Step 2: Identify Deprivations & Inequalities in Education

Evidence of deprivations or inequalities in the enjoyment of the right to education may be suggestive of human rights violations and can serve as a crucial first step in a more comprehensive human rights assessment. This step will ensure that your monitoring project is grounded in concrete problems that affect the enjoyment of the right to education.

This step will help you obtain a snapshot of the level of enjoyment of the specific aspects of the right to education that you have chosen to focus on. It will provide you with guidance on how to select outcome indicators, collect relevant data, compare that data with objective benchmarks and interpret the data that you have collected in light of relevant human rights standards.

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2.1 Select outcome indicators

This step starts with a brief explanation of the importance ofoutcome indicators inmonitoring the right to education.

It then goes on to explain how to use theIndicators Selection Tool  to select the most appropriate outcome indicators to measure the extent to which there are deprivations or inequalities in the enjoyment of the right to education relevant to the problem that you are seeking to solve.

Before starting this step, ensure that your project’s monitoring objectives are clearly defined and the scope sufficiently narrow, otherwise you will end up with a very long list of indicators. See Step 1.1 for further guidance.

The role of outcome indicators in monitoring the right to education

In order to gather evidence of violations of the right to education, you will first need to know the level of enjoyment of the right to education relevant to the focus of your monitoring project. For example, if your work is focused on the impact of armed conflict on girls’ access to education, you will need evidence that attendance rates have been adversely affected. Attendance and other metrics of right to education enjoyment are measured using outcome indicators.

Outcome indicators are important because they provide a snapshot of the level of enjoyment of the right to education. They can also be used to assess the impact of a State’s policy efforts and help evaluate whether States – as the primaryduty-bearer of the right to education – are complying with their human rights obligations.

Outcome indicators can help assess whether a State is complying with itsminimum core obligations, as data can reveal the extent to which the population is deprived of the most basic elements of the right to education.

Outcome indicators can also be used to measure theprogressive realisation of the right to education according tomaximum available resources, as data collected at intervals enables you to measure human rights progression orretrogression over time according to the level of a country’s development.

Furthermore,disaggregated data for outcome indicators can reveal inequalities in the enjoyment of the right to education by gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status or geographic location (eg urban / rural) which may be the result of the discriminatory effects of governmentpolicies.

It is important to remember that even if the data for the outcome indicators you have selected are suggestive of deprivations and inequalities, this does not necessarily mean that they are unavoidable and thus violations (see A monitoring framework). Sometimes, despite the State’s best efforts, the situation on the ground cannot be easily changed or improved. For example, economic reasons may temporary prevent students from poor families from attending upper-secondary education in countries with limited resources, such as in post-conflict contexts. The State may do its best to progressively implement the right to education but may not have the resources to offer grants at this level of education. It may also be the case that the impact of policies is not immediate, for instance when a State adopts measures to ensure the right to education of marginalised groups, it may take years to see an effect on the ground, and even longer for the data to reflect an improvement.

Establish your shortlist of outcome indicators using the Indicators Selection Tool

To select appropriate outcome indicators for your monitoring purposes, using theIndicators Selection Tool:

  1. Go to the Types of Indicators criteria and selectOutcome Indicators. This will give you a list of the seventeen outcome indicators.
  2. You can then narrow down the indicators list by selecting the criteria relevant to the focus of your monitoring work. For instance, if the thematic focus of your monitoring initiative includes access to primary education, you would filter down the selection of outcome indicators by choosingPrimary under the category Levels and Types of Education andAccess to Education within Areas of Focus. If your monitoring theme focuses on the right to education for migrants, you would filter down the choice of outcome indicators by choosing the sub-categoryMigrants, Refugees and IDPS within the criteria Marginalised Groups. If your project focuses on the right to education during armed conflict, selectArmed Conflict (Including Child Soldiers)  under the criteria Contexts.

It is important to remember that human rights monitoring is an iterative process. It is difficult to know the entire list of indicators that will be useful, until you have collected the relevant data. You should therefore be open to the possibility of adding further indicators at a later date.

