Growing numbers of nations, organizations, and individuals have a stake in improving the education available to the peoples of the world. Improving education depends in part on having good information about schools and the students they serve.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) plays a key role in providing this information. For virtually all of its 50-year life, it has been collecting and distributing statistics on education around the world. Faced with growing demands on its statistical services and desirous of improving the quality, comparability, and relevance of education statistics and indicators at the international level, UNESCO asked the Board on International Comparative Studies in Education (BICSE) to prepare this report.
UNESCO turned to BICSE for a report because of the reputation for independence of its parent organization, the National Research Council, and because of BICSE's demonstrated expertise and interest in issues of large-scale data collection of international education statistics. The board has sponsored two conferences on this issue, in which UNESCO and other international agencies were participants, and has explored the need for a system of widely accepted and widely understood indicators of the status and conditions of education in various countries through its conferences and publications.
UNESCO underwrote some of the costs of this report; other support was provided by the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics, the U.S.
National Science Foundation, and the World Bank. The two U.S. organizations have provided financial support for BICSE and its activities since its inception in 1988; and the National Center for Education Statistics has worked to improve the quality of international education statistics through active involvement in the OECD indicators project as well as generous support for this study.
As editors of this report, we greatly appreciate the assistance provided by a number of individuals. Within BICSE itself, Chair Michael Kirst and board members Paul LeMahieu and Francisco Ramirez joined us on a working group to lead the board through its review of UNESCO's statistics program and the development of findings and recommendations. In our deliberations, the board benefited tremendously from two background papers prepared by Douglas Windham and Anthony Cresswell, both of the State University of New York at Albany. These scholars, deeply versed in comparative education issues and the strengths and limitations of education information systems, conducted an intensive review of organizational, managerial, and technology issues facing the Division of Statistics that informed our work throughout.
At UNESCO, the staff of the Division of Statistics and its leader during our project, Geraldo Nascimento, were unfailingly gracious and cooperative in our efforts to learn about the statistical program and the challenges it faces. Their candor and responsiveness to our many requests for information were absolutely critical to our ability to complete our assignment. We are grateful, too, to Colin Power, John Smyth, and their colleagues in the Education Sector, to Jacques Hallak at the International Institute for Educational Planning, and to many other individuals throughout UNESCO who met with us during our site visits and helped us to understand the organization and its needs.
Beyond UNESCO, we also benefited from the perspective and knowledge of a variety of individuals in development banks, other United Nations agencies, national statistical agencies, and research centers who talked with us in person or by phone or wrote to us in response to our inquiries. We thank them all.
We are also grateful to Jane Phillips, BICSE's senior project assistant, who worked with us throughout the study, and to Christine McShane, whose editing added much to the clarity of the manuscript.
James W. Guthrie, Member
Janet S. Hansen, Staff Director
Board on International Comparative
Studies in Education