Quality and learning indicators | Unesco IIEP Learning Portal (2023)

Last update 16 Aug 21

Educational quality

Educational planning methodology

Understanding what quality means varies between countries. Different education actors and organizations also have their own definitions. However, most tend to agree on three broad principles: the need for relevance, for equity of access and outcome, and for proper observance of individual rights (UNESCO, 2004).

UNESCO’s framework on the variables of education quality has five dimensions:

  1. Learner Characteristics: including learner aptitude, perseverance, readiness for school, prior knowledge, barriers to learning, and demographic variables.
  2. Context: including public resources for education, parental support, national standards, labour market demands, socio-cultural and religious factors, peer effects, and time available for schooling and homework.
  3. Enabling Inputs: including teaching and learning materials, physical infrastructure and facilities, and human resources.
  4. Teaching and Learning: including learning time, teaching methods, assessment, and class size.
  5. Outcomes: including skills in literacy and numeracy, values, and life skills.
    (UNESCO, 2004: 36).

The use of indicators

For educational quality and learning outcomes to improve, planners need access to evidence-based analyses of the current situation, trends over time, and information on the strengths and weaknesses of a system, and their causes. A strong monitoring and evaluation system that looks at relevant indicators can provide that evidence. Indicators can help track the progress of strategies and programmes within an education sector plan. Indicators of education quality can have meaningful implications for policy by enabling comparisons to be made across time, within different places or contexts, or against standards or global benchmarks such as Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4).

More specifically, indicators enable educational planners and decision-makers to:

  • Monitor changes in areas such as teaching quality, the curriculum, and student performance, which can alert policy-makers to impending problems.
  • Measure the impact of educational reform efforts.
  • Encourage an education system to improve by comparing it, or parts of it, with other countries or systems.
  • Focus attention on educational subsystems that may require improvement, such as particular districts or levels of education.
  • Focus attention on key equity indicators, such as the performance of different subgroups such as girls, students living in poverty, or students with disabilities. (Adapted from Kaagan and Smith, 1985: 24).

Indicators for monitoring education quality

Education systems are typically analysed in terms of context, specific inputs, social or institutional processes, and outputs or outcomes. Indicators can be developed to measure issues that fall under each of these categories.

  1. Context indicators: provide information on the contextual factors that affect learning, e.g. student characteristics, socio- economic conditions, cultural aspects, status of the teaching profession, and local community issues. Context indicators are often challenging to develop and measure as they concern qualitative issues. Common data-collection tools include surveys, classroom observations, inspection reports, and self-evaluations.
  2. Input indicators: primarily measure the deployment and use of resources to facilitate learning. They reveal whether the planned financial, material, and human resources are being delivered in the planned quantities, at all levels of the system. Information on input indicators is relatively easy to obtain since inputs are often “countable” by nature, and management processes involve keeping records of many inputs automatically. One challenge may be the differences between producing inputs and ensuring that they are available at the endpoint. For example, the textbook/pupil ratio may be measured in terms of the number of textbooks that are delivered, or by the number of textbooks in use in schools. In some cases, there may be a discrepancy between the two figures.
  3. Process indicators: measure how educational programme activities were conducted – whether they were carried out to the desired standard of quality. This includes how specific educational processes are conducted in practice, e.g. the application of standards, teaching quality, time on task, school climate, and educational leadership. Like context indicators, process indicators also concern qualitative issues and may be obtained through surveys and pedagogical observations, inspection reports, and self-evaluations.
  4. Output indicators: measure the effects of the programme activities to see whether the programme objectives were attained. They reveal how the education system is performing in terms of subject knowledge, competencies, repetition, progression and completion rates, and employer satisfaction. Output indicators may be obtained through national examinations, international assessments, surveys, and systematic field observations.Output indicators typically involve measurement of learning outcomes based on national examinations or international assessments. Output indicators provide the most important data for understanding whether educational quality and learning outcomes are improving as intended.
    (Adapted from: Scheerens, Luyten, and van Ravens, 2011).

Indicators should be based on context and on the specific learning goals of the education system. They should be designed to allow for measurement of change over time and be disaggregated by gender, geography, socio-economic situation, and other equity issues.

The importance of measuring equality

The importance of equality in education is emphasized in the SDGs and Education 2030 Framework, with Target 4.5 aiming to “eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations”. To achieve this, education systems must monitor and address inequalities in access, participation and outcomes for all population groups. In more equitable education systems, learners’ access to education and their learning outcomes are relatively independent of individual socio-economic and cultural circumstances.

To measure equality, planners need to be able to disaggregate assessment data by different population groups in order to track their progress. Learner characteristics that are known to have predictive effects on education outcomes and can serve as key indicators for equality measurement include:

  • gender,
  • disability,
  • forced displacement,
  • immigration / migration status,
  • cultural, linguistic and ethnic diversity,
  • poverty,
  • residency.

Collecting data on these indicators enables the aggregation of data by key equity dimensions, such as gender or poverty, and the comparison of the degree of inequality between different subgroups. To measure progress towards equity targets accurately, it is important that learning assessments be administered to disadvantaged children who do not attend school. One means of achieving this is through sample-based household surveys. Household and administrative school data can also be linked to explore the effect of variables such as facilities and teaching methods on disadvantaged learners.

(Video) IIEP Learning Portal e-Forum on learning assessments

Plans and policies

Pakistan.Minimum standards for quality education in Pakistan: attaining standards for improved learning outcomes and school effectiveness(2016)


(Video) Webinar 2: Policies and institutional settings for the use of learning assessment data

  • Sauvageot, C. 1997. Indicators for educational planning: a practical guide. Paris: IIEP.
  • UNESCO-UIS. 2019. SDG 4 data digest: How to produce and use the global and thematic education indicators. Montreal: UIS

References and sources

Barrett, A. M.; Sorensen, T. B. 2015. Indicators for all? Monitoring quality and equity for a broad andbold post-2015 global education agenda. New York: Open Society Foundations.

