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The most recent and complete education model documentation is available on Pardee's website. Although the text in this interactive system is, for some IFs models, often significantly out of date, you may still find the basic description useful to you.


The education model of IFs simulates patterns of educational participation and attainment in 186 countries over a long time horizon under alternative assumptions about uncertainties and interventions (Irfan 2008).  Its purpose is to serve as a generalized thinking and analysis tool for educational futures within a broader human development context. 

The model forecasts gender- and country-specific access, participation and progression rates at levels of formal education starting from elementary through lower and upper secondary to tertiary. The model also forecasts costs and public spending by level of education. Dropout, completion and transition to the next level of schooling are all mapped onto corresponding age cohorts thus allowing the model to forecast educational attainment for the entire population at any point in time within the forecast horizon.

From simple accounting of the grade progressions to complex budget balancing and budget impact algorithm, the model draws upon the extant understanding and standards (e.g., UNESCO's ISCED classification explained later) about national systems of education around the world. One difference between other attempts at forecasting educational participation and attainment (e.g, McMahon 1999; Bruns, Mingat and Rakotomalala 2003; Wils and O’Connor 2003; Delamonica, Mehrotra and Vandemoortele. 2001; Cuaresma and Lutz 2007) and our forecasting, is the embedding of education within an integrated model in which demographic and economic variables interact with education, in both directions, as the model runs. 

In the figure below we display the major variables and components that directly determine education demand, supply, and flows in the IFs system.  We emphasize again the inter-connectedness of the components and their relationship to the broader human development system.  For example, during each year of simulation, the IFs cohort-specific demographic model provides the school age population to the education model.  In turn, the education model feeds its calculations of education attainment to the population model’s determination of women’s fertility.  Similarly, the broader economic and socio-political systems provide funding for education, and levels of educational attainment affect economic productivity and growth, and therefore also education spending.


Structure and Agent System: Education

National Education System
Organizing Structure
Various Levels of Education; Age Cohorts
Educational Attainment; Enrollment
Intake; Graduation; Transition; Spending
Key Aggregate  Relationships 
(illustrative, not comprehensive)
Demand for and achievement in education changes with income, societal change
Public spending available for education rises with income level
Cost of schooling rises with income level
Lack (surplus) of public spending in education hurts (helps) educational access and progression
More education helps economic growth and reduces fertility
Key Agent-Class Behavior  Relationships
(illustrative, not comprehensive)
Families send children to school; Government revenue and expenditure in education

Education Model Coverage

UNESCO has developed a standard classification system for national education systems called International Standard Classification of Education, ISCED. ISCED 1997 uses a numbering system to identify the sequential levels of educational systems—namely, pre-primary, primary, lower secondary, upper secondary, post-secondary non tertiary and tertiary—which are characterized by curricula of increasing difficulty and specialization as the students move up the levels. IFs education model covers  primary (ISCED level 1), lower secondary (ISCED level 2), upper secondary (ISCED level 3), and tertiary education (ISCED levels 5A, 5B and 6).

The model covers 186 countries that can be grouped into any number of flexible country groupings, e.g., UNESCO regions, like any other sub-module of IFs. Country specific entrance age and school-cycle length data are collected and used in IFs to represent national education systems as closely as possible. For all of these levels, IFs forecast variables representing student flow rates, e.g., intake, persistence, completion and graduation, and stocks, e.g., enrolment, with the girls and the boys handled separately within each country.

One important distinction among the flow rates is a gross rate versus a net rate for the same flow. Gross rates include all pupils whereas net rates include pupils who enter the school at the right age, given the statutory entrance age in the country and proceed without any repetition. The IFs education model forecasts both net and gross rates for primary education. For other levels we forecast gross rates only. It would be useful to look at the net rates at least for lower secondary, as the catch up continues up to that level. However, we could not obtain net rate data for lower secondary. 

Additionally, for lower and upper secondary, the IFs model covers both general and vocational curriculum and forecasts the vocational share of total enrolment, EDSECLOWRVOC (for lower secondary) and EDSECUPPRVOC (for upper secondary). Like all other participation variables, these two are also disaggregated by gender.

The output of the national education system, i.e., school completion and partial completion of the young people, is added to the educational attainment of the adults in the population. IFs forecasts four categories of attainment - portion with no education, completed primary education, completed secondary education and completed tertiary education - separately for men and women above fifteen years of age by five year cohorts as well as an aggregate over all adult cohorts. Model software contains so-called "Education Pyramid" or a display of educational attainments mapped over five year age cohorts as is usually done for population pyramids.

