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Online Forum on right to education indicators.

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Katarina Tomaševski

Measuring education as a right

These three questions offer starting points for a debate on how to sharpen the indicators and take them forward in an effective, collaborative way. Feel free to address one or more:

  • Data availability: Human rights indicators must not be overly determined by the data that is available. Yet, data availability is a pre-requisite for the effective application of indicators. How do we make the most of available data without compromising the human rights approach?
  • Who to involve: Which communities and actors must be engaged in measuring education, and how do we ensure that they are so, in a non-discriminatory, participatory and accountable way?
  • Your experience with indicators: what is the most challenging issue in your work with indicators? How are you dealing with it? What questions would you ask to others in order to help you deal with it? What would you recommend to others?


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zaman shahid

Thanks a lot. No doubt it's most relevant and contemporary issue. I am working for a national organization in Bangladesh named Eco-Social Development Organization(ESDO). We work for child labour and extreme minority community. In my own experience social attitude, social capital and level of confidence creation are important indicator.

Md.Shahid Uz Zaman
Executive Director,ESDO,Bangladesh

Dushiyant Gunatilake

Honesty and the commitment are the Key Figures when it comes to Indicaters/Duty Bearers/Teachers in right to Education.The children we teach are our own children either
in schools /church or temple.The Barrier is lack of Funds for needy and administration,but sincere efforts can solve this problem too upto a certain extent.The World is selfish today rather than yesterday and we have to act accordingly to promote and protect Human Rights.


Hi! I'm Chi. I'm working as a researcher in an INGO in Viet Nam. Thank you very much for doing this great work and give us a chance to participate in. The below indicator is very adequate. I would like to add only one minor point is that this should be included the facilities for disable students and it should be clearly mentioned in this paragraph.
In my country, the facility for disable groups still not be considered in almost public places. When I go abroad, I'm very impressed when seeing the facilities designed specifically for disable people or special people such as pregnant women like chairs, toilet room, road. It is very simple but should be considered!

% Schools with buildings reported in good shape, including: an adequate number of well-appointed classrooms (sufficient blackboards, tables, desks, chairs and space per class), an adequate number of sanitation facilities, access to adequate clean drinking water, electricity, ventilation and light, fire exits and first-aid kit, medical assistance, canteens, recreational facilities, sufficient recreation ground, other"

Moderator, RTE Project

Thank you for a very rich first stage of the discussion (see postings below), and welcome to new visitors and contributors. Please feel free to comment on any of the above questions, or pick up an issue that has already been raised below.
A short note to David Thom’s posting: David is referring to his own recent field-testing of our indicators, as discussed in this Forum. The test results and reflections can be seen in this document here We encourage all to read it in conjunction with the comments below.
Some issues raised so far:
- Refugees and migrants: the age of children and students; their safety when participating in analysis; gender; teachers; parents and community; authorities; ethics of participation;
- Indicators themselves: presentation in matrix form; adaptability as entry point; capturing quality; using lines of questions and associations and a more narrative approach; much greater need for differentiation; how to adapt to different settings, not foreseen in the present set;
- Human rights compliance: better at making it reveal HR realities and identify if/when the State is doing its best (ie capacities and resources vs’ political will and obligations);
- Data: be more inventive in how we interpret data from multiple points of view; using the lack of (good) data to put pressure on State; a lot of date is there, just not seen through a HR lens; involvement of civil society in validation of data, but responsibility rest with State; simplicity of format; data fatigue;
- Who to involve: as many as possible from all parts of the system, as process is often as important as ends; but space must also be provided for all to participate in actual development of relevant indicators;
And a nice quote from Anjela Taneja below: it is “essential to not underestimate the human and cultural diversity and the human ability to interpret the same thing differently!”

David Thom

Who to involve and my experiences with the Indicators? Which communities and actors must be engaged in measuring education, and how do we ensure that they are so, in a non-discriminatory, participatory and accountable way?

While I agree with Anjela that there is scope for almost any stakeholder to be involved there is also the question of which stakeholder should be involved at each stage. Certain actors involved at different stages of the research process can greatly affect other actors or respondents and therefore the outcomes of the research. For example, if the school management or a local area education authority is to be involved in the planning or the implementation process they automatically have a vested interest in the outcomes that could in theory reflect badly upon them.