Adapt your indicators

A key criterion for selecting an indicator is the extent to which it reflects an aspect of the right to education. However, in some instances there may not be data available for the indicator proposed by theTool  and you may wish to substitute this indicator for another that still captures the essence of the applicable human rights standard. For instance,primary completion rates are often used to measure the extent to which the right to free and compulsory primary education is enjoyed, however if there is no data available for your country or time-frame you can use theout-of-school rate for children of primary school age and failing that, theprimary net enrolment rate (which is in fact more a measure of access to education but nevertheless still tells you something about the enjoyment of the right to free and compulsory primary education). The Tool will provide you with all alternative indicators relevant to the criteria you choose.

One aspect of the right to education that you may need to find additional or alternative indicators for is thequality of education. This is because according to human rights law, theaims of education are to develop the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities and his or her human dignity, self-esteem and self-confidence. Learning assessments and test results, therefore, do not fully measure outcomes in education quality. There is no consensus on reliable indicators regarding the development of a child’s personality that can be universally applied to all countries, contexts and marginalised groups such as persons with disabilities. Therefore, the Tool only provides outcome indicators for basic intellectual skills, such as literacy and numeracy.

When monitoring the quality of education, outcome indicators are rarely sufficient. You should also look atstructural andprocess indicators as they can better capture dynamic concepts. This is because structural and process indicators, unlike outcome indicators, tend to bequalitative rather than quantitative. A good research project should use both types of data. Examples of process and structural indicators include:Are there any established mechanisms that enable parents, children and / or community leaders to contribute to defining school curricula? andDo curriculum guidelines provided by the Ministry of Education include promoting respect for other nations, racial, ethnic or religious groups and indigenous people?

To monitor the right to education using structural and process indicators, see Step 3.

2.2 Gather outcome data

Effective human rightsmonitoring is based on reliable and credible data, and accurate analysis of this data using international human rights standards. Data collected with an unclear or biased methodology risks being dismissed, undermining the credibility of your findings, and therefore your capacity to engage in advocacy. It could even damage your reputation as an organisation.

This step is intended to give you general guidance on education outcome data.

Data sources

National governments and international development agencies regularly collect and publish education statistics obtained at intervals from various countries, as well asdisaggregated data.

There arethree types of data:

Administrative data

This primary source of education data includes information gathered from a census of schools in agiven country, with categories of data such as pupil and repeater enrolments, numbers of teachers and derived pupil-teacher ratios, pupil progression rates (promotion, drop-out), education expenditure information, and participation rates derived from the combination of enrolment and population data (gross and net intake, enrolment, completion, transition rates), as well as information on the structure of the education system (duration of primary, lower secondary, upper secondary cycle).

Administrative data typically provides limited information on the individual characteristics of pupils (such as age, sex and residence), and some information on the characteristics of their households. Since much of this data is obtained from schools, it focuses on children who attend school and not children who are out-of-school.

Census data

A population census represents a complete enumeration of the entire population. It provides basic information about population size and distribution, gender, age, language, educational status, and other characteristics. Because census data provides information on the entire population, it can be disaggregated better than survey data (eg at the regional or district level or small sub-populations), which may not be representative at the sub-national level. 

Student assessment tests

Many national governments carry out assessments of learning achievements, particularly on reading and maths competencies. Many countries also participate inregional and international student assessments, which may allow for cross-country comparisons of learning achievements.

Adapted from UNESCO (2004) Guide To The Analysis And Use Of Household Survey And Census Education Data and Education Policy and Data Center (2004) About EPDC Administrative Data.

Where to find data in international databases

Data obtained from international data sets may be easier to obtain and this data has the advantage that its indicators allow forcross-country comparisons.

In theIndicators Selection Tool, if there is data available for the indicator in international databases, we have provided a link to it. If you do not find any links to databases for some of the indicators you have selected in Step 2.1, it is probably because no international data is available for that indicator. However, you may be able to find data from national sources, such as the Ministry of Education, the National Statistics Office and UNDP Human Development Reports.

The main international databases are:

UNESCO Institute for Statistics

UIS is the leading source for international education statistics. Covering more than 200 countries and territories, the UIS database covers all education levels and addresses key policy issues such as gender parity, teachers and financing.

The World Bank EdStats Query

EdStats holds around 2,500 internationally comparable education indicators on access, progression, completion, literacy, teachers, population, and expenditures. The indicators cover the education cycle from pre-primary to tertiary education. EdStats also holds learning outcome data from international learning assessments (PISA, TIMSS, etc), equity data from household surveys, and projection data to 2050.

