International Education Day Reflection: Using Data to ‘Map’ Progress towards SDG4

“Education is education. We should learn everything and then choose which path to follow…. Education is neither Eastern nor Western, it is human.”

Malala Yousafzai’s (@Malala) words should represent a call to action every day of the year, but especially today, January 24, which the United Nations has designated as the International Day of Education. Not surprisingly, the UN resolution covers all levels of education – early childhood, primary, secondary, tertiary and distance education, including technical and vocational training. It recognizes the value of and having access to “lifelong learning opportunities that help (people) to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to access opportunities to participate fully in society and contribute to sustainable development.”

Nowhere does education need expansion, especially for women and girls, more than the African continent. Last year, my colleagues and I at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, published in the journal Nature a study mapping levels of education attainment by sex across 51 African nations in 5-by-5 kilometer increments. The article, open access with this license,, was a first in the field of health metrics science; it covers the years 2000 to 2015 and is built on a precisely geo-located database of 173 unique census and survey sources. These maps not only help to reveal local ‘hot spots’ of low education levels, and the differences in these levels for women and men, but they also shine a spotlight on communities implementing successful educational programs over the past 15 years. Such mapping, integral to precision public health, is valuable for policy makers to target resources their counties need to meet Sustainable Development Goal 4: “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”