UNESCO is an acronym for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, a specialised agency of the United Nations founded in 1945. UNESCO was established to promote international collaboration in education, science and culture. In the early years, it emphasised the rebuilding of schools, libraries and museums that had been destroyed in Europe during the second world war. Since then, the organisation has concentrated on assisting, supporting and complementing the national efforts of member states to eliminate illiteracy and to extend free education (Encyclopædia Britannica 2006).
In 1999, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) was established in order to reform the organisation’s statistical capacities. The institute’s main objectives are to gather a wide range of statistical information to help the member states analyse the efficiency and effectiveness of their programmes, and to interpret and report on the global situation with regard to education, science and technology, culture, and communication. The UIS’s activities include collecting and disseminating relevant statistics, developing a conceptual and methodological framework for the collection of internationally comparable data, improving the statistical capacities of the member states, and analysing and promoting the data it collects.
UNESCO Data Centre.
UNESCO Data Centre
On-screen tables, Excel, CSV, IVT
Data types and sources
Most of the data are collected from official registers and administrative records. Some statistics are based on censuses and household surveys.
The UNESCO Data Centre contains over 1,000 types of indicators and raw data on education, literacy, science and technology, culture and communication.
The UIS collects the data for more than 200 countries and territories from Member States and international organizations.
Time coverage and updates
Years covered: 1970-present. Updated continuously.
Methodological documents are available from the Document Library.
Access conditions and cost
Available free of charge.
The data are accessed through an interactive application using the Beyond 20/20 software. Data can be found either by browsing the topics or by using the search function. The database is fairly easy to use. Data can be downloaded through the 'actions' menu.
On-screen tables, Excel, CSV and IVT (Beyond 20/20 format).
Comparability and data quality
The quality and comparability of UNESCO’s education statistics were criticised by both scholars and other international organisations during the 1990s. The organisation has worked to strengthen its statistical capacities in recent years, and the establishment of the UIS in 1999 was an important step in this effort (Behrman and Rosenzweig 1994; Cussó 2003; Heyneman 1999). Yet it is still too early to say whether the problems of data quality have been addressed adequately, and the documentation provided by UNESCO does not discuss the issue of comparability in any detail.
Behrman, Jere R. and Mark R. Rosenzweig. 1994. “Caveat emptor: cross-country data on education and the labor force”. Journal of Development Economics 44 (June): 147-171.
Cussó, Roser. 2003. “Les statistiques de l'éducation de l’UNESCO: restructuration et changement politique”. Éducation et Sociétés 2 (12): 57-72.
Heyneman, Stephen P. 1999. “The sad story of UNESCO’s education statistics”. International Journal of Educational Development 19 (January): 65-74.