Children / Students:
In my own experience it was not only a question of who to involve but who could I involve. I felt that to work with young children posed a higher risk to their safety as I was not trained to do so and this could have had an adverse effect on them. Working mostly with teenagers created easier lines of communication and also opened up the question of who has the right to education and also of Adaptability of education in a receiving country (presuming the indicators are being used on migrant communities). For example, South African law states that schooling is compulsory up to a certain grade or the age of 15 or whichever comes first. However, many of my respondents were over 15 but had not completed the level of education to which they had the right. It poses the question of adaptability not only of an education but also of law. Another problem encountered with age was those students over the age of 18. Obviously they are now adults in the eyes of the law and so do not have the same rights as those under 18. The Central Methodist School adapted to this by raising their age of admission to 21 so that those who had not finished school because of migration or any other reason could so even though they were now 18.
A very clear phenomenon I experienced in South Africa was the small number of female students coming from Zimbabwe. Whether this highlighted the dangers of females travelling to South Africa unaccompanied or not it was clear that working with female respondents required different sensitivities than with male respondents. In any study where the right to education is being measured, the different obstacles that male and female students encounter must be pre-empted.
As my study took place in a school that educated unaccompanied migrant children and also housed 1000’s of refugees, it was inevitable that the teachers of the school would (a) be refugees themselves and (b) would play a crucial role in my access to the students. As is mentioned in the methodology section of my thesis the teachers were not only gatekeepers to the school and the students but were also able to block my research by refusing to take part.
As the purveyors of education teachers are as crucial to any study on the right to education as students themselves. I believe that they deserve a more prominent role in the discussion on the right to education and have added an indicator on teachers below.
Parents / Guardians and the Community:
Ethically if students are involved in a study then their parents (were applicable) must at least give consent. However gauging their views and experiences can yield interesting results. In the case of my study (although I could not talk to the parents of the unaccompanied children) I had several discussions with parents of younger children in the primary school. Their day to day struggle to make enough money to even feed their children, the squalid conditions in which they must live and the daily struggle against landlords, the police, migration officials, other communities etc… highlighted the struggle in which migrants in South Africa live their lives and the world in which the respondents must struggle for their right to education.
Involving the community as a whole in any research using these indicators can help to frame the right to education and the reasons why it is or is not fulfilled in the broader political economic landscape and therefore it can help in being a powerful advocacy tool to address the reasons for non-fulfilment.
Education Authorities:
From my own experience it was difficult to include any national or provincial educational authority. I think that the level at which my study was based and that it was isolated and essentially just me carrying it out meant that it was easier for authorities to brush me aside or to ignore my requests. I think that the bigger the study the easier it will be to get a response or to include an education authority.

General Comments:
Many of the different indicators, such as economic and physical obstacles overlapped each of the 4 A’s. If there were to be a 3D version of the matrix then it might be possible to have both a horizontal and vertical axis so that each indicator could be moved around in relation to the overlap.

I also felt that Adaptability could play a more central theme throughout the indicators. For example education and those who provide must adapt to changing circumstances and to the needs of those who need education. Laws on education must be able to adapt so those who are beyond the age of compulsory education or above the age of majority but have not been able to complete their education are able to do so. There is more to adaptability than is included in the indicators.

The indicator project cannot solely be for measuring the level of fulfilment of the right to education. It must go beyond this and highlight the reasons why different areas of the 4 A’s yield either positive or negative results. For example if a study is focusing on measuring education it cannot only rely on quantitative data gathered over a short period of time. Rather I think that a mixture of both qualitative and quantitative data can yield the most significant results. If the results from a study cannot be placed in the wider political economy then they remain just results.

There could be possible methodological / ethical considerations involving a school or education authority being involved in the decision making process over using the indicators. The danger involves any stakeholder either giving the answers one wants to hear or in this case could even influence other stakeholders such as children to give answers that they want the researcher to hear.

