THE EVOLVING INTERNATIONALISM AND THE NEW DEMAND FOR INFORMATION
UNESCO's education statistics program has fallen behind the world's growing need for statistics and indicators.
With regard to statistics, UNESCO was born into a world that no longer exists. Until comparatively recently, national as well as international agencies concerned with education were satisfied with reporting a limited range of general-purpose data (see, for example, Levine, 1986:7), based on what now seem like primitive statistical practices. That the old ways no longer suffice was reflected by UNESCO's own General Conference in 1989, which recognized “the importance of reliable, relevant and up-to-date statistical information for research, planning, monitoring and evaluation in major areas of social concern at both the national and international levels” and called on the organization to provide “statistical data that are relevant, internationally comparable and above all useful to and needed by researchers, planners and decision-makers at various levels” (UNESCO, 1990:146-7).
The New Globalism and Information
In 1945, in the aftermath of World War II's destruction and the beginning of the ideological divisions of the cold war, it would have been diffi-
cult to predict today's new forms of international activity. Fifty years ago, international relations were dominated by a legacy of fear and distrust between many nations and groups of nations. Today there is a global investment and trade economy, an understanding (at least intellectually) of worldwide ecological interdependence, an emerging international consciousness about human rights and humanitarian issues, and an intense reliance on human capital formation to sustain a nation's global competitive status and internal civic structure.
Research in macroeconomics, international relations, and comparative sociology document these developments and inform our understanding of them. They are highlighted in studies of the global economy and the role of highly skilled personnel in fostering national competitiveness (Reich, 1991), in research on the global expansion and legitimation of education and its transnational influences (Schriever, forthcoming; Ramirez, 1993), and in the literature on the rise of human rights as a global standard (Forsythe, 1991) and its implications for the comparative study of efforts to upgrade the status of women (Stromquist, 1995). The new globalism has gone hand in hand with studies that direct attention to worldwide economic trends and cycles, to international emphasis on education and science for sustainable development, and to human rights issues, especially as they affect women, children, and minorities.
Moreover, these issues and the conditions surrounding them are communicated with increasing speed through a rapid international telecommunication and transportation capacity and massive technological connections across national boundaries.
These social, scientific, and economic developments and the modern technological conditions surrounding them have expanded the demand for information. Governments, profit-oriented firms, and an enlarged number of third-party humanitarian aid, social justice, nongovernmental professional and scholarly organizations, and economic development agencies, which bridge private- and public-sector endeavors, now depend crucially on accurate, timely, and relevant data as a base for public policy, economic investment, international aid, social justice reforms, and infrastructure development and planning.
Acceptance of the new globalism and the vastly expanded need for information on education and other social issues is not uniform. Counter-currents are easily, sometimes painfully, visible in the form of political uncertainty and unabashed chauvinism, and almost every continent continues to be haunted by legacies of historically rooted tribal, religious, ethnic, and national rivalries. Nevertheless, the penetrating power of modern communication technology; the speed at which debilitating environmental, social, and health conditions can spill over national boundaries; and the prospective impact of massive accumulations of private-sector investment capital
combine to create a virtually inexorable force for social change and global interdependence.
There are conditions that conceivably could impede, or even reverse, the new internationalism and global consciousness. A nuclear war, a globally devastating disease, or the massive popular acceptance of an isolationist religious or political demagogic doctrine might portend the return to a more fragmented and insular world. However, at least as viewed through late-twentieth-century lenses, such deterrent developments appear as only remote possibilities. The far more likely future is one that is even more internationally interconnected and information dependent. In this environment, UNESCO's achievement of its own goals—international understanding, realization of human rights, and education for all—requires enhanced access to information.
What Is New Here?
International cooperation and multinational alliances are not new. However, beyond its pervasive nature, there are at least four components of today's internationalism that are new, and each has important consequences for efforts at gathering and analyzing international statistics on education. Some of these developments are rooted in concepts of social justice. Others stem from a desire for economic development. On occasion, the two stimuli are combined.
