Education as a dimension of poverty

Education is a basic human right enshrined in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and several other international human rights treaties. SDG 4 aims to ‘ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’.

The absence of education limits the opportunity for individuals to improve their lives and fulfil their potential, and constrains national development. The World Bank (2015: 36) describes education as a ‘driver of development and one of the strongest instruments for reducing poverty and improving health, gender equality, peace, and stability’.

The Dakar Framework for Action was adopted at the World Education Forum in 2000. The Dakar Framework highlights the importance of not only ensuring equal access for girls and boys, but also integrating ‘gender equality concerns into the implementation of sector policies and strategies’ (Dakar Framework for Action, 2000: 13). It also calls for reliable sex-disaggregated data at national and sub-national levels, and for careful, gender-sensitive analysis of those data, to ensure that gender inequality in education is addressed.

The Education for All agenda, adopted by the Dakar Framework, is reflected in SDG 4, and in SDG Target 4.6 which aims to ‘ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy.’ Thus, assessing the outcomes of education is essential.

What the research reveals about education

Girls’ education is widely identified as both a potential pathway towards gender equality and women’s empowerment and a prerequisite for development. Girls’ education has also been associated with lower fertility rates, better outcomes for child health, and reductions in child mortality. While gender parity in primary education has been achieved in most countries, in 2018 it was estimated that only one in three girls complete secondary education. As a global average, women with a secondary education earned almost twice as much as those with no education (Wodon et al., 2018).

While enrolment and completion rates have long been considered key indicators for progress towards universal education, the information they provide is limited. Consequently, there has been increased focus on the need to assess the quality and outcomes of education.

The level of education attained is a common indicator in household and individual surveys, often contributing to individuals’ demographic information alongside age, sex, ethnicity, and so on. While the level of education is important, it does not provide any information about the outcomes of education, such as the ability to read, write or do arithmetic.

Literacy and numeracy functioning have not been widely measured in household or other surveys to date. It is often assumed that people with some primary education can read, write and do basic arithmetic, but this is not necessarily so. The absence of functional literacy and numeracy has a deleterious impact on an individual’s employment and income-generating opportunities, social and official exchanges, and access to knowledge, and contributes significantly to multidimensional poverty.

What the IMMP reveals about education

Various aspects of education, usually enrolment or years completed, are common indicators of wellbeing and multidimensional poverty measures. The Human Development Index calculates achievement in education through mean years of schooling and expected years of schooling. Education is one dimension of the Multidimensional Poverty Index, assessed by years of schooling completed and school attendance of children to grade 8. Neither the Human Development Index nor the Multidimensional Poverty Index calculate the quality or outcomes of education, nor do they assess gender differences.The IMMP expands beyond current measures that narrowly consider education as a dimension of poverty.

During the participatory research that informs the IMMP, both the availability and the quality of education were identified as important, particularly by young people. Women were more likely than men to identify the importance of education and to rank it higher in terms of priorities. Women were also more likely to have responsibility for children attending school.

What the IMMP Education dimension measures

The education dimension of the IMMP has two main themes: education level, and literacy and numeracy functioning.

Theme 1: Education level

The first theme, education level, is measured by one indicator – educational attendance – which is derived from one variable. This variable asks the respondent about the highest level of education they have attended, and also considers whether they are still attending any level of education. This indicator does not measure educational outcomes or formal achievements, only the highest level of education attended.

Theme 2: Functional literacy and numeracy

The second theme is made up of two indicators – functional literacy and functional numeracy – corresponding to four task-based questions. Respondents are asked to do the following:

  • Read a question aloud.
  • Answer the question in writing using two sentences.
  • Calculate a sum based on addition and subtraction.
  • Calculate a sum based on multiplication and division.

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