There were a few challenging issues for me in using the indicators. Firstly there was the question of how to adapt them to the qualitative nature of my research. I found that by adapting each indicator into a question as part of a semi-structured interview, respondents were able to give more open responses that were not limited to yes or no answers. They were able to give the information they felt was relative which often led to a new line of questioning that revealed other relevant data.
While I had a set of questions to follow in each interview, they were themed around the indicators. I found that by asking respondents about their experiences during the migration process and their lives in Johannesburg that they would give information that could be used to answer indicators without ever having to use or even re-word the actual indicator. For example by examining the actual migration process of each child I was able to find out how long they had been out of school, what access they had to school en route from Zimbabwe to South Africa, if they were helped by any governmental organizations etc… This information then helped me to measure if both the Zimbabwean and South African Authorities were fulfilling their human rights obligations in relation to the respondents. Using this method of interviewing created a more relaxed relationship between respondents and myself and was crucial to my research as a whole. Staying within formal quantitative lines of the actual indicators would have yielded far less information.

I feel that there is a need for the indicator project to look outside the box in terms of what the ‘right to education’ consists of. There are so many different groups of children and young adults that have different needs for the right to education to be realized that what is necessary for one group of children may be completely different for another. I found that the effects of the migration process and the events experienced by unaccompanied migrant children meant that their educational needs differed even from other migrant children that were accompanied, let alone children who have not migrated.

Dan Seymour

I'd like to highlight two issues which are common to a range of development indicators, including on education. These are that 1) we need to use and collect data better in ways which better reveal human rights realities, and 2) we need to find indicators that tell us the extent to which governments are doing their best.

First, in line with Sheldon's comment, there's a lot of scope to better analyse the data that we have from household surveys to address intersectionalities. The issue is that we are not interrogating the data sets to ask questions about children with regard to two or more characteristics. So we are not getting adequate data about ethnic minority girls because we are not cross-referencing data on ethnic minority groups (where we have it) with data on girls. This leads to erroeneous conclusions about levels of gender discrimination, for example in education, based on national averages, when gender parity in education may be very poor in the bottom quintile or among particular groups.

At the same time, sometimes these exercises result in sample sizes that are too small to be useable. So we need to be investing more in over sampling or specific surveys.

In addition, we need to be honest about the limitations of our data instruments. Many of the poorest fall outside of them. For example, many countries have huge illegal migrant populations who are not included in household surveys, the majority of whom live in urban areas, thereby distorting the levels of urban poverty reported by household surveys (making it artificially low).

Second, there's a general problem that human rights indicators need to capture the extent to which a government is trying its best. Canada and Cuba need to be judged not by their raw educational attainment numbers, but rather by what those numbers say about the extent to which those governments, given their capacities and available resources, are making the efforts they should be to guarantee all their children a quality education.

The obvious way to do this is to have indicators where the numerator is some indicator of outcome, and the denominator is an indicator of capacity. The numerator's not so problemmatic, but the denominator is, since we don't know how to measure a government's capacity. One option is some variant of GDP as a measure of available resources. The problem is that this generates perverse outcomes. For example, if a country's economy collapses, their performance relative to the indicator goes rapidly up.

So these are two priority challenges which are common across the social sectors, and which we should try to address collectively, and not by sector.

Jocelyn Getgen

Data Availability: This is a great question and one of the most difficult aspects of using indicators to measure ESCRs, including the right to education. Indicators should be determined by the obligations that states parties have made, and the "toolbox" of indicators that you have to choose from comes from the treaty language and interpretations of that language (4-A Framework). But missing data can impede the use of certain indicators and the analysis as to whether the state is in violation of the right. However, we have to use what we have (or collect the data ourselves). I have seen many interesting ways of using one set of data for several types of indicators. For example, enrollment rates can show many things if you can access disaggregated data by sex, age, region, ethnicity, etc. These data can often show unequal availability/access to education. In addition, there have been creative uses of indicators by combining two data sets and showing an entirely different aspect of the right. For instance, if you have data on teacher's education by region and you also have population data on where the concentrations of ethnic minority populations live, you can combine these data to show that teachers with fewer years of education/training/lower test scores are teaching in the areas where high concentrations of ethnic minorities are living. (This, by the way, was one of Eitan Felner's examples). This is a creative way to get more information out of the data that you do have.
Another idea is to use the human rights framework to improve the situation of data collection in the country in which you are studying. If the data are not being collected, this is potentially a violation and you can encourage the state to collect data (and assist them with what data are needed) and request that TMBs ask states to improve their data collection as well. At the same time, you can encourage states to set their own benchmarks for education indicators to adhere to the obligation of progressive realization of the right.

