Monitoring progress towards SDG 4: results from PIRLS 2016

Monitoring progress towards SDG 4: results from PIRLS 2016

April 23 rd, 2018.

Achieving Education 2030 targets and commitments requires efficient and accurate systems to measure progress. International learning assessments are important contributions to the collection of cross-national data that can assess progress towards these targets.UNESCO partnered with the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) on a joint report to exemplify ways in which data from a cross-national learning assessment can help monitor progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4).


Measuring progress
Progress in International Reading Literacy (PIRLS) is an international assessment of reading comprehension at fourth grade level that has reported trends in student achievement every five years since 2001.
Using the data from the fifty countries who took part in the 2016 PIRLS, the report provides internationally comparative data and analysis on SDG 4 targets 4.1 on primary education, 4.2 on early childhood development, 4.4 on skills for work, 4.5 on gender equality and inclusion, 4.a on effective learning environments, and 4.c on teachers.


What did we learn?
The PIRLS data revealed that students have access to well-qualified reading teachers. In most countries and dependent territories, reading teachers held at least a Bachelor or equivalent degree. But there is variability both within and across countries and dependent territories. In some countries, large numbers of grade 4 students are taught by reading teachers reporting only an upper secondary education certificate as their highest level of formal education completed. Teachers’ levels of formal qualifications have implications for the quality of education provision. To improve teacher quality, countries can support teachers to upgrade their qualifications through needs-based professional development.

We also learned that formal teacher education does not adequately address specialized skills required to ensure reading achievement for all children. While nearly two-thirds of grade 4 students are taught by reading teachers who report having studied reading pedagogy or teaching methods specific to reading instruction, only 18% and 23%, respectively, of grade 4 students were taught by reading teachers who reported having studied second language learning and remedial reading instruction. This means that teachers may not be appropriately prepared to ensure inclusive and equitable quality learning for all. In countries where the classroom language is different from the home language, teachers with specialized training can help close reading achievement gaps.


PIRLS is a useful instrument for monitoring progress on SDG 4 targets and can be used to gain an in-depth understanding of the effects of policies and practices. By monitoring teachers qualifications and pedagogical needs, countries can make evidence-informed decisions, such as reforms to improve initial teacher education and how best to allocate resources for teachers’ professional development based on needs.

The joint UNESCO-IEA booklet can be accessed here and the full PIRLS 2016 results can be accessed here.

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