Guide on Gender Analysis of Census Data Full Draft of 6 December 2012 Contents

Chapter 9: Education and Literacy

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Chapter 9:
Education and Literacy

1. What is it?
390. Population censuses directly collect educational information from individuals in three primary areas: literacy, educational attainment and school attendance.

a. Literacy distinguishes those who have the ability to read and write as “literate,” and those who do not have the ability to read and write as “illiterate.”

b. Educational attainment is defined as the highest grade completed, or alternatively as the highest grade attended, in the educational system of the country where the education was received. According to the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED), education includes all deliberate and systematic activities designed to meet learning needs.

c. School attendance is defined as regular attendance of any regular, accredited programme of organised learning, either public or private, at the time of the census data collection, or alternatively, during the last school year (United Nations, 2008 a). School attendance is different from school enrollment in that it refers to children who are actually attending school, rather than to children who have been registered as students at the beginning of the school year. The latter is the basis for the enrollment statistics of the Ministries of Education, which is often different from the data found in the census.

2. Why is it important?
391. Education is a key element in the analysis of gender issues. Educational indicators can identify gender gaps in literacy, access to schooling, and in educational attainment. Because educational status patterns both family roles and work roles, understanding how education may be different for girls and boys, and for women and men in a given society also has implications for other areas of administrative and policy concern. A gendered analysis then considers how sex can serve as a primary and overall classification, and how disaggregating the data by sex can help define and monitor an inequality in education. This type of analysis is useful for individuals involved in public policy planning and implementation as well as those associated with advocacy and equality for all, regardless of sex. Moreover, understanding education through a gendered lens makes it possible to highlight, target, and monitor inequality across men and women, and boys and girls.
392. Education is recognized and codified as a fundamental human right, and systematic unequal access to it by sex may limit the position and life chances of some rights holders when compared with others (United Nations, 2008 a). The Beijing Platform calls upon governments to take action if there are inequalities and inadequacies in and unequal access to education and training (United Nations, 1995). In even more specific terms, the MDG frame gender equality in education as integral to economic development. For example, Goal 2 of achieving universal primary education, can be assessed with two measures generally gathered within census data, the literacy rate and school attendance. Goal 3 to promote gender equality and empower women, also utilizes the educational indicators (i.e. the ratio of literate women to men 15-to-24 years old, ratios of girls to boys in primary, secondary, and tertiary education) to monitor progress. Despite the multiple international human rights instruments that obligate nations to respect the right to education, 100 million children - at least 60 per cent of them girls - do not have access to primary education and nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) of the 774 million illiterate adults worldwide are women (United Nations, 2010 b – UPDATE stats for final draft).
393. There is a strong link between education and gender equality; the global number of illiterate adults has declined slightly during the past two decades, and increases in women’s education have also been associated with many changes in women’s roles and positions in society. Women’s increased literacy and educational attainment are related to individual behaviours, such as later marriage and childbearing, fewer children over their lifetime, and higher income. Women’s improved literacy and educational attainment are also related to demographic trends at the societal level, such as lower fertility, and decreasing maternal mortality and child mortality ratios, and social patterns such as greater formal labour force participation and higher status for women overall in society. Educational and schooling decisions are the basis upon which women negotiate family roles and work roles (Bianchi and Spain, 1986). Examining educational factors through a gender lens highlights issues that may affect or challenge women disproportionately in a given society as well as inform policy that seeks to provide for and improve the wellbeing of all citizens.
394. Educational data are important to collect in a census because they are used to compute adult literacy rates and average educational attainment of the population. Household sample surveys are also sources. While not offering full coverage as in the census, surveys may be more timely for policy-making purposes if it has been several years since the last census. Education data also serve as components of several widely used, international indexes, such as the Human Development Index (e.g. mean years of schooling of adults), Gender Inequality Index (e.g. educational attainment), the Gender-Related Development Index (e.g. adult literacy and school enrolment) or the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index (e.g. adult literacy and school enrolment). These data are important for policy-making and planning purposes because they cover the entire population and can be used to identify areas of need which can be better targetted for additional support.
3. Data issues
395. NSOs are recommended to collect census data on the core topics of literacy, school attendance, educational attainment, and the optional topics of educational field and educational qualifications. In addition, literacy status, school attendance and educational attainment data should be collected and tabulated separately and independently of each other without assuming any relationships among them (United Nations, 2008 a). A census usually provides a proxy for literacy based upon assessment by the respondent or the household head/informant, which can be expressed as a per cent literate or a literacy rate. This proxy variable is less reliable than the procedure used in some surveys, where the respondent is instructed to read a sentence or paragraph in common language about everyday events.
396. Across these educational topics, the challenge is to measure accurately the topic (i.e. literacy) while also collecting data that can be used in international comparisons. As an example, the literacy question currently varies across countries, so data may not always be used for valid international comparisons. NSOs may consult the UNESCO Institute for Statistics website,, for guidance. Also, Par. 2.215 of the Recommendations from the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) (i.e. provides sample educational questions – especially in the areas of literacy, school attendance and educational attainment (e.g. three levels of education, primary, secondary and post-secondary) – in order to harmonize and standardize these measures for international comparison (UNESCO, 2008). Further, any differences between national and international definitions and classifications of education should be explained in the census publications to facilitate comparison and analysis (United Nations, 2008 a).
397. Using meaningful tabulations represents another data challenge. First, literacy data should be tabulated for all persons 10 years of age and over. Literacy cannot be accurately computed from educational attainment, because persons may leave school with partial literacy skills or lose them due to lack of practice. UNESCO recommends that literacy tests should be administered to verify and improve the quality of literacy data. However, administering a literacy test to all household members is practical and may affect participation, hence limiting the utility of the results. Nonetheless, NSOs should evaluate and report on the quality of literacy statistics published using census data. Second, educational attainment should be classified as grades or years of education in primary, secondary and post-secondary school. If the educational structure has changed over time, the data should be coded or organized to make provisions for persons educated at a time when the national educational system may have been different than the current system. Also, while educational attainment is classified into seven levels, persons with no schooling should be included, and adjustments should be made if necessary to accurately capture the situation of those who were educated in another country. Finally, attendance at an educational institution should be collected for all persons even thought it relates in particular to the population of official school age, typically 5 to 29 years old, yet this range may vary depending on a country’s national educational structure (United Nations, 2008 a).
398. Additionally, a distinction should be made between school attendance, which is collected in the population census, and school enrolment, which typically is derived from administrative data, such as school registration records. Because a child can be enrolled in school and not necessarily be attending, results from censuses and administrative data may differ. Further, because of this difference between “attending school” and “enrolled in school,” these concepts should be clearly defined using internationally harmonized questions as measures. This distinction between the administrative enrolment data and the census attendance data illustrates how census data can serve as a useful complement to administrative data in identifying those children in a population, who are enrolled but not attending school (United Nations, 2008 a).
399. Finally, a major consideration for analysis is that educational indicators are usually calculated by age-groups, to neutralize generation effects. In a country where access to education is improving, basing assessment of school attainment on the older generations or on indicators that mix different generations can be seriously misleading. Literacy, in particular, is affected both by the fact that the percentage of illiterates increases sharply with age and by the much larger number of women at higher ages. If the objective is simply to quantify the number of illiterate males and females, this is not a problem, but in order to assess the current performance of the school system in promoting equality between boys and girls, the literacy rates of men and women aged 15-24 is a more appropriate measure. The following graph illustrates the inequality profile by age for the case of the census of Malawi (2008).