Kaagan, S.; Smith, M. S. 1985. ‘Indicators of educational quality’. In: Educational Leadership. 43(2), 21–24.

OECD. 2013. Synergies for better learning: An international perspective on evaluation and assessment. Paris: OECD.

Scheerens, J.; Luyten, H.; van Ravens, J. 2011. ‘Measuring educational quality by means of indicators’. In: J. Scheerens; H. Luyten; J. van Ravens (Eds) Perspectives on educational quality: Illustrative outcomes on primary and secondary schooling in the Netherlands (pp. 35–50). Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands.

UNESCO. 2004. ‘Understanding education quality’. In: UNESCO, Education for all: The quality imperative (pp. 27–37). Paris: UNESCO.

UNESCO-UIS. 2018. Handbook on measuring equity in education. Montreal: UIS.


Related information

  • Global Alliance to Monitor Learning (GAML)

  • Inter-Agency Group on Education Inequality Indicators (IAG-EII)

(Video) Webinar – IIEP- UNESCO /Flexible Learning Pathway



Les Outils qui accompagnent le guide méthodologique. Volume 3: Les ressources et outils de la collecte de données au niveau central; Programme régional d’appui au pilotage de la qualité de l'éducation dans les pays d'Afrique subsaharienne

Data Must Speak: Unpacking factors influencing school performance in Nepal

Education quality assessment in China: what we learned from official reports released in 2018 and 2019

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What are the indicators of online learning? ›

Online Learning Indicators
  • More time can be spent learning course logistics than learning course topics. ...
  • Understanding assignments can require more time than working on them. ...
  • An assignment includes only the information necessary for completion. ...
  • Incremental assignments can eliminate peak loads in the class workflow.

What are the indicators of effective learning? ›

Efficient handling and answering the questions of students also indicates the efficiency of teaching. A classroom, whether formal or informal, should be open to questioning, as it increases the activeness of students and increases their learning outcomes.

What is the best indicator of quality education? ›

level, a school's goals, leadership, faculty, discipline policy, and academic environment are all indicators of school quality.

What are learning outcomes and indicators? ›

The primary difference between student outcomes and performance indicators is that student outcomes are intended to provide general information about the focus of student learning and are broadly stated of the outcome, not measurable, while performance indicators are concrete measurable performances students must meet ...

How can you define an indicator? ›

An indicator is a specific, observable and measurable characteristic that can be used to show changes or progress a programme is making toward achieving a specific outcome. There should be at least one indicator for each outcome. The indicator should be focused, clear and specific.

What are key performance indicators for students? ›

Student Success Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are goals and metrics defined to support the institutions ability to assess how well the college is doing to support student success in key areas focused on completion, persistence, retention, and transfer.

How learning indicators are useful to teachers explain? ›

Indicators of Progression (Indicators) support teachers to interpret the Learning Objectives (LOs) for each specialist knowledge and skill technology component. They: provide an overview statement that: explains the focus of the Learning Objectives.

What are the most important indicators of an effective assessment? ›

An effective assessment is always appropriate to its purpose and able to be readily administered by the practitioner. In selecting an appropriate assessment, consideration is given to these characteristics: reliability, validity, inclusivity, objectivity and practicality.

How do we measure the quality of education? ›

Most often these assessment are measuring learning outcomes of one or several of the following three dimensions: Reading and language proficiency. Mathematics and numeracy proficiency. Scientific knowledge and understanding.

What is the purpose of quality indicators in special education? ›

Quality indicators describe the roles that special education teachers will support across the continuum with the goal of collaboration with the general education teacher who is the expert ensuring that IEPs are aligned with grade-level standards.

What are the indicators of quality assurance in education? ›

Quality assurance in this model emphasizes the importance of organizational learning behaviours that ensure quality in education. Therefore, strategic management, development planning, and staff development are important tools indicators of quality assurance in this model.

What is learning indicator in lesson plan? ›

Asks learners in their groups to tell the characteristics of things in the environment. Write the uses of some of the things in the environment Reflect on what they have learnt and relate the lesson to everyday uses of the materials Put learners into groups and give each group flash cards of things in the environment.

What are educational indicators? ›

Indicators on the participation and progression within education entities: These indicators assess the likelihood of students accessing, enrolling in and completing different levels of education, as well as the various pathways followed between types of programmes and across education levels.

How do you assess indicators? ›

Each indicator is composed of one or more measures that show trends over time. Many indicators have a single measure, but where data cannot be combined logically, the indicator will have more than one measure. Each measure is summarised or assessed separately using a set of 'traffic lights'.

How do you measure student performance? ›

Formal tests, quizzes, and exams are the traditional methods for assessing student achievement. Surveys are the traditional method to solicit feedback from students about the course and the instructor. Survey questions are not assigned a point value and Surveys are not graded.

What are the indicators of school effectiveness explain? ›

The prominent features of effective schools can be specified as follows: Strong leadership, high expectations from students, systematic school atmosphere, high expectations from teachers, assessment of students' success and feedbacks, effective classroom management, belief in each and every student's potential to learn ...

How do you ensure effective learning? ›

  1. Practice 1: Use summative assessments to frame meaningful performance goals.
  2. Practice 2: Show criteria and models in advance.
  3. Practice 3: Assess before teaching.
  4. Practice 4: Offer appropriate choices.
  5. Practice 5: Provide feedback early and often.
  6. Practice 6: Encourage self-assessment and goal setting.

What is meant by effective learning? ›

Effective learning is defined as methods of learning that involve children actively participating in their own learning and personal development.


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