Youth in the Education Sustainable Development Goal

SDG 4 and its associated targets set an ambitious agenda that encompasses access, participation, quality and equity in education, at all levels of education. The analysis below focuses on secondary education, and builds on selected SDG 4 indicators to investigate teaching resources in lower secondary education, student outcomes, and the relationship between upper secondary attainment and access to the labour market.

Teachers are often at the centre of initiatives to improve the quality of education, as their work can shape the quality of instruction and student learning outcomes (Darling-Hammond, 2017[2]) (OECD, 2018[3]). The SDG agenda dedicates an entire target (SDG 4.c) to teachers, with indicators that help monitor issues such as the attractiveness of the teaching profession, the supply of qualified and trained teachers, and teachers’ professional development.

Together with the intrinsic benefits of teaching, working conditions (such as working hours or salaries), can be crucial to attracting and retaining effective teachers. One way the SDG agenda investigates the attractiveness of the teaching profession is through SDG Indicator 4.c.5, which is defined as the average teacher salary relative to other professions requiring a comparable level of qualification. Due to the lack of an internationally agreed methodology, this indicator has not yet been approved for monitoring. Nonetheless, Indicator D3, which investigates the same question, helps shed light on teachers’ relative salaries.

On average across OECD countries, lower secondary teachers (aged 25-64) in general programmes only earn 89% of the actual salaries of other tertiary-educated workers. Relative salaries vary significantly across countries, however. For instance, while teachers earn around 65% of the actual salaries of other tertiary-educated workers in the Czech Republic and the United States, they earn at least 30% more in Costa Rica, Lithuania and Portugal. To try and capture relative salaries, it is also important to investigate gender differences, which tend to be significant in most countries. On average across OECD countries, while lower secondary male teachers earn 77% of the salaries of other tertiary-educated full-time male workers, female teachers earn slightly more than their counterparts in other professions. This higher earnings ratio among female teachers may make the teaching profession more attractive to women, but it also reflects the persistent gender wage gap in favour of men in the labour market.

One way to monitor the supply of teachers is through the ratio of students to teaching staff. The SDG agenda attempts to capture this issue with an emphasis on teaching quality, by dedicating an indicator (SDG Indicator 4.c.2) to the ratio of students to trained teachers. In the SDG context, trained teachers are defined as teachers who have received at least the minimum organised pre-service and in-service pedagogical teacher training required for teaching at the relevant level in a given country. In the absence of a common standard for teacher training, Indicator D2 (which takes all teachers into account), can help shed light on teacher supply. On average across OECD countries, there are 13 students per teacher in lower secondary education. This ratio varies significantly across countries, however, ranging from 8 students per teacher in Austria, Greece and Lithuania to 33 students per teacher in Mexico.

While initial teacher education provides the foundations, continuous professional development provides a means to improve the quality of the teaching workforce and to retain effective staff over time. The SDG agenda investigates teachers’ professional development through SDG Indicator 4.c.7, which measures the percentage of teachers who received in-service training in the last 12 months by type of training. Data from the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) 2018 can help monitor this measure. As shown in Figure 1, in over half of the countries and economies with available data, at least 95% of lower secondary teachers declared they had participated in professional development activities over the past year. Although there is variation across countries – with values ranging from 83% in France to 99% in Alberta (Canada), Australia, Austria, Latvia and Lithuania – these results show that professional development has become a crucial part of teachers’ career paths (OECD, 2019[4]). Participation in teacher training, however, does not always mean the same thing. Box 1 discusses some of the differences in the format and content of lower secondary teachers’ training within TALIS-participating countries.

The way teaching is organised and delivered, together with other factors such as class sizes or the human and financial resources available in schools, can have a strong impact on student learning outcomes. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) measures the performance of 15-year-olds, who are enrolled in either lower secondary or upper secondary education. As such, it helps monitor SDG Indicator 4.1.1.c, which measures the proportion of youth at the end of lower secondary education who achieve at least a minimum proficiency level (i.e. Level 2 or above in the PISA context) in reading and mathematics.

As shown in Figure 4, student performance in reading varies significantly across countries. For instance, the vast majority of students (over 85%) attained Level 2 or above in Canada, Estonia, Finland and Ireland, while only half of the students attained this level in Brazil and Colombia. It is important, however, to look beyond national averages and examine results by gender. In all countries and economies that participated in PISA 2018, girls scored significantly higher than boys in reading, by 30 points more on average across OECD countries. Finland had the widest gender gap (over 50 points), while the narrowest gaps (under 20 points) were in Chile, Colombia and Mexico. These gender disparities in achievement raise concerns, as they may have long-term consequences for boys’ and girls’ academic and professional lives (OECD, 2019[8]).

