A conventional definition of Quality includes literacy, numeracy and life skills, and is directly linked to such critical components as teachers, content, methodologies, curriculum, examination systems, policy, planning, and management and administration.

An education system with characteristics that may be considered of poor quality, in terms of current thinking, can be a barrier to enrolment and completion.  Families and students who live in difficult circumstances will not spend financial and time resources on an education that they do not consider to be of quality.

There is no single definition of educational quality.  In addition, the understanding of what constitutes a quality education is evolving.  A conventional definition remains important—it includes literacy, numeracy and life skills, and is directly linked to such critical components as teachers, content, methodologies, curriculum, examination systems, policy, planning, and management and administration.  Basic academics remain essential.

There is a demand, however, for education to reflect upon its relevance to the modern world.  While in the past much of the emphasis in education related to cognitive understanding and development, now there is a need to also address the social and other dimensions of learning.  Education is expected to make a contribution to addressing sustainable human development, peace and security, universal values, informed decision-making, and the quality of life and individual, family, societal, and global levels.

Our concern is that children are able to learn through a quality education.  One way to address quality is to consider the inputs, processes, environments and outputs that surround and foster, or hamper, learning.  We can then consider these at two levels:  at the level of the learner in her or his learning environment and the level of the system/organization that creates and supports the organized learning experience.  Using a framework developed by Pigozzi (see further reading) there are 10 dimensions of quality to consider.

At the level of the learner:

  • 1. Seeking out learners
  • 2. What the learner brings
  • 3. Content
  • 4. Processes
  • 5. Learning environment

At the level of the system/organization

  • 6. Managerial and administrative structure and processes
  • 7. Implementation of good policies
  • 8. Appropriate legislative framework
  • 9. Resources
  • 10. Measurement of learning outcomes

Seeking out learners

A commitment to the right to education means that education must be available without discrimination.  This underscores an active commitment to reach out to those that traditionally have been unreached including, the poor, girls, working children, children affected by conflict, children with disabilities, and those with nomadic lifestyles

What the learner brings

A quality education has to consider the learner as an active participant and a central part of educational efforts.  Learners bring to their learning, and those who learn alongside them, a diverse set of experiences, characteristics, skills, and conditions reflecting prior and current situations, and which can present obstacles and opportunities in the way in which they learn.

All of these characteristics determine how a learner learns, behaves in a learning environment, and interacts with the teacher and other students, and how s/he interprets the material that is presented.  A quality education has to take all these aspects into account.


Content is a well-understood component of quality.  But, much of what is taught worldwide today may not be highly relevant to learners.  While we are particularly concerned about knowledge and skills acquisition, a quality education cannot dismiss the critical facts and information that are important for constructing knowledge and acquiring skills, including the role of communities as key providers and “interpreters” of content as it is turned into knowledge.


Processes, including pedagogies, are a frequently overlooked aspect of quality—behavior is influenced by observation and practiced through action.  Much learning, especially communication and “soft” skills is a function of processes as much as content.

In addition, how knowledge, skills and values are transmitted is as important a part of curriculum as what about these is learned.  Because, in fact, the process is part of “what” is learned.

Learning environment

The learning environment influences learning in many ways, but is particularly under-estimated in relation to its impact on the development of identity.

There must be adequate hygiene and sanitation facilities accessible to all and, if possible, health and nutrition services in the vicinity.  Policies and their implementation must promote physical and mental health, safety, and security.  While the physical environment is better understood, the psycho-social one, which is at least as important, deserves serious attention so that practices such as gender discrimination, bullying, corporal punishment, and forced work are eliminated.

Managerial and administrative structure and processes

The overall structure and organization of an education program usually serves as the “philosophical underpinning” for what occurs throughout all aspects of the conduct of the learning program.  A quality education requires a systematic approach that supports effective learning.

Education must be structured and organized such that it is learner-centered.  There are few institutions and/or bureaucracies that are learner-centered.  For example, timetables must be flexible enough to be able to keep children who are at risk from dropping out or from otherwise losing their right to education.

Structures and processes must be fair and transparent, with clear rules, roles and responsibilities.  Teachers need to be facilitated in their work and education needs to be “approachable” by and inclusive of parents and communities.

Implementation of good policies

Policies alone do not catalyze change.  It is the implementation of good policies, that are based on sound evidence, that enables education programs to change and adapt and improve over time.

Appropriate legislative framework

At a national level, an appropriate legislative framework that is implemented reliably is essential for the long-term sustainability of a quality education.  This framework needs to be understood by the public and be visibly able to facilitate changes in the education system if they are necessary.

In situations where there are large numbers of out of school children there might be a need for compensatory action to ensure equality of opportunity to a quality education—that is, equity concerns.


A quality education requires the full range of available resources be brought to bear in support of education—financial, human, and material.

Allocating resources to support quality education takes a long-term view.  It also requires re-visiting the conventional view of what is a resource and looking to local and non-conventional sources of support—whether it be community participation or borrowing a financial literacy curriculum from a private sector partner, for example.

Measurement of learning outcomes
If learning is the key outcome of a quality education, then it is essential to address leaning outcomes. 

As noted earlier, as the definition of what makes up a quality education evolves and expands, expected learning outcomes now go beyond achievement in conventional academic subjects.  The following simple classification of the main types of learning outcomes to be pursued (with examples of what they might include) may be helpful:

  • Knowledge:  the essential cognitive achievement that all learners should reach (including literacy, numeracy, core subject knowledge);
  • Values:  solidarity, gender equality, tolerance, mutual understanding , respect for human rights, non-violence; respect for human life, and dignity;
  • Skills or competencies:  a secure command of how to solve problems, to communicate clearly and with respect; to experiment, to work in teams, to live together and interact with those who are different, and to learn how to learn; and;
  • Behaviors:  the willingness to put into practice what has been learned.

Further reading

Mary Joy Pigozzi, “What is the Quality of Education? (A UNESCO perspective)” in Cross-National Studies of the Quality of Education:  Planning their Design and Managing their Impact.  2006.  pp.39-50.

UNESCO Institute for Statistics and the Center for Universal Education at Brookings, Summary Report.  Toward Universal Learning:  Recommendations from the Learning Metrics Task Force.  2013.   43 pp.