Growing Global Concerns for Civic and Social Justice
The last 50 years have seen a worldwide growth in consciousness about issues of democracy, citizen empowerment, freedom of communication, civic participation, gender equity and the conditions of women and children, human rights and criminal justice, and the general quality of life for all the world's populations. These concerns are not universal or totally consistent over time. For some policy makers, these are not important considerations. Some nations and groups within nations continue to actively discriminate and oppress. What is new, however, is that inhumane and unfair conditions are no longer acceptable among the community of nations as a norm or as an unalterable condition. For an ever larger international community, oppression, injustice, poverty, and hopelessness are conditions to be overcome, and increasing numbers of individuals and institutions who are conscious of such ill conditions are committed to ameliorating them.
Addressing worldwide social problems requires worldwide social information. Basic education for all, the condition of women and girls, the treatment of children, the distribution and persistence of poverty, the electoral participation of voters, opportunities for free expression, the extent of
democratic institutions, and the breadth of civic understanding among peoples of the world are crucial pieces of information for the agencies concerned with improving the status of humanity. Such data assist in pinpointing the provision of assistance and serve as a baseline against which to appraise the progress of reform. Thus, for example, one recommendation of the 1990 World Conference on Education for All was the “urgent task” of improving the technical services and mechanisms to collect, process, and analyze data pertaining to basic education, because “a country's information and knowledge base is vital in preparing and implementing a plan of action” (Inter-Agency Commission, 1990:57).
Growing Reliance on Human Capital Development
Nations and international development agencies increasingly view human capital formation as a major means for achieving a productive economy and civil society. Opening his organization's jointly sponsored workshop with UNESCO on education indicators in Asia and the Pacific, an Asian Development Bank representative “referred specifically to the Bank's Medium Term Strategy Framework (1994-97) which identified human resource development as a critical factor to the Bank's operational strategy” (Asian Development Bank and UNESCO, 1994:2). A recent study conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census for the U.S. Department of Education “. . . found that increases in workers' education levels produce twice the gain in workforce efficiency as comparable increases in the value of tools or machinery ” (Applebome, 1995). Whereas once a nation's influence and well-being depended on geographic location and geologic conditions, increasingly a nation's strategic advantage is a function of an educated populace.
Statistical data such as work force literacy and numeracy levels, basic education enrollment rates, and postsecondary and technical education availability illustrate a nation's commitment to and progress in human capital investment. Longitudinal data, information about a nation's education system and its performance over time, are useful. However, by themselves such data are generally insufficient. International comparative data better serve as a benchmark for appraising progress and to provide policy makers in a nation with a sense of what is reasonable and possible. They also display the capacity of other nations that may be trade and investment competitors.
Competition for Investment Capital
Accurate, timely, and relevant comparative statistical information serves another function for nations. Past international movements were motivated principally by nations' geopolitical interests, either military or commercial.
Today's global interactions surely continue to be contingent on national interests, both political and economic. However, they are no longer exclusively national or governmental in nature. Modern technology, both its existence and pursuit of its development, has contributed to the formation of massive amounts of private-sector investment capital, often (or even usually) outside the immediate control of governments. The petroleum, telecommunications, and entertainment industries are illustrative of organizations that are in many ways transnational or extranational. Modern communication, transportation, and capital networks enable these industries to conduct much of their business outside formal channels of government.
These transnational industries certainly take governments and national politics into account in their strategic and tactical activities. However, for many important purposes, if impeded, these corporations can bypass particular governments. The development of huge transnational companies now renders many governments the beneficiaries or clients of global enterprises, rather than the initiators or directors of externally oriented economic endeavors. On important dimensions, nations now compete among themselves for capital infusions from international corporations. Long-run economic development and the material well-being of a nation's citizens may crucially depend on successfully vying for international flows of private-sector investment capital. The ability to attract this capital may in turn depend on a nation's being able to demonstrate the comparative advantage of its human resources, including the educational achievement of its citizenry.
