication technologies (ICT). The KAM can also be used to produce a country’s overall Knowledge Economy Index and Knowledge Index.

Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality

The Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Education Quality (SACMEQ) assembles data, conducts research and provides data on behalf of 15 ministries of Education in Southern and Eastern Africa. The third Project SACMEQ III started in 2007 and is scheduled to be completed in 2010.

European Lifelong Learning Indicators Index

The European Lifelong Learning Indicators (ELLI) is an annual measure of Europe’s state of learning in different stages of life and in different learning environments. The ELLI Index measures learning in four different domains, that are taken from the UNESCO framework and completed by Prof. Jacques Delors: learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together and learning to be. The ELLI was developed on initiative of the Bertelsmann Stiftung.

Gallup Student Poll

The Gallup Student Poll adds clarity to the discussion around the purpose and utility of non-cognitive measures and their relevance to student success. The poll measures student hope for the future, engagement with school, and wellbeing – factors that have been shown to drive students’ grades, achievement scores, retention, and future employment. The Student Poll is an initiative of Gallup in the United States.

See also


  2. Chowa, Gina & Ansong, David & Masa, Rainier, (2010).
    “Assets and child well-being in developing countries: A research review,” Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 32(11), pages 1508-1519, November.P. 1509. Available at:

International Standards


External links


Fact sheets from UNESCO on gender aspects in Education

  • Early adolescent girls: a global view of participation in lower secondary education (EnglishFrench)
  • Adult & youth literacy: global trends in gender parity (EnglishFrench)
  • Gender parity in primary and secondary education (EnglishFrench)
  • Trends in tertiary education: sub-Saharan Africa (EnglishFrench)
  • Interview on women in higher education (EnglishFrench)