In September 1994 UNESCO's Division of Statistics convened an informal meeting in Paris to discuss its continuing efforts to better respond to the needs of the international community for information on schools and students. Participants agreed on the need to prepare a long-term action plan for the improvement of the quality, comparability, and relevance of education statistics and indicators at the international level and on the importance of seeking advice from independent experts in preparing such a plan.
In late 1994 UNESCO issued an invitation to the Board on International Comparative Studies in Education (BICSE) to prepare a report for the Director General. As part of the National Research Council (the operating arm of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences), BICSE brings together leading experts to deliberate in an environment independent of government, sponsors, and special interest groups. Its ability to provide impartial advice, reflective of its individual members ' knowledge and judgment and not of any official or national point of view, is ensured by the oversight and review procedures of the National Academy of Sciences, a nongovernmental body.
UNESCO's invitation to BICSE identified a number of areas of interest and included some constraints. It requested suggestions for a phased development of activities over the next decade, including strengthening current capabilities, extending statistical data collection to new variables, and identifying and incorporating linkages with economic and social research in general and education research in particular. UNESCO also identified a
number of priority areas for consideration: functions and their requirements, management structure and staff needs, equipment and technology, client-tailored products, levels and sources of financing for statistical activities, and intergovernmental coordination.
The key constraint imposed was time. UNESCO asked for a report to be made available in advance of the biennial meeting of the General Conference (its chief governing body) in the fall of 1995.
BICSE therefore concentrated on identifying key steps that should be taken to strengthen UNESCO's education statistics program and to lay a solid foundation on which subsequent and more detailed plans for improvement can be built. Consistent with its charge, BICSE focused on the program for education statistics, though we acknowledge at appropriate points in this report that UNESCO's activities in data collection and dissemination extend beyond education.
We gathered evidence about the current state of UNESCO statistics and about the needs of users through several intensive site visits to UNESCO headquarters; two commissioned papers on organizational, management, and technology issues by individuals with relevant expertise and extensive experience in developing nations; review of UNESCO documents and publications; meetings and interviews with individuals from other international organizations and development banks; an informal mail survey to which we received responses from 25 statisticians and education researchers in Africa, Asia, and Latin America; and a presentation to and discussion with international comparative education scholars at their annual meeting. We also drew on related studies previously published by the National Research Council's Committee on National Statistics and by individual scholars.