Emergence of Third-Party Development and Research Interests
The new internationalism has also prompted formation of a substantially increased number of third-party interests. Many are nonprofit organizations, often but not always supported by government, making grants or loans to promote international development and social justice. Their charters encompass both physical and social infrastructure. Although their missions are often humanitarian in origin, their tactics may be nonetheless technically oriented and pragmatic. Some of the agencies are multinational in their scope; that is, they represent multiple donors and have a vast number of nations, either worldwide or in a region, for which they have responsibility. Others of these third-party organizations have a more limited scope. They may be sponsored by a single nation or a single philanthropic source and may have a far more restricted group of target nations or purposes. However, regardless of their scope and resources, they all have limitations on their capital and are eager to obtain maximum leverage on change from their investments of time and money.
The evolution of such third-party humanitarian and development organizations has intensified the demand for accurate and timely education data. Their social justice and humanitarian reform efforts are often urgent in nature. Their investment decisions are complicated, and they almost always have fiduciary boards to which they are accountable. Hence, they exercise care in their reform operations and investment decisions and desire that they be based on good information regarding current conditions and prospects for change in specific nations. They also need accurate statistical data to gauge the consequences of their reform and development efforts.
Growing internationalism has also spurred the expansion of nongovernmental professional and scholarly organizations concerned with comparative education, whose members are interested in cross-national statistics for research and analytical purposes. These individuals are deeply knowledgeable about education conditions and processes and are sophisticated in their understanding of the strengths and limitations of quantitative analysis and the complexities of international data and international comparisons. Their efforts to define and explain education relations and processes stimulate discussions about data shortcomings and about priority areas for new data development.
Consequences for Information and Statistics
The new and intensified patterns of global interdependence and interaction stimulate a demand for new kinds of education statistics. It is not simply that users increasingly want information from more nations, they also want more more accurate data and data from which they can make more sophisticated judgments. For example, in another era, when education statistics were beginning to be collected by UNESCO, users were generally satisfied with numerical data regarding the status of an education activity. Education statistics were considered adequate if they reported on the key inputs of the education system, typically enrollments, staffing, and finance. More weight was given to maintaining data series over time for individual nations than to strengthening comparability across nations in the present. The stakes tied to more encompassing and sophisticated information that could indicate the performance of the education systems were low.
Increasingly today, users desire additional information. For example, they want statistical indicators. An indicator is constructed by combining two or more statistics. Appropriately combining two or more statistical measures makes it possible to infer the condition of an activity or a change in condition. Reporting that 100,000 students attend primary schools in a nation is a simple education statistic. Reporting that number and also cal-
culating that it represents 50 percent of the nation's school-age cohort serves as an indicator from which a condition or change can be judged. Similarly, reporting the total amount of money a nation spends in supporting primary schooling is a statistic. Dividing that number into a nation's total personal income begins to create an indicator from which national effort, commitment, and change can be appraised.
Statistical indicators can themselves be grouped along a common dimension and aggregated to form a composite indicator or index. For example, mean spending levels per pupil, national per-capita levels of school spending, national mean teacher salaries relative to per-capita income, and pupil-teacher ratios can be combined into a composite indicator or index of a nation's financial commitment to support schooling. Similarly, a composite indicator or index could be constructed to measure pupil performance or levels of professional preparation for teachers.
In addition to desiring indicators and indices from which institutional conditions and national progress can be inferred, modern-day statistics users are interested in more and more accurate measures of student performance. Simply knowing the number of individuals graduating from elementary or secondary school, or the number of grade repeaters, or the number of secondary students taking national or regional examinations is a poor means for appraising the quality of human capital in a nation. Far better is to have a measure of student performance on some kind of standardized and independently administered examination. Comparing these results over time, or comparing these results to those of other nations, begins to provide users with a sense of a nation's progress or its success in deploying resources to improve its education system.
As discussed above, the stakes tied to better information about education are now changing for individual nations and for regional groupings of nations. The efforts of humanitarian and social justice agencies are often spurred by knowledge of oppressive or dysfunctional conditions. The policies of individual governments, private economic investors, and international development donors are now crucially linked to the availability of information and information systems that can not only appraise a nation's absolute and comparative status on a particular infrastructure or social capital dimension but also provide information regarding its progress and performance in building human and other forms of social capital. As the stakes have intensified, the world's needs for better education data have changed. What once sufficed does not meet today's social and civic reform expectations or investment and development needs and almost assuredly will not suffice for the next century.
PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICES OF A MODERN STATISTICAL AGENCY1
Agencies capable of providing complex and sophisticated statistics generally share certain operating principles and practices, which can serve as guideposts for UNESCO's efforts to improve its own program.
What will it take to meet the intensified data requirements of the new internationalism and provide education information to satisfy expectations of those involved in high-stakes investment and human capital formation? An organization expecting to satisfy the demand for complex and sophisticated statistics should be aware of the operating principles and practices that are generally expected to characterize an effective modern statistical agency.
The sina qua non features of an effective statistical agency, whether international or national, private or public, government or nongovernment, new or old, are relevance, credibility, and trust.
What information do users need? This is a crucial question that a statistical agency must continually pose and continually answer satisfactorily. Policy officials, program administrators, professional and academic researchers, private-sector analysts, and the general public constitute potential data users. A statistical agency must continually appraise the needs of these constituents, or whatever specific subset it serves.
Relevance of data depends on context. What is relevant at one point in time can prove inadequate and useless in another context. Consequently, a successful international statistical agency must possess a capacity continu-
This section is informed by many of the ideas contained in a recent National Research Council report (Martin and Straf, 1992). Although the report was addressed to its sponsors in U.S. statistical agencies, the authors note that “many of the principles and practices presented here also apply to statistical activities elsewhere” (p. viii). They also observe that there is a large amount of consonance between the principles and practices they outline and a resolution by the Conference of European Statisticians on the fundamental principles of official statistics in the European region. We have also benefited from an earlier National Research Council study (Levine, 1986) advising the U.S. Department of Education on how to improve its National Center for Education Statistics.
ally to keep it in touch with the needs of statistics users and policy bodies across a range of nations and contexts. Relevance is a condition continually in need of redefinition and renewal.
Unless users have sufficient faith in the accuracy of information made available to them, a statistical agency is useless. The three greatest dangers in this regard are for a statistical agency to be perceived as: (1) having become overly or inappropriately politicized, subservient to a particular point of view, or concerned to support either a selected client or its own agenda; (2) being an advocate for an ideological point of view or set of interests; and (3) technically lacking in competence, incapable of performing to a high standard. Good and credible statistics have their share of enemies among those for whom such data may be nothing more than a legitimating device for ill-conceived policies.2
A statistical agency must constantly strive to maintain the trust of those who supply information to it. Suppliers, government agencies, program operating units, administrative offices, private organizations, and individuals must be confident that what they report in good faith subsequently will be compiled and transmitted in good faith. Opinions or feelings to the contrary will damage the ability of the statistical agency to routinely collect accurate and timely information.
The following list of practical steps is illustrative of ways in which an international statistical agency can implement the three principles listed above.
Clear and Definable Mission
The mission should be a product of widespread deliberation among the various communities to which the agency relates, taking into account the evolving context of internationalism. The mission should stress the com-
This point was made by David Chapman at the session BICSE organized to discuss the UNESCO statistical program at the 1995 annual meeting of the Comparative and International Education Society.
prehensive, multinational nature of the effort, the need to establish and maintain the highest professional standards for a statistical operation, and a mandate to assist developing nations in building the capacity for full participation in the statistics program.
Whatever emerges in regard to a mission statement for a statistics program must be compatible with the broader mission of the organization in which it resides, must be sufficiently simple as to be understood and agreed to by the world community, must be acceptable to data contributors and users, must be capable of being practically implemented, and must be amenable to evaluation in measurable terms with respect to its performance.
Explicit Analytic Framework
An effective statistical agency must make explicit the conceptual paradigm or framework that imputes meaning to whatever data are collected, analyzed, and distributed. For example, in the area of education, it is insufficient to assemble a miscellaneous jumble of numbers. What is needed is systematic data from all participants, which correspond to the dimensions of an education system model. For example, the model that guides the identification of appropriate education indicators at OECD and in many countries is comprised of data groupings regarding clientele (e.g., enrollments), education system inputs (resources), processes (e.g., streaming, kinds of schools, length of school year, and teacher training), and outcomes (e.g., student performance measures) (OECD, 1995; Levine, 1986:26-30). The particular measures chosen to illustrate the various dimensions of such a model must be continuously reevaluated as research provides new knowledge about the relationships among inputs, processes, and outcomes and as policy needs change.