Who to involve: It is important to involve as many actors as possible who have a stake in education, including parents, teachers, administrators, government officials, students, economists, human rights activists, lawyers, academics, etc. It is difficult to have too large a group, and the process is inevitably slow, but the process is so important in and of itself, that the achievements along the way to securing the right to education should not be overlooked. It might be more important than the end result since you are engaging in an empowerment process and assisting a movement toward civil society engagement.

One of the most challenging aspects of using indicators is trying not to focus too much on the indicator itself and to make sure that you are using qualitative and quantitative data in an even manner. When too much emphasis is placed on the indicators, then the resources are diverted to improving the indicator without looking holistically at the system and ways to improve all aspects of the right. For example, if you only focus on enrollment, but do not improve student-to-teacher ratios, then you will have great accessibility improvements at the potential expense of quality. The process must be a comprehensive one, and all aspects of the right must be improved simultaneously for real improvements in education rights for all.

Sheldon Shaefer

On the issue of data, there is a huge amount of data available which has never been analysed from a human rights perspective. I have just seen the draft 2008-2009 statistical yearbook for a poor country in Southeast Asia, and while the data and resulting graphs are impressive, there is no analysis at all on what it means -- thus, the need to use what exists, rather than always start afresh, to look at human rights violations. Also important in this regard is the likelihood that many of the adminsitrative data, collected via government ministries, probably are inflated and thus must be compared with household data however collected.

This means that CSOs must be involved in the validaton of administrative data -- such as the NGO comments on the official CRC and CEDAW reports and the NGO -riven alternative national EFA reports found in countries such as Bangladesh. These must be encouraged, not only to provide another source of data but to try to push Ministries of Education to focus on net NON-enrolment rates (and repetition and drop-out rates) raher than only enrolment rates.

Anjela Taneja

• Data availability:
• To me, the question of availability of data is of secondary importance compared to figuring out what is the actual purpose of the exercise that is being undertaken. Data can always be generated if it is of use. The sticking point is more frequently finding the balance between the data could theoretically be relevant to understand the context and what would actually benefit the end user. Data for data's sake is often a luxury that people cannot afford during more than decennial national censuses.
• A classical example of the use of existing data would be the existence of the DISE data online in India (government generated school report cards) available online. While there are considerable discrepancies between the (teacher generated) data and reality,
• There is enough material in the same to criticize the government anyway. And at the same time, the government is less likely to shrug off its own data.
• Opens space for highlighting the actual gaps and initiating data advocacy with the government. Pre-requisite, however, is ensuring that this data is made publically available.
• Who to involve:
• This really depends on the purpose being served by the data accumulated. Theoretically, ensuring education for the nation's citizens is a collective responsibility and therefore one could theoretically find a scope for involvement of just about any stakeholder. Thus, a lawyer collective may be involved in understanding the status of schools prior to filing of a PIL, parents or children themselves would have an obvious direct stake, the assorted education departments and bureaucrats as well as elected parents/community bodies would have an obvious role, etc. However, it pretty much depends on what the data is going to be used for and what the data is to decide who to involve in collecting/analyzing it.
• Secondly, if the purpose of the endeavour is to result in concrete action by the people involved, space needs to be provided for these people in the development of the final list of indicators. An international legal frame as-is may not necessarily be the best framework for any given specific local context. This includes finding space for national and provincial laws, policies, government orders etc on one hand and space for indigenous indicators emerging from the local cultural context based on the perceptions of parents and communities residing in a particular context.

