Learning and education

The United Nations Statistics Division collects data on literacy, educational attainment and school attendance from national statistical offices around the world and disseminates them in tabular form in special issues of the United Nations Demographic Yearbook. These official statistics provided by countries are derived from population censuses. In addition, the Statistics Division compiles and makes available online some statistics and indicators on illiteracy and education, derived from both population censuses and administrative systems, through its Social Indicators website and Statistics and indicators on women and men website. The major sources of these statistics and indicators are the United Nations Statistics Division and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) the statistical branch of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

International statistics on learning and education derived from administrative systems are collected by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics from national education ministries. Much of these statistics are available online on the UIS website.

Official statistics provided by national statistical authorities:

  • Demographic Yearbook Special Topics

Additional information from a wide range of national and international sources:

Source: Demographic Yearbook Special Census Topics Volume 2 - Social characteristics

    Forthcoming: End 2005
  • Table 1 Population by literacy, sex, age, urban/rural residence and percentage: each census, 1985-2003
  • Table 2 Population by school attendance, age, sex, urban/rural residence and percentage: each census, 1985-2003
  • Table 3 Population by education attainment, age and sex: each census, 1985-2003

Source: Social indicators - Latest available data

Source: Statistics and indicators on women and men - Latest available data

  • Table 4a Primary education - html
  • Table 4b Secondary education - html
  • Table 4c Illiteracy - html
  • Table 4d Tertiary education - html
  • Table 4e Teaching staff - html

The United Nations Statistics Division issues standards and methods approved by the Statistical Commission to assist national statistical authorities and other producers of statistics in the collection, compilation and dissemination of data.

Standards and methods

Principles and Recommendations for Population and Housing Censuses, Revision 2

International Standard Classification of Education 1997, (ISCED), (ICD-10) Custodian: WHO

The UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) is the main international agency responsible for the development of conceptual and methodological frameworks for the collection of internationally comparable statistics and indicators on education.

Concepts and definitions

Source: Principles and Recommendations for Population and Housing Censuses, Rev 1

A. Literacy (paras. 2.145.- 2.149.)

A literate person is one who can, with understanding, both read and write a short, simple statement on his or her everyday life. An illiterate person is one who cannot, with understanding, both read and write such a simple statement. Hence, a person capable of reading and writing only figures and his or her own name should be considered illiterate, as should a person who can read but not write as well as one who can read and write only a ritual phrase that has been memorized.

B. School attendance (paras. 2.150.- 2.152.)

School attendance is defined as attendance at any regular accredited educational institution or programme, public or private, for organized learning at any level of education at the time of the census or, if the census is taken during the vacation period at the end of the school year, during the last school year.

For the purposes of 1997 rev of ISCED (UNESCO) and based on the revised definition, education is taken to comprise all deliberate and systematic activities designed to meet learning needs. Instruction in particular skills, which is not part of the recognized educational structure of the country (for example, in-service training courses in factories), is not normally considered "school attendance" for census purposes.

C. Educational attainment (paras. 2.153.- 2.157.)

Educational attainment is defined as the highest grade completed within the most advanced level attended in the educational system of the country where the education was received. If required, data on educational attainment can take into account education and training received in all types of organized educational institutions and programmes, particularly those measurable in terms of grade and level of education or their equivalent such as programmes in adult education, even if the education and training were provided outside of the regular school and university system. For international purposes, a "grade" is a stage of instruction usually covered in the course of a school year.

For international comparison, data from the population census are needed for three levels of education: primary, secondary, and post-secondary. Persons with no schooling should also be identified. The recommended classification of statistics on educational attainment by individual ISCED levels is given below:

  • ISCED level 0: Pre-primary education
  • ISCED level 1: Primary education
  • ISCED level 2: Lower secondary education
  • ISCED level 3: (Upper) secondary education
  • ISCED level 4: Post-secondary education
  • ISCED level 5: First stage of tertiary education (not leading directly to an advanced research qualification)
  • ISCED level 6: ISCED level 6: Second stage of tertiary education (leading to an advanced research qualification)

D. Field of education and educational qualifications (paras. 2.158.- 2.164.)

(i) Field of education

The 1997 revision of ISCED distinguishes between the following major fields (one-digit codes) and sub-fields (two- digit codes) of education:

  • 0 General programmes
    • 0 1 Basic programmes
    • 0 8 Literacy and numeracy
    • 0 9 Personal development
  • 1 Education
    • 1 4 Teacher training and education science
  • 2 Humanities and arts
    • 2 1 Arts
    • 2 2 Humanities
  • 3 Social science, business and law
    • 3 1 Social and behavioural science
    • 3 2 Journalism and information
    • 3 4 Business and administration
  • 4 Science
    • 4 2 Life sciences
    • 4 4 Physical sciences
    • 4 6 Mathematics and statistics
    • 4 8 Computing
  • 5 Engineering, manufacturing and construction
    • 5 2 Engineering and engineering trades
    • 5 4 Manufacturing and processing
    • 5 8 Architecture and building
  • 6 Agriculture
    • 6 2 Agriculture, forestry and fishery
    • 6 4 Veterinary
  • 7 Health and welfare
    • 7 2 Health
    • 7 6 Social services
  • 8 Services
    • 8 1 Personal services
    • 8 4 Transport services
    • 8 5 Environmental protection
    • 8 6 Security services
  • 9         99 Not known or unspecified

(ii) Educational qualifications

Qualifications are the degrees, diplomas, certificates, professional titles and so forth that an individual has acquired, whether by full-time study, part-time study or private study, whether conferred in the home country or abroad, and whether conferred by educational authorities, special examining bodies or professional bodies. The acquisition of an educational qualification therefore implies the successful completion of a course of study or training programme.

According to national needs, information on qualifications may be collected from persons who have reached a certain minimum age or level of educational attainment. Such information should refer to the title of the highest certificate, diploma or degree received.

Collection and dissemination of data through the Demographic Yearbook system

The United Nations Statistics Division collects data on educational attainment, literacy and school attendance through the Demographic Yearbook Population Census Questionnaire.

Three tables relevant to learning and education are collected through this questionnaire:

  • Table 10. Population 10 years of age and over by literacy, age and sex
  • Table 11. Population 15 years of age and over by educational attainment, age and sex
  • Table 12. Population 5 to 24 years of age by school attendance, age and sex

These tables are disseminated through the Demographic Yearbook. Nine issues of the Demographic Yearbook covering the special topic of censuses included information on literacy, educational attainment and school attendance. These were the 1993, 1988, 1983, 1979, 1973, 1971, 1964, 1963 and 1956 issues. Print copies of the Demographic Yearbook can be purchased through the UN Publications Order Form.


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