Figure 11: Malawi (2008) – Literacy by age and sex

Source: Malawi. Gender in Malawi. Analytical Report 3 of the 2008 Census: Figure 5.4
4. Tabulations
400. The Principles and Recommendations for Population and Housing Censuses Rev. 2 (United Nations, 2008 a) recommend three tabulations to use in the analysis of educational characteristics.
a) Population 10 years of age and over, by literacy, age group and sex. This tabulation describes the rate of literacy by age group across females and males in society. From this tabulation, shifts in fertility over age groups can be observed. To tabulate adult literacy comparing across women and men, ten-year increments of age are suggested for each age grouping beginning at age 15 (e.g. 15-24 years, 25-34 years, and so on).
b) Population, over 15 years of age not attending school, by educational attainment, age group and sex. This tabulation describes the educational attainment, or highest grade completed, of women and men by age-specific groups (e.g. 15-24 years, 25-34 years, and so on) among those who are no longer attending school in the population. Educational attainment may be presented in years of school or in other relevant groups, such as primary, secondary or tertiary levels, for a society. This tabulation could also be scaled to the age at the last year of primary school, age 11 or 12, in order to describe the proportion of girls and boys, separately, who have completed primary school by the expected age for a given society.
c) Population 5 to 29 years of age, by school attendance, single years of age and sex. This tabulation describes regular school attendance overall and in single years of age by sex at the time of the census data collection or the last school year.
401. The following tabulations allow us to examine within group variability of women’s differential outcomes and differences across men and women as they may be related to, or even caused by, educational factors.
a) Female educational attainment (primary, secondary or tertiary level) by the marriage rate, for age-specific cohorts;
b) Female educational attainment by number of children, for age-specific cohorts;
c) Educational attainment by median age of first marriage (if available) or SMAM, for age-specific cohorts of women and men;
d) Educational attainment by labour market participation, for age-specific cohorts of women and men.
402. Cross-classifying women’s literacy or educational attainment by whether women are in wage employment illustrates how unequal access to education and later consequences, such as lower income and labour market segregation, become apparent. In this way, unequal access to education is an indicator of gender disparity as well as an underlying cause of its persistence from one generation to the next, as constrained women then may offer more limited educational life chances for their own girls.
5. Indicators
403. Minimum Gender Indicator Set
Computable from census data
Literacy rate of persons aged 15-24 years old, by sex;

