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Enhancing UNHCR socioeconomic assessments: Developing a standardized education module

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Introduction

Household surveys are an important source of information for national and international policymakers. For UNHCR and our partners, the surveys also serve a critical function in planning and monitoring programmes. Analytically, survey data is especially valuable when specific topics, like education, can be cross-referenced with other household and individual characteristics, such as demographics, employment, income and access to services. This opens up opportunities for detailed analysis that is otherwise not possible. These insights are yet more powerful when matched with information from other sources, such as registration or facility records on the delivery of education, health and other basic services, or are repeated across time (panel data).

Currently, UNHCR conducts a range of household survey and monitoring activities that touch on education, directly or indirectly. These include a multidimensional quantitative series termed socioeconomic assessments, which were originally introduced in 2015 within the framework of the Operational Guidelines on the Minimum Criteria for Livelihoods Programming and are currently produced by Operations at a rate of 10-15 per year. Common topics in UNHCR’s socioeconomic assessments include demographic characteristics of household members, dwelling characteristics, asset ownership, access to services and the like. Education is nearly always featured in these surveys, at least at the level of the household or household head. Further, education-specific surveys have also been completed in some locations, while several other technical sectors – Public Health, Livelihoods, Water and Sanitation – collect household and individual characteristics, which may include education levels, for monitoring purposes. Finally, administrative systems, including UNHCR’s registration database, proGres, which covers some 9-10 million individuals, and national education management information systems (EMIS) also provide important insights on education levels, attendance and skills.

A recent review of UNHCR’s socioeconomic assessments demonstrated the need and opportunity to improve the scope and quality of data collected on education and to bring these efforts in line with international good practices, which are well established in this sector. Doing so will improve the comparability of refugee and displaced populations to nationals across settings and time in core areas like school enrollment and educational attainment. Such comparisons are currently not possible on a significant scale. Access to comparable data on both of these indicators are needed to achieve the objectives of the Global Compact on Refugees, which emphasizes the inclusion of displaced populations in national systems. Being able to monitor these indicators also enable measurement of progress towards the education-related indicators of the Sustainable Development Goals and UNHCR’s own Results-Based Management Framework.

The two most widely cited household survey series, UNICEF’s Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) and Demographic and Health Survey (DHS), use an efficient set of 6 to 9 education questions to cover the most fundamental education indicators, while other national surveys ask up to 40 questions on education. The International Household Survey Network (IHSN), a network of international organizations headed by the World Bank Development Data Group, together with the Education Policy and Data Center (EPDC), has led efforts to systematically evaluate the questions, indicators and modules used in a cross-section of household surveys, identify best practices, and organize questions into a coordinated suite of education questionnaire modules. This note draws heavily on their work, as well as that of the MICS and DHS, to design a pair of standardized education modules that can be used by UNHCR operations as part of their socioeconomic assessments, or other multidimensional surveys.