Ensuring that all young people have the opportunity to succeed at school is key, as poor outcomes may translate into difficulties in accessing further education and the labour market (OECD, 2019[8]). One way to capture access to education is by measuring the out-of-school rate, which is defined as the percentage of children in the official age range for a given level of education who are not enrolled in school (SDG Indicator 4.1.5). On average across OECD countries, less than 3% of youth are out of school in primary and lower secondary education, but this share rises to 8% at the upper secondary level. This increase is particularly striking in Colombia and Mexico, where over 20% of youth are out of upper secondary education, compared to less than 3% at primary level (Figure 5).

One of the ways governments have attempted to increase upper secondary completion and facilitate young people’s entry into the labour market is through the development of vocational programmes. The SDG agenda monitors vocational education through Indicator 4.3.3, which measures the participation rate in technical and vocational programmes among 15-24 year-olds in formal education, work-based or in other settings. As shown in Figure 6, on average across OECD countries, 17% of 15-24 year-olds are enrolled in vocational education at the secondary, post-secondary non-tertiary and short-cycle tertiary levels combined. In almost all countries, the majority of students in vocational programmes are enrolled at the secondary level. The exceptions include countries such as Chile, Korea and the Russian Federation, where most students in vocational programmes are enrolled in short-cycle tertiary programmes. When analysing SDG Indicator 4.3.3, it is important to note that the broad age range (15 to 24) may lead to an underestimation of vocational enrolments in countries where vocational programmes are mainly attended by students from narrow age groups.

Increasing upper secondary attainment requires ensuring students can both access programmes and complete them. On average across countries with available true cohort data1, 72% of students who entered upper secondary education graduated within the theoretical duration of the programme in which they were enrolled. However, completion of upper secondary education can be particularly challenging for students in vocational programmes. On average across countries with true cohort data, the completion rate for vocational programmes within the theoretical duration is 62%, compared to 76% for general programmes (Indicator B3). This gap raises equity concerns, as disadvantaged students are almost three times more likely to be enrolled in a vocational track than advantaged students (OECD, 2016[9]).

Young people who leave school before completing upper secondary education tend to face challenges in the labour market, including worse employment prospects. For instance, those who have not attained upper secondary education are more likely to be neither employed nor in education or training (NEET). On average across OECD countries, as many as 39% of 25-to-29 year-olds without upper secondary education are NEET, compared to 17% for those with an upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary qualification. In spite of differences in scope, these results can help shed light on SDG Indicator 8.6.1, which is defined as the proportion of youth (aged 15-24) who are not participating in any form of education (formal or non-formal) nor in employment or training.

Technical and vocational education and training (TVET) is a comprehensive term commonly used by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics to refer to education, training and skills development in a wide range of occupational fields, production, services and livelihoods. Vocational education may have work-based components (e.g. apprenticeships, dual-system education programmes). Successful completion of such programmes leads to labour market-relevant, vocational qualifications acknowledged as occupationally oriented by the relevant national authorities and/or the labour market.

All indicators presented in this chapter follow the agreed SDG methodology, including for recommended data sources, and may differ in some cases from other indicators presented in Education at a Glance. Please see Annex 3 for country-specific notes (


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[2] Darling-Hammond, L. (2017), “Teacher education around the world: What can we learn from international practice?”, European Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 40/3, pp. 291-309,

[6] Kennedy, A. (2014), “Models of continuing professional development: A framework for analysis”, Professional Development in Education, Vol. 40/3, pp. 336-351,

[5] Little, J. (1993), “Teachers’ professional development in a climate of educational reform”, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Vol. 15/2, pp. 129-151,

[8] OECD (2019), PISA 2018 Results (Volume II): Where All Students Can Succeed, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[4] OECD (2019), TALIS 2018 Results (Volume I): Teachers and School Leaders as Lifelong Learners, TALIS, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[3] OECD (2018), Effective Teacher Policies: Insights from PISA, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[9] OECD (2016), PISA 2015 Results (Volume I): Excellence and Equity in Education, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[1] UNESCO (2016), Education for People and Planet: Creating Sustainable Futures for All, Global Education Monitoring Report 2016, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization,


← 1. The true cohort method requires following an entry cohort through a specific time frame. For more information, see Indicator B3.

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