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Global action for education

How data from GRID can foster equity in children’s school readiness and learning outcomes

We are facing a global learning emergency: even before the pandemic hit, more than 1 in 2 children (53%) in low- and middle-income countries could not read or understand a simple text by age 10, making them 'learning poor.' In poor countries, the level was as high as 80%. COVID-19 is exacerbating learning poverty, due to both the lack of access to remote learning that many children face and its knock-on impact on school dropouts - students pushed out of school by the economic recession that coronavirus caused. Estimates suggest that the impact of COVID-19 could contribute a further 11.4 million of the 70 million children who will fail to acquire basic literacy skills by their 10th birthday this year.  

As is often the case, not all children will feel these effects equally: internationally, poorest countries will be disproportionately affected due to already high poverty and out of school rates, coupled with low levels of connectivity, while at the country level, children in already worse-off households, location, and/or regions will bear the greatest brunt. Across geographies, some groups of children will be harshly hit whose connection to school was already precarious due to discrimination, such as girls and children with disabilities.

A tour of GRID’s education data

Save the Children’s Child Inequality Tracker GRID offers a unique level of granularity for data on education, as well as other key child wellbeing measures. The Global and Country dashboards include early childhood development and school completion by level of education, while the COVID-19 dashboard focuses on rates of remote learning and school return during the pandemic. GRID’s latest version also includes indicators on learning, namely foundational reading and numeracy skills.

This is only one of many improvements. Latest changes to GRID make data even easier to understand:

  • Explanatory text on the side of infographics, which changes according to the indicators and countries selected, helps interpret the data in graphs and offers key takeaways from them.
  • While earlier users could either explore country data or data for multiple countries side by side, it is now possible to create aggregate estimates for any region or group of countries of choice. This is done through the ‘Combine’ function in the Global dashboard.
  • The COVID-19 dashboard now includes a Trends tool to show how the impact of the pandemic on families is changing since the outbreak early last year.

Every tool is designed to allows us to look beyond global and national numbers to identify children disproportionately at risk and see the impacts of intersecting inequalities. It is only with this level of insight that we can design strategies and programmes targeting the furthest behind children first.

Some examples

Let’s take as an example pre-COVID data on early childhood development, which is critical to school readiness. The infographic below (Fig. 1), taken from the 'Trends and projections' tool from GRID’s Global dashboard, shows the rate of early childhood development for countries in sub-Saharan Africa for which data over time is available (4 countries). Data is displayed as a regional average (red line) and for richer as well as poorer children (darker and lighter green lines respectively). When looking at the overall regional trend, the upward trajectory of the red line indicates that progress is happening.

However, improvements are not materializing fast enough: by 2030, just over 60% of children are projected to be developmentally on track for their age. Moving on to the wealth disaggregation, we notice that the poorest children are much less likely to be developmentally on track than their richer peers (46 vs 79% projected in 2020). Worryingly, the wealth gap has not closed since the early 2000s, nor is it expected to according to current data (48 vs 82% expected in 2030, without taking into account the possible detrimental impact of COVID-19).

Fig 1. Since the early 2000s, progress has been too slow for ECD; in addition, progress is not inclusive as wealth gaps are not closing.

Fig 1. Since the early 2000s, progress has been too slow for ECD; in addition, progress is not inclusive as wealth gaps are not closing.

Let’s now move on to GRID’s Country dashboard. The tool ‘Equitable access to services’ shines a light on the connection between marginalization in access and inequality in outcomes. The tool aims to highlight that while all children should receive access to services they need, too often children with the highest rates of deprivation have the poorest access to services to start with. For instance, the figure below draws links between support for learning early in life and education attainments later on for different groups of children (each represented by a coloured dot). By hovering over the dark green dot on the graph, you would see that in the richest households in the DRC, 1 in 4 (24%) children masters reading to an acceptable level for their age and 3 in 5 children (58%) receive adequate support for learning from adults.

By contrast, the lighter green dot, which represents children from the 20% poorest households, paints a starkly different picture: fewer than 2% of children (1.7%) have foundational reading skills and only 2 in 5 (40%) were engaged in activities promoting learning and school readiness by an adult. While these are not the same children, but rather different children in the same groups, evidence suggests that children who receive the least support earlier on are also more likely to fare poorly when it comes to educational gains later. This tool is particularly powerful because it shows not only that programmatic interventions have a real impact on children’s education outcomes, but also that, in order to foster education, we need to expand access to services, too.

Fig 2. In the DRC, a correlation exists between receiving support for learning early in life and successfully mastering foundational learning skills later on.

Fig 2. In the DRC, a correlation exists between receiving support for learning early in life and successfully mastering foundational learning skills later on.

We were in the middle of a learning emergency even before COVID-19 struck. Now, the knock-on effect of the pandemic on education is likely deepening the pre-existing crisis, as it narrows the window of opportunity within which children can hope to master the foundational skills for their schooling career. It might take years to quantify the impact of the pandemic, especially for different groups of children. In the meantime, GRID can help us better understand inequalities in education before COVID-19 struck and what to prioritize in our response.


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