Module A3: Education Indicators and Data Analysis

4. The importance of using indicators

4.1 Purpose of education indicators

Different stakeholders in a national education system can use education indicators for different purposes. understanding these purposes helps us to better select and use the right indicators. There are six main purposes for using indicatorsin the education system:

  • To describe the conditions and performance of schools and of the education system.
  • To set targets, benchmarks and standards for measuring or assessing progress towards achievement of education goals;
  • To monitor and compare progress in implementing education plans among geographical areas and target populations, and to signal shortfalls, gaps, imbalances and disparities;
  • To identify and highlight issues, problems and possible solutions for better management of the education system; 
  • To provide information about causes and factors affecting achievement of the desired educational outcomes, and to enable decision-makers to realistically plan and manage changes;
  • To inform stakeholders about the school and the education system in order to generate greater understanding and support for education.


4.2 understanding complex situations

In most countries, the education system is complex with hundreds of schools, thousands of teachers and hundreds of thousands of students across the country’s territory. The education system also has intricate and far-reaching linkages to the development of human beings, society and the nation. Monitoring education is therefore complex, and indicators can help to make sense of the complexities.

Many indicators are required to monitor progress toward achieving the six EFA goals. For exam- ple, to monitor progress toward achieving ‘quality of education’, several indicators are used including the percentage of qualified teachers, pupil-teacher ratio (PTR), pupil-class ratio (PcR), textbook-pupil ratio (TPR) and public expenditure on education as a percentage of total government expenditure.

Take the example of the pupil-teacher ratio (PTR). How can this indicator help to assess the effect of increasing the number of teachers at a school on the quality of education? Based on an understanding that a lower PTR, such as 1 teacher for every 20 pupils (1:20), would allow the teacher to devote more time to each student than if the PTR is 1:30, does this mean that the quality of education improves if more teachers are employed?

The true utility of PTR only becomes apparent when data are obtained for the other component indi- cators, which is the number of pupils in each class. in Figure 3, there are 10 teachers and 200 students in both School A and School B. each school hired 10 additional teachers to improve the quality of edu- cation. However in the following year, there is also an increase in the number of student in school A to a total of 400. The PTR in School A then remains at one teacher for every 20 students (20/400=1/20), which is the same as the ratio before the expansion. if School B continues to have 200 students, on average each of its 20 teachers will teach 10 students (20/200=1/10), so we would expect the quality of education to be better in School B. Because the PTR indicator includes the number of teachers and students, it provides a more realistic information about the quality of education in School A and School B than information only about the number of teachers.

4.3 Tracking changes over time and making comparisons across regions, districts and schools

Sound policy-making, planning, management, monitoring and evaluation of the education system require data and information that are relevant and reliable. Many education indicators can help to track changes over time, and can be used to make meaningful comparisons between different schools and different regions. They can also help to identify gaps, shortfalls, imbalances, problems and issues, if not also the causes of the problems. Systematic use of such indicators in track- ing and comparisons are important for monitoring progress and achievements in education, and for making good plans and management decisions. it is therefore crucial that decisions are not made subjectively, but based on evidence such as indicators and information that can be verified.

Just as the Gross domestic Product (GDP) indicator is used to measure the growth in a nation’s econ- omy, indicators such as the annual growth rates of the number of schools, students and teachers, and increases in government budget allocations, can be used to track changes in the education system over time. if reliable data are available, growth rates may be calculated for individual schools, districts, provinces and even groups of these, so as to compare the changes between them. The differences in growth rates may be analysed in order to identify problems and issues (see example 2).

In example 2, the number of students increased between 2006 and 2007 in 3 schools (Schools A, c, e), and decreased in 2 schools (Schools B, d). The number of teachers remained roughly the same in Schools A, c, d, but decreased by 5-10 per cent in Schools B and e. Government budget allocation increased by 30 per cent in School c, but dropped by 20 per cent for School e and 7 per cent for School B, with no change in government budget allocations for Schools A and d.

Analysing the situation school by school, one may notice that the increase in students in School A was accompanied by a slight increase in the number of teachers, but no increase in budget. There were proportionally matching decreases in the number of students, teachers and the amount of the budget in School B. The big increase in the number of students in School c was matched by a large increase in budget, but there was no increase in the number of teachers, probably due to difficulties in recruiting new teachers for this rural school. One can see that School E is facing serious difficulties with an increase in students, but large decreases in both its budget and the number of teachers.

Activity 4

Talk to key stakeholders in your school, district, province or country about what you under- stand about the importance of education indicators, and answer the following questions:

  1. What do you think about the importance of education indicators?
  2. For which function(s) will you use education indicators: Policy-making? Planning? Budgeting? coordination? Management? Monitoring and evaluation? Reporting? informing stakeholders? Resource mobilization? comparing performance?
  3. In what other functions do you think education indicators can be used? Why?

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