Adjusted net enrolment ratio in primary education, by sex;

Gross enrolment ratio in secondary education, by sex;

Gross enrolment ratio in tertiary education, by sex;

Gender parity index in enrolment at primary, secondary and tertiary levels

Graduates from lower secondary education, by sex

Education attainment of population aged 25 and over, by sex
Actually, the census measures attendance, not enrollment.
Not computable from census data (??)
Share of female science, engineering, manufacturing and construction graduates at tertiary level

Proportion of females among third-level teachers or professors

Net intake in first grade of primary education, by sex B.1

Primary education completion rate, by sex B.1

Transition rate to secondary education, by sex B.1
404. Literacy, educational attainment and school attendance provide three important indicators, each in its own right, to measure access to education and progress toward the Millennium Development Goal 2, achieving universal primary education. Goal two of the Millennium Declaration (United Nations, 2008 a), to achieve universal primary education, and the Beijing Platform (United Nations, 1995), to advocate equality in opportunity across women and men, suggest several indicators that can be computed using census data.
a) Ratio of literate women to men. The literacy rate discussed in the tabulations section can be used to calculate the ratio of literate women to men. Given a balanced population of both women and men, if the overall literacy rate for persons is .85 (i.e. meaning 85 per cent of the population can read and write), but the ratio of literate women to men is .75, then 7.5 women compared with every 10 men in the population are literate. Government services and advocacy groups may work in tandem to target the increased school attendance and literacy of girls. In this way, this one statistic becomes meaningful as a benchmark to raise awareness and provide an impetus for change.
From this benchmark, administrators, public policy makers and advocacy groups may enact programmes to promote girls’ educational equality and well being. This benchmark literacy statistic can then be recalculated using census data five or ten years later, or household sample surveys collecting data on literacy, to inform progress on the issue of women’s literacy by itself, and also as a component of the overall literacy rate. This statistic can be calculated as an overall rate, but it should also be calculated for age-specific cohorts, so that women 15-to-24 years of age can be compared with women 25-to-34 years of age when the next census enumeration is conducted ten years, and so on. This statistic becomes even more meaningful if there is a policy change, as the population can be divided into cohorts corresponding to the time of the policy change. This is just one example of the usefulness of a gendered analysis of the literacy statistic.
[Insert “Example, Senegal” box here with case of Senegal, showing longitudinal progress.]
b) Ratio of primary school educational attainment for girls and boys. The census question on educational attainment (i.e. the highest grade completed) can be used to compute the ratio of girls to boys who have completed primary school. If the primary school completion rate (computed above in the tabulations section) in the age range of 12-15 is .50 for girls and .60 for boys, then the ratio of primary school educational attainment for girls and boys (12-to-15-years old) is .5/.6 or .833. Just over eight girls (i.e. .833) for every 10 boys in this age range have finished primary school education in the population.
In this way, this measure may be used as an indicator of Millennium Development Goal 2 (i.e. achieving universal primary education for children). This measure should be specified so that it is age appropriate. The results of one census enumeration can be used to evaluate the longitudinal progress toward closing a gender gap in primary education by computing this indicator for age-specific groups (e.g. 10-14 years, 15-19 years) within the population, and then comparing the oldest generation to the younger ones. If the ratio of girls to boys and women to men completing primary school increases over time, this measure indicates gendered progress in education or even a “catching up” in education as girls over the official age respond to government policies encouraging school attendance for girls.
Additionally, the educational attainment question may be used to create other educational completion ratios, for example at the secondary and tertiary post-secondary levels, to examine difference by sex. This measure can then be computed over time and compared across census enumerations or across cohorts within the same census enumeration to provide a longitudinal measure indicating progress over time.
c. “Out-of-school” girls and boys. The census question on school attendance can be used to measure the percentage of “out-of-school” or “ever-in-school” children, and this can be disaggregated for girls and boys. This indicator is the complement of the currently attending school measure presented in the tabulations section.
Within the context of the UNESCO Education for All Goal 2, the number of out-of-school children has grown in public awareness (United Nations, 2008 a). This measure can be computed from one decennial census to provide a snapshot description of the issue, and it can be used to monitor progress or the effectiveness of a policy implementation over time by comparing to household survey data asking about school attendance and enrolment, and long-term progress can be monitored from census enumeration to census enumeration.
Figure 12: Regional distribution of minority population and middle school attendance rate (Gansu Province, China), Population and Housing Census 2000

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