UNESCO’s World Inequality Database on Education

WIDE brings together data from surveys from over sixty countries to enable users to compare education attainment between countries, and between groups within countries, according to factors that are associated with inequality, including wealth, gender, ethnicity and location. 

The Right to Education Project also has a page on where to find international Data and Statistics.

The importance of disaggregated data

Under international law, States are required to collect disaggregated data based on various grounds ofdiscrimination. From a human rights perspective, collecting and analysing disaggregated data is crucial because inequalities across various segments of a population on various education outcome indicators often indicate that thechances people have to enjoy their basic rights to education are heavily shaped by the circumstances in which they are born and not by factors over which they have control. In many countries,being a girl, living in poverty, being disabled, belonging to an ethnic minority or living in rural areas radically reduces the chances of obtaining a quality education. Even more so when you fall into multiple groups and experiencemultiple forms of inequality.

For eachoutcome indicator (and relevantprocess indicators) in theIndicators Selection Tool, we have provided a list of possible levels of disaggregation.

OHCHR on disaggregated data

While disaggregated statistics are essential for addressing human rights concerns, it is not practical or feasible always to undertake disaggregation of data at the desired level. Disaggregation by sex, age, regions or administrative units, may, for instance, be less difficult than by ethnicity, as the identification of ethnic groups often involves objective (eg language) and subjective (eg self-identity) criteria that may evolve over time.

Source: OHCHR (2000) Human Rights Indicators: A Guide to Measurement and Implementation: p. 68 

Data published at the national level is particularly helpful for obtaining disaggregated data. International data sets usually do not have data disaggregated by ethnic groups or by regions / districts. For the latter, you may sometimes find data in national databases, or else be able to access data from the local government (eg the district education office). National data sets may also contain more up-to-date data than international sources.

Many States and other institutions often fail to disaggregate data by all relevant marginalised groups, making it difficult to ascertain whether outcomes differ across groups.

When disaggregated data by ethnic group is not available, it may be possible to use disaggregation by region or municipality, comparing right to education indicators data of those regions in which an ethnic minority makes up more than half of the population with those regions where they make up less than half of the population. If you are working on a marginalised group for which disaggregated data is not easily available (eg immigrants or refugees), you may need to collect your own data (see below). 

Rely primarily on existing data

In order to ascertain whether there are inequalities and deprivations in the enjoyment of the right to education, you are going to need data. In order to make your monitoring project more practicable, you should, whenever possible, select the outcome indicators for which there is existing data. A list of indicators for which you have no established data or where you lack the ability to obtain the data is not very useful. Beyond making the monitoring project more feasible, there are otheradvantages to using existing data.

When relying on existing data you should bear in mind that those who originally collected the data may have had reasons to distort that data. For instance, if resource allocation from the government to public schools is tied to enrolment, schools may report higher enrolment figures in order to obtain greater resources, producing distortions in the estimates of student enrolments and the number of teachers or classrooms. Likewise, private schools may under-report income and expenditure in order to derive greater benefits or lower their tax liability.

Therefore, whenever possible you should use a standard data source that is internationally accepted (such as those suggested for each indicator in theIndicator Selection Tool) and whenever doubts have been raised about the veracity of the data, you shouldassess the reliability of that data.

It may also be worth considering alternative sources of data, such as academic data sets or monitoring projects conducted by civil society organisations (CSOs).

If you cannot find any data, you may want to consider collecting your own.

Collect new data

For some indicators there may not be data available. It may be that no data has ever been collected for this indicator. For instance, for the indicatorspercentage of children with disabilities enrolled in mainstream schools andpercentage of children with disabilities enrolled in special schools it is likely that reliable data does not exist. It may also be the case that data is only partially available. For instance, often, statistics on enrolment rates will be available for the country but will not be disaggregated by region or by income. Or it may be that you have data but it is not of sufficient quality, eg it is too old. In such cases, you should consider whether you can collect your own data. For an example of CSOs collecting their own data, seehere.

If you decide to collect your own data, you should assess whether you have the necessary expertise to ensure that the data you collect is reliable and credible. If not, you should think about seeking professional help (see Step 1.4).

2.3 Compare outcome indicators with benchmarks

In this step you will learn how to assess the data collected in the previous step against benchmarks. This analysis can reveal whether your country is complying with key aspects of its human rights obligations regarding education.