Another aggregate measure of educational attainment that we forecast is the average years of education of the adults. We have several measures, EDYEARSAG15, average years of education for all adults aged 15 and above, EDYRSAG25, average years of education for those 25 and older, EDYRSAG15TO24, average years of education for the youngest of the adults aged between fifteen years to twenty four.

IFs education model also covers financing of education. The model forecast per student public expenditure as a share of per capita income. The model also forecast total public spending in education and the share of that spending that goes to each level of education.

What the Model Does Not Cover

ISCED level 0, pre-primary, and level 4, post-secondary pre tertiary, are not common across all countries and are thus excluded from IFs education model.

On the financing side, the model does not include private spending in education, a significant share of spending especially for tertiary education in many countries and even for secondary education in some countries. Scarcity of good data and lack of any pattern in the historical unfolding precludes modelling private spending in education.

Quality of national education system can also vary across countries and over time. The IFs education model does not forecast any explicit indicator of education quality. However, the survival and graduation rates that the model forecasts for all levels of education are implicit indicators of system quality.  At this point IFs does not forecast any indicator of cognitive quality of learners. However, the IFs database does have data on cognitive quality.

The IFs education model does not cover private spending in education.

Sources of Education Data

UNESCO is the UN agency charged with collecting and maintaining education-related data from across the world. UNICEF collects some education data through their MICS survey. USAID also collects education data as a part of its Demographic and Household Surveys (DHS). OECD collects better data especially on tertiary education for its members as well as few other countries.

We collected our student flows and per student cost data from UNESCO Institute for Statistics' (UIS) web data repository. (Accessed on 05/17/2013)

For educational attainment data we use estimates by Robert Barro and Jong Wha Lee (2000). They  have published their estimates of human capital stock (i.e., the educational attainment of adults) at the website of the Center for International Development of Harvard University. In 2001, Daniel Cohen and Marcelo Soto presented a paper providing another human capital dataset for a total of ninety-five countries. We collect that data as well in our database.

When needed we also calculated our own series using underlying data from UNESCO. For example, we calculate an adjusted net intake rate for primary using the age specific intake rates that UNESCO report. We also calculated survival rates in lower and upper secondary (EDSECLOWRSUR, EDSECUPPRSUR) using a reconstructed cohort simulation method from grade-wise enrollment data for two consecutive years. The transition rate from lower to upper secondary is also calculated using grade data.

Reconciliation of Flow Rates

Incongruities among the base year primary flow rates (intake, survival, and enrollment) can arise either from reported data values that, in combination, do not make sense, or from the use of “stand-alone” cross-sectional estimations used in the IFs pre-processor to fill missing data.  Such incongruities might arise among flow rates within a single level of education (e.g., primary intake, survival, and enrollment rates that are incompatible) or between flow rates across two levels of education (e.g., primary completion rate and lower secondary intake rate).

The IFs education model uses algorithms to reconcile incongruent flow values.  They work by (1) analyzing incongruities; (2) applying protocols that identify and retain the data or estimations that are probably of higher quality; and (3) substituting recomputed values for the data or estimations that are probably of lesser quality.  For example, at the primary level, data on enrollment rates are more extensive and more straight-forward than either intake or survival data; in turn, intake rates have fewer missing values and are arguably more reliable measures than survival rates.  The IFs pre-processor reconciles student flow data for Primary by using an algorithm that assumes enrollment numbers to be more reliable than the entrance data and entrance data to be more reliable than survival data.

Variable Naming Convention

All education model variable names start with a two-letter prefix of 'ED' followed, in most cases, by the three letter level indicator - PRI for primary, SEC for secondary, TER for tertiary. Secondary is further subdivided into SECLOWR for lower secondary and SECUPPR for upper secondary. Parameters in the model, which are named using lowercase letters like those in other IFs modules, also follow a similar naming convention.

Education: Dominant Relations

The dominant relationships in the model are those that determine various educational flow rates, e.g., intake rate for primary (EDPRIINT) or tertiary (EDTERINT), or survival rates in primary (EDPRISUR) or lower secondary (EDSECLOWRSUR). These rates are functions of per capita income. Non-income drivers of education are represented by upward shifts in these functions. These rates follow an S-shaped path in most cases. The flows interact with a stocks and flows structure to derive major stocks like enrollment, for the young, and attainment, for the adult.