Your experience with indicators:
Where Primary Data Collection is not needed
• The government is often the largest compiler of data- either as part of ongoing functioning or even deliberately doing status checks which are however, not put up publically. This is at the same time a great opportunity and a great loss. If this data is put in the public domain, it could offer scope to strengthen the quality of the government’s own data (especially if it is used in planning). Unfortunately, it usually is not. At the same time, the lack of access to data may result in NGOs duplicating efforts already made by the State.
• Unfortunately, exchange of raw data between different CSOs is also not happening making meta-analyses of data difficult to impossible.
Where Primary Data Collection is needed
o Acceptability of alternative data being generated by NGOs is often an issue with the government. To be fair, the rigour of activist data may also be often lacking.
o Ease of use of data collection format. As stated previously, it is easy to think of extremely useful indicators, however, unless one has extremely skilled collectors of data and extremely patient respondents, filling it would take time. This takes time, unless one is engaged in fundamental research, this is time that is taken away from other tasks that cannot be avoided for ever.
o If the data is anticipated to be updated periodically, the risk is of data fatigue resulting in progressively declining quality of data generated unless the format is kept simple. The present set of indicators can be genuinely overwhelming to a first time reader!
o Clear definitions of and orientation on indicators. Do not leave any definition to chance and as being obvious (I remember this survey that had an open ended gender field assuming it’s going to be M/F until we encountered this cluster of houses of transgenders…..) Essential to not underestimate the human and cultural diversity and the human ability to interpret the same thing differently!
Some quick comments on present set of indicators:
1. Overall it could serve as a fairly useful format for a secondary analysis/status report on education for most province and above levels. Considerable adaptation may be needed if this is to be taken to the habitation/school levels.
2. A lot of other extremely useful indicators could be added into any particular box based on what is the issue under consideration. At the same time, some of the indicators would be fairly redundant in some countries. Considerable thought would therefore need to be given to ensure the final section.
3. Quantitative Data- The indicators are fairly loose. Many of the indicators under this framework are actually a cluster of indicators. Thus, as a classical example of a quantitative indicator, “1.10.1. % Schools with buildings reported in good shape, including: an adequate number of well-appointed classrooms (sufficient blackboards, tables, desks, chairs and space per class), an adequate number of sanitation facilities, access to adequate clean drinking water, electricity, ventilation and light, fire exits and first-aid kit, medical assistance, canteens, recreational facilities, sufficient recreation ground, other” is actually not one indicator, but rather 17+, some of which would need to be looked into further (ok, so there is a blackboard, but is it actually usable? Sanitation facilities may exist for boys, but not girls, and if they do, are they usable, etc etc). Which raises the question as to whether this is one usable indicator at all. The net result of this looseness is, scope for adaptation on one hand, but once adapted raises the question of limited scope of comparison between locations which would have their own incompatible definitions.
4. Qualitative data- Lot of indicators while apparently intuitively obvious, leave a lot of scope for individual interpretation or something based on the experience of individual agencies responding to the indicators. Thus, “A4.4.2. Are reasonable accommodation measures available for children with disabilities in mainstream schools?” can open up a whole range of responses based on how a person defines reasonable accommodation. This raises the question of validity and reliability of a given indicator from a purely technical point of view in the absence of clear operational definitions. A related issue is the fact that many of the indicators ask whether processes/bodies exist, but do not really look into the degree of effectiveness of the same. Thus, filling of GF 4, Monitoring. In the context of India, would probably result in “Yes” against most if not all indicators. There is a system in place with responsibilities to deliver against all the indicators. It just doesn’t work very well being horribly understaffed to the point of being almost invisible.


I am working on a thesis regarding the right to education for Indigenous Peoples, and have found both this website and the indicators developed very useful.

Because I am dealing with exclusively indigenous communities, I am finding some of the indicators do not address some particular realities found in small, rural communities. E.g. indicators A1.10.1 and A1.10.2 seem to describe a school in an urban setting, and while they are certainly the 'best case scenario' it might not be realistic to expect some of these characteristics in a rural community of less than 100 people. The lack of some of these might not affect the right to education being expressed (it would be unrealistic for example to consider a canteen, or recreational facilites, this is also related to particular cultural practices where some of these things simply might not exist).
Does anyone have any suggestions or examples of how we might adapt some of the indicators to these kinds of contexts?