The ability to collect, compile, distill, store, analyze, and distribute data that are widely perceived as comprehensive, accurate, timely, and relevant is no small set of expectations. This is particularly true if comprehensive means collecting data from virtually all nations, as it would for UNESCO. Nations throughout the world possess vastly different capacities to collect and communicate education statistics about themselves. Many nations in Western Europe, North America, and selected areas of Asia have long benefited from high rates of economic development, sustained peace, and stable governments. They often possess internal statistics collection systems that can rather easily comply with the expectations of an international statistical agency seeking highly accurate information. For such nations, the incremental costs of participating in a major international data collection effort
are quite low. Moreover, these are often the same nations from which capital will flow to less developed portions of the world, and hence these are the nations often most desirous of data for purposes of investment and development.
In contrast, many developing nations are struggling to establish stable governments and accumulate the capital necessary to construct even a minimal infrastructure. However well their leaders understand the need for sophisticated statistical collection and analysis systems, they simply have higher imperatives connected with the survival of a stable polity and their people. The irony persists that those who may benefit the most may also be the least well positioned to provide the necessary data.
The challenge is to establish an international statistical agency that is capable of operating to high professional and technical standards while simultaneously assisting all nations, but especially developing nations, in constructing a capacity to participate fully.
Accuracy is as challenging a goal as comprehensiveness. Whatever the difficulties, however, the agency must have sufficient resources and technical capacity to establish high standards for data accuracy and to verify the data submitted to it.
Timeliness is also tightly tied to accuracy and comprehensiveness. Ultimately it will require sufficient resources to engage member states in the provision of current data and creativity in the development of techniques, other than an annual census, if nations simply cannot provide the data themselves.
Timeliness, however, has yet another facet. Not only is it important to have recent data, but it is also important to release data so that they are still current and useful. Thus, a successful international statistical agency will need to establish and maintain a regular and dependable schedule of data collection and distribution.
Autonomy and Independence
A large part of the credibility of any statistical agency resides with its ability to withstand almost inevitable pressures to bend data and analytic findings to the support of narrowly conceived political interests or accept statistical reports that appear to exaggerate a country's accomplishments for the sake of status or prestige. To withstand such efforts, a successful agency must be able to marshal professional legitimacy and demonstrate emphatically that it adheres rigorously to professionally promulgated technical standards.
The challenge here is to exhibit high professional standards and sufficient technical autonomy to protect the agency's reputation for accuracy
and still remain duly responsive to the data and analytic needs of member states and other statistical users.
Independence and professional autonomy can be reinforced through multiple means. For example, stressing professional qualifications for the agency executive; appointment of the agency executive for a specified term of office; giving the agency executive primary authority for selection of professional staff; broad authority for the agency over scope, content, and frequency of data collected; adherence to a systematic schedule of data collection and publication; and extreme caution in engaging in activities that are not immediately related to the agency's statistical mission are illustrative of the steps that can be taken to ensure the reality as well as the perception of the agency's impartiality.
High Professional Standards
The agency continually should examine and disseminate information about the standards it uses in acquiring and publishing statistical information The standards should be established with the advice of the technical statistical community. Information regarding the standards and the manner in which they are applied should be broadly distributed and made clear to data users and providers alike.
Capacity to Remain Current
Continually taking advantage of newly developed data gathering, storage, dissemination, and analytic techniques is another hallmark of a successful statistical agency. Personnel should be encouraged continually to upgrade their technical and professional qualifications. This is a challenge involving both resources and leadership.
Broad and Regular Distribution of Information
Establishing and adhering to a systematic schedule of collection and publication is important for the orderly conduct of agency business. It is also important for conveying an image of political neutrality and professionalism. The types and frequency of agency reports should be predetermined and routinely followed.
Analysis of Data
There are at least two reasons for a statistical agency to maintain an active research program. First, unless some of its personnel are engaged in research relying on data collected by the agency, there are too few internal
checks on accuracy. To be sure, a variety of technical validity and reliability checks can be formally applied. However, until someone with a quest for knowledge begins to probe into data deeply, logical and technical flaws may never be identified.
