The need for an SDG Index: What does it mean for Education?

Sachs et. al. (2016) released the first ever SDG Index and Dashboards report in July 2016. The report did not present any surprises, but did illuminate the promising hope for many countries in terms meeting the SDGs. In 2015, the Millennium Development Goals era had ended and the UN, along with its 193 member countries, pledged to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. There is a total of 17 SDGs that were ratified by the UN and its member countries. Three years down the line, what have we learned about the progress of countries attempting to meet the SDGs?

Since there are 17 SDGs and 230 indicators, creating a cumulative index by combining the indicators makes the progress chart easier to digest.  Sachs et. al. (2016) take available data from 149 countries and rank them based on the SDG Index. There are no surprises to which countries are winning the SDG race. Sweden tops the list with a score of 84.5 followed by Denmark (83.9), Norway (82.3), Finland (81.0) followed by others. Further down the list, United States ranks at 25th place with a score of 72.7 and India ranks at 110th place with a score of 48.6. In case you are questioning the SDG Index, it passes the robustness test as it is highly correlated to the Human Development Index.

Using the same methodology, the published SDG dashboard uses color-coding, from green> yellow> orange> red to illustrate the SDG status for each country. The color-coded dashboard shows that South Asia and sub-Saharan have shown important advances, but across the board, falls behind in indicators for poverty (SDG1), hunger (SDG2), health (SDG3), education (SDG4) and infrastructure (SDGs 6-9). The report calls for an “urgent action” to meet the SDGs.

The SDG Index Report is insightful in many ways. First, to meet Agenda 2030, some form of combined metrics is needed,which ranks the progress of the countries. We get to learn from the top-ranking countries on the SDG-oriented interventions. Second, we get to compare overall the progress of each of the SDGs. Is Education lagging behind other SDGs progress? This could form the agenda for Education conventions and conferences globally. Third, since there are 200 plus indicators, it helps us to have a birds-eye view of the progress that each country makes with respect to each of the goals. Fourth, the color-coding of each of the goals makes the cumulative index easier to digest. Each country can see the goals on which  they are lagging behind and can plan country-specific interventions/policies accordingly. Fifth, unlike the MDGs, SDGs are for developed countries as well. All countries are responsible towards the SDGs. Therefore, United States can be compared to Norway and India all in the same metrics.

Education Indicators in the SDG Index include:  Expected years of schooling (# of years); Literacy rate of 15-24 year olds, both sexes (%); NER (%); Population aged 25-64 with tertiary education (%); PISA score (0-600), population aged 25-64 with upper secondary; and post-secondary, non-tertiary educational attainment (%). In the second round of the index development for later annual reports, student outcomes and other indicators will be included in the analysis, when the indicators become available. The SDG index is reminder about the linkages Education has with the rest of the SDGs. Linkages between Gender and Health have been documented numerous times. However for the first time, these inter-linkages are reflected and measured through an index.

The quality of the SDG index can only improve as countries gearup to collect data on SDGs, which will resolve the missing data issues for certain countries and/or for certain goals. The index is a great way to buildup the momentum towards meetings the SDGs.



Sachs, J., Schmidt-Traub, G., Kroll, C., Durand-Delacre, D. and Teksoz, K (2016) SDG Index and Dashboards- Global Report. New York. Bertelsmann Stiftung and Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN)


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