Importance of benchmarks

The data you have collected for youroutcome indicators will generally not tell you much about the level of enjoyment of the right to education. For instance, if you found that the secondary completion rate is 89%, you will be able to say that there is an 11% shortfall from the ideal, but you would not be able to tell if an 89% secondary completion rate is very high or very low in relation to the country’s development level, or whether the country has made progress in ensuring this aspect of the right to education.

Therefore, it is often necessary to compare outcome data with various types of reference points, targets or benchmarks against which it can be judged.

Types of benchmarks

For the purposes ofhuman rights monitoring, we recommend using one of the following types of benchmarks against which to compare human rights indicators:

A commitment either by a State or by a specific government administration

If a State, government or institution makes a commitment that binds them (measured using structural indicators), then it is possible to hold that body to account. A State may make legal commitments, such as ratifying ahuman rights treaty, enshrining the right to education in its constitution or enacting education legislation. A legal commitment is the highest form of commitment a State can make and therefore benchmarks associated with laws are particularly powerful when used to pressurise the government. There are also softer forms of commitment, for instance the adoption of education policies (which may include nationally determined benchmarks) and political commitment to development goals such as theEducation 2030 Incheon Declaration and Framework for Action andSustainable Development Goal 4 on Education, to which governments can be held accountable (although these development agenda are not fully aligned with human rights standards). In both cases, the commitment itself should also be scrutinised, as it could be flawed from a human rights perspective.

Nationally determined benchmarks

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which monitors implementation of the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, recommends inGeneral Comment 1 that States set goals and benchmarks for each convention right because they provide an “extremely valuable indication of progress”. To find nationally determined benchmarks, it may be useful to look atState party reports.

A past value of the same outcome indicator

By comparing data for the same indicator over time, it is possible to discern whether the level of enjoyment of the right to education has increased or decreased. Although decreasing levels of enjoyment are not evidence of a de facto violation of the right to education, it may be indicative of the State failing toprogressively realise the right to education, or the State takingretrogressive measures, an issue which could be elucidated when analysing education laws and policies (see Step 3).

Countries from the same region or with the same level of economic development

Cross-country comparisons can reveal whether the level of enjoyment of the right of education is lower than expected given the country’s level of development (as measured byGDP per capita) which is typically similar to other countries in the same region. For instance, you may have found that your country has significantly lower levels of an outcome indicator than other countries in the same region, even though your country has the same or higher levels of economic development. Such findings would beindicative of a problem in the progressive realisation of the right to education according to maximum available resources.

Disaggregated national data (male / female, indigenous / non-indigenous, etc)

In order to identify inequalities in access to and quality of education, you can comparedisaggregated data within and between groups, for example enrolment rates of boys compared to girls, or ethnic minorities against the general population. Ensuring non-discrimination and equal treatment is aminimum core obligation of the right to education; therefore a gap in a given indicator between two or more groups is evidence of a potential violation of the right to education, which would require further investigation through the analysis of laws and policies (see Step 3).

What can be measured with benchmarks?

The following table provides an illustrative list of simple methods for comparing data collected for outcome indicators with relevant benchmarks in order to assess the various dimensions of State obligations pertaining to the right to education. 

State Obligation


Illustrative Question

Measuring essential minimum levels of the enjoyment of the right to education

Compare data for outcome indicators relevant to the right to education against GDP per capita, making a comparison of your country with other countries of the same region or otherrelevant groupings

Are the levels of the relevant outcome indicator in your country below the level typically observed in other countries in the region with similar levels of GDP per capita?

Compare data for key outcome indicators with relevant legal or political commitments made by the State

Has your country achieved the levels of secondary completion rates promised by the government? If not, how large is the shortfall?

Measuring progressive realisation according tomaximum available resources


Examine your country’s rates of progress in improving data for outcome indicators compared with other countries in the same region or political block

Has your country made progress, or has it regressed, over time in achieving the desired levels for outcome indicators? If your country has made progress over time, has the progress made beenlarger or smaller than that of other countries in the same region?

Compare rates of progress with goals to which your country has committed

Is your country on course to achievetarget 4.6 of Sustainable Development Goal 4 on Education?