Second, an active research program can continually inform the data collection process. New data items, new formats, new techniques emerge from research. If an agency does not itself have some kind of analytic effort under way, it will eventually become remote from ongoing issues and eventually become irrelevant.
Coordination with Other Statistical Agencies
Coordination with other agencies engaged in similar activities reduces the likelihood of wasteful duplication and may take greater advantage of resources.
A successful statistical agency will possess the capacity continually to assess the needs of data users, uncovering new needs and finding appropriate means for filling them. The range of possible solutions should be wide. There is no need for the agency to solve all problems itself. In some instances, it may be sufficient to identify problems and suggest solutions, even if the latter fall to other agencies or sectors to render them operational. Also, a successful statistical agency should have the capacity to contract for services, when appropriate. Most important, however, the agency should have mechanism for continually appraising its own performance and undertaking corrections when deficits are uncovered and new needs are emerging.
KEY ISSUES FOR UNESCO TO ADDRESS
Without major, fundamental changes in its education statistics program, UNESCO will be unable to address the world's need for improved statistics and indicators that are relevant, credible, and trustworthy.
After reviewing UNESCO's existing statistics program in light of international needs for education information and the principles and practices of good statistical agencies, BICSE has concluded that improving global education statistics and indicators requires more than incremental changes. It will not be enough to identify individual variables that might be added to the data collection effort or to make piecemeal alterations in practice to bolster this or that aspect of the statistics program. Rather, we believe that
UNESCO needs to rethink key aspects of the program (mission, structure, resources, and responsibilities) in order to rebuild and sustain its capacity to provide statistics and indicators that are relevant, credible, and trustworthy. This rethinking must occur along two dimensions. One dimension involves the mission and internal operation of UNESCO 's statistical unit. The other dimension involves the necessity of improving the capacity of many nations to provide accurate and timely data to UNESCO. Reforms that address only one of these dimensions will fail to solve the entire problem.
Before elaborating on the fundamental issues that UNESCO needs to address and making recommendations for change, it is important to convey an overarching perspective. UNESCO's current education statistics program has both strengths and shortcomings, and no effort has been made in this report to deny the former or disguise the latter. However, our conclusions and rather substantial list of recommendations may well suggest a negative appraisal of UNESCO's statistics efforts. Such is not intended. Rather, a reader should understand that current deficits in capacity are not a consequence of deliberate or malicious action, nor do they reflect incompetent performance on the part of individuals currently engaged in UNESCO statistical activities.
In an earlier era, UNESCO's statistics capacity was greater than it is presently. For several decades, the statistics activity was well regarded among professionals, is said to have met user expectations, and is reputed to have well served member nations. In the more recent past, however, the expectations of member states and third parties have escalated and UNESCO resources for statistics gathering and distribution have dwindled substantially. The consequence is that UNESCO's statistical activity, if it is to meet today's elevated expectations, will have to undergo major changes, including a significant infusion of resources.
These current shortcomings in capacity are not fatal and can be overcome by good will, good plans, strong leadership, and adequate resources. These recommendations must, however, be conceived of as a set of interconnected reforms. The remainder of this section crystallizes BICSE's conclusions about the need for change; the next chapter suggests strategies and tactics to restore and revitalize UNESCO's statistical capacity.
The mission of UNESCO's statistics office, unchanged since the mid-1970s, no longer encompasses the world's expanded expectations for data about education and education systems. In addition to member states and the Education Sector within UNESCO, private-sector firms, UN agencies, and other third-party organizations are also desirous of more abundant, more
accurate, more relevant, and more sophisticated kinds of education-related information.
UNESCO need not (and almost certainly could not) meet all these needs with its own resources. By limiting its sense of mission and its target audience, however, the organization risks irrelevance in its activities and fails to use its core program as the foundation on which to build a dynamic and responsive set of activities that other users could be expected to support.
Its current organizational setting deprives the Division of Statistics of the visibility, professional standing, and managerial autonomy that it needs to be a highly credible program using its limited resources creatively and efficiently.