On the financing side, the major dynamic is  in the cost of education, e.g., cost per student in primary, EDEXPERPRI, the bulk of which is teachers' salary and which thus goes up with rising income.

Public spending allocation in education, GDS(Educ) is a function of national income per capita that proxies level of economic development. Demand for educational spending -  determined by initial projections of enrollment and of per student cost - and total availability of public funds affect the base allocation derived from function.

For diagrams see: Student Flow Charts; Budget Flow Charts; Attainment Flow Charts

For equations see: Student Flow Equations Budget Flow Equations ; Attainment Equations

Key dynamics are directly linked to the dominant relations:

  • Intake, survival and transition rates are functions of per capita income (GDPPCP). These functions shift upward over time representing the non-income drivers of education.
  • Each year flow rates are used to update major stocks like enrollment, for the young, and attainment, for the adult.
  • Per student expenditure at all levels of education is a function of per capita income.
  • Deficit or surplus in public spending on education, GDS(Educ) affects intake, transition and survival rates at all levels of education.

Education: Selected Added Value

IFs Education model is an integrated model. The education system in the model is interlinked with demographic, economic and socio-political systems with mutual feedback within and across theses systems. Schooling of the young is linked to education of the population as whole in this model.

The model is well suited for scenario analysis with representation of policy levers for entrance into and survival at various levels of schooling. Girls and boys are represented separately in this model.

The education budget is also endogenous to the model with income driven dynamics in cost per student for each level of education. Budget availability affect enrollment. Educational attainment raises income and affordability of education at individual and national level.

Education Flow Charts


For each country, the IFs education model represents a multilevel formal education system that starts at primary and ends at tertiary. Student flows, i.e., entry into and progression through the system are determined by forecasts on intake and persistence (or survival) rates superimposed on the population of the corresponding age cohorts obtained from IFs population forecasts. Students at all levels are disaggregated by gender. Secondary education is further divided into lower and upper secondary, and then further into general and vocational according to the curricula that are followed.

The model represents the dynamics in education financing through per student costs for each level of education and a total public spending in education. Policy levers are available for changing both spending and cost.

School completion (or dropout) in the education model is carried forward as the educational attainment of the overall population. As a result, the education model forecasts population structures by age, sex, and attained education, i.e., years and levels of completed education.

The major agents represented in the education system of the model are households,—represented by the parents who decide which of their boys and girls will go to school—and governments that direct resources into and across the educational system.  The major flows within the model are student and budgetary, while the major stock is that of educational attainment embedded in a population. Other than the budgetary variables, all the flows and stocks are gender disaggregated.

The education model has forward and backward linkages with other parts of the IFs model. During each year of simulation, the IFs cohort-specific demographic model provides the school age population to the education model.  In turn, the education model feeds its calculations of education attainment to the population model’s determination of women’s fertility.  Similarly, the broader economic and socio-political systems provide funding for education, and levels of educational attainment affect economic productivity and growth, and therefore also education spending. 

The figure below shows the major variables and components that directly determine education demand, supply, and flows in the IFs system.  The diagram attempts to emphasize on the inter-connectedness of the education model components and their relationship to the broader human development system.

Overvieweducation flow.png


Education Student Flow


Student Flow

IFs education model simulates grade-by-grade student flow for each level of education that the model covers. Grade-by-grade student flow model combine the effects of grade-specific dropout, repetition and reentry into an average cohort-specific grade-to-grade flow rate, calculated from the survival rate for the cohort. Each year the number of new entrants is determined by the forecasts of the intake rate and the entrance age population. In successive years, these entrants are moved to the next higher grades, one grade each year, using the grade-to-grade flow rate. The simulated grade-wise enrollments are then used to determine the total enrollment at the particular level of education. Student flow at a particular level of education, e.g., primary, is culminated with rates of completion and transition by some to the next level, e.g., lower secondary.

The figure below shows details of the student flow for primary (or, elementary) level. This is illustrative of the student flow at other levels of education. We model both net and gross enrollment rates for primary. The model tracks the pool of potential students who are above the entrance age (as a result of never enrolling or of having dropped out), and brings back some of those students, marked as late/reentrant in the figure, (dependent on initial conditions with respect to gross versus net intake) for the dynamic calculation of total gross enrollments.

A generally similar grade-flow methodology models lower