Compare data for outcome indicators over time against GDP per capita growth in your country and other countries in the region

Has the rate of progress for an outcome indicator (egpercentage of students at the lowest level of reading proficiency) been slow in your country compared to poorer neighbouring countries, especially when contrasted with its economic growth?

Measuring inequality in enjoyment of the right to education across different groups, including:

  • Gender groups
  • Ethnic groups    
  • Indigenous / non-indigenous  
  • Rural / urban       
  • Geographic regions
  • Economic groups (wealth quintiles)
  • Persons with and without disabilities

Compare disaggregated data for each marginalised group (to each other and to the national average) to identify inequalities

Is the percentage of girls finishing secondary school much lower than that of boys or vice versa? 


Compare levels of enjoyment over time


Are the average scores in the mathematics, science or reading scale much lower for children belonging to an ethnic minority than for other children in the country and do they appear to be getting worse? 

If inequality levels of the outcome indicator in your country are being reduced, compare rate of progress with those of other countries of same region

Are these inequalities higher or lower than in other countries in the region? Has the progress made by your country in reducing inequality been bigger or smaller than that of other countries in same region or at the same level of economic development?

Examinemultiple forms of inequality by comparing further disaggregated data for outcome indicators of people who belong to more than one marginalised group to corresponding marginalised groups and the general population

Do indigenous girls have similar levels of enjoyment of access to education to 1) indigenous boys and 2) to the general population?

Source: Adapted from Felner, E (2008) A new frontier in economic and social rights advocacy? Turning quantitative data into a tool for human rights accountability, Sur International Journal on Human Rights, Year 5, Number 9


2.4 Interpret data

This step will help you to interpret the data you gathered in Step 2.2 and to decide whether that data reveals any potential shortfalls when compared with relevant benchmarks, as identified in Step 2.3.

Using the previous steps, you should have identified the most problematic dimensions of the enjoyment of the right to education that you aremonitoring. This is reflected in thoseoutcome indicators for which your country has the largest shortfall when benchmarked.

Now you can analyse those problematic dimensions in light of the relevant human rights obligations. For instance:

  • Obligations of immediate effect andminimum core obligations require immediate action and must be prioritised by the State. If data for your chosen outcome indicator falls short of the benchmark, which for immediate and minimum core obligations tends to be implied in the content of the right itself, then there is a plausible reason to believe that the State is not complying with its obligations. For example, the obligation to guarantee free and compulsory primary education implicitly sets a benchmark of 100% forprimary education completion rate. Any shortfall is indicative of the State not meeting its immediate and minimum core obligation to guarantee free and compulsory primary education for all.
  • The right to non-discrimination and equality is both an immediate and minimum core obligation. As such, data for outcome indicators that reveals significant inequalities between and across groups (eg girls vis-à-vis boys, ethnic minority group vis-à-vis majority group, rural vis-à-vis urban, etc)may be indicative of discriminatory policies (of action or inaction) against the marginalised group.
  • Benchmarked outcome data may reveal that the State is failing toprogressively realise, according tomaximum available resources, various aspects of the right to education. For example, a lowsecondary completion rate compared to relevant benchmarks may indicate that the State is not taking all necessary steps and devoting its maximum available resources to the progressive realisation of universal free secondary education.
  • Poor performance, as determined by benchmarking, on standardised tests (eg low value ofmean performance on the reading scale or highpercentage of students at the lowest level of mathematics proficiency) may raise concerns about thequality of education.

​To help you analyse the specific shortfalls in the enjoyment of the right to education that you have identified, we have included some information for each indicator in theIndicators Selection Tool that can help you interpret shortfalls in light of the relevant human rights standards (also provided). If you need further guidance on that issue, we suggest you review those standards. 

Lack of enjoyment: not necessarily a violation of the right to education

It should be stressed that evidence of deprivations or inequalities in the enjoyment of the right to education does not provide in and of itself conclusive evidence that a State has violated this right. This is because deprivations or inequalities may sometimes exist,despite a State’s genuine and ongoing efforts to eradicate them.

However, in most cases inequalities in the enjoyment of the right to education (reflected in inequalities in outcome indicators between various groups of a population) are created and / or exacerbated bydirect and / or indirect forms of discrimination. Therefore, finding evidence for such inequalities is often a first step in proving discrimination, which needs to be corroborated later in the monitoring process (see Step 3).


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