The division's placement within UNESCO, although an improvement on prior structural arrangements, still compares unfavorably with the stature and/or relative independence accorded to other UNESCO education activities, such as the Education Sector, the International Institute for Educational Planning, and the International Bureau of Education. It raises questions about the division's ability to exercise when appropriate the professional autonomy and independence expected of a reputable statistical agency. It would appear to complicate the task of attracting and empowering the kind of strong leadership needed to meet today's particularly demanding requirements: clearly articulating a vision of what the division could be like, persuading an extraordinarily diverse set of constituents and prospective funders of the usefulness of such a vision, protecting the operation from untoward ideological incursions, recruiting world-class statistical professionals and ensuring the division's ongoing adherence to high technical and professional standards, acting as the agency's ambassador with a wide assortment of data providers and users, and widely touting the organization's new vitality and credibility.
Beyond stature and the ability to exercise professional autonomy, the division needs organizational arrangements that are sufficiently flexible to enable it to make maximum use of resources that are likely always to lag behind users' demands for data and data-building capacity. The organizational arrangements should foster the ability to respond to changing needs and expectations.
Instead, UNESCO budgetary, personnel, and operating procedures, while perhaps effectively serving the overall organization, actively discourage creative and entrepreneurial efforts in units in which these traits are vital. Pre-expenditure audits, civil-service-oriented personnel regulations, multiple layers of decision approval, and decision making via consensus have evolved in
large organizations because such procedures provide a patina of fiscal accountability, minimize organizational risks, and provide insulation from narrowly focused political interests. But such regulatory procedures also dampen risk taking among employees, act as impediments to attracting professional employees, actively discourage entrepreneurial behavior, and reinforce the status quo.
These conditions would be tolerable if UNESCO's statistics function was currently operating at an acceptable level and the only objective was to sustain the operation. However, if a transformation to another level of activity and excellence is the goal, then arrangements must be devised to liberate the Division of Statistics from stultifying bureaucratic practices.
Resources and Activities
Limited resources have sapped the capacity of the Division of Statistics to carry out the mission it has now, much less to support the wider mission UNESCO is being called on to undertake. Personnel levels continue to decline, and there is no plan for addressing important personnel issues that the division faces in the near future. In the area of technology, problems of inadequate computer support hamper current operations and also threaten to keep the division from enjoying the full benefits of the move that is under way to a new computer platform. Whereas the decisions that the division has made to date about the new platform are good ones and are, within the limits of resources, being implemented efficiently, the division's development plans underestimate the full complexity and cost of implementing a technology change of this magnitude. The change represents something more than just installing and using new equipment; it will affect all the relationships and key processes in the division and is itself a shifting, dynamic process. Current plans do not reflect this.
Resource limitations are at least partly responsible for a growing gap between the expectations for and the reality of UNESCO's education statistics program. Data collection is largely restricted to the same three education questionnaires that the organization has used for at least the last two decades, in spite of growing interest in issues that are not addressed by these surveys. Quality control is minimal, and the failure to create written documentation undergirding much of the data in the data base threatens its future integrity. New approaches to the collection and provision of statistical information, such as the use of sample surveys, the development of educational indicators, and the creation of country or region-specific products, receive limited or no attention. Dissemination activity is largely restricted to the production of the Statistical Yearbook. Service to member states has withered.
A key challenge facing the organization is to ensure that the expecta-
tions of and resources devoted to statistical activities are in better balance. In a world whose thirst for information seems to grow and grow, UNESCO will always face more demands for education statistics and indicators than it can possibly meet. In our view, though, the organization will not be well positioned to defend the scope and quality of its education statistics program until it remedies the failure to define and commit itself to a core set of activities consistent with the principles and practices of a good statistical agency and widely recognized as legitimate by its major constituencies and users.
Unless external agencies perceive a meaningful commitment to this core, it is unlikely that they will view UNESCO as the most appropriate vehicle through which to fund and implement their own ideas for improving education statistics and indicators. BICSE believes that partnerships with external agencies are critical to UNESCO's ability to help member states develop the capacity and the willingness to provide better data. We say more about the importance of these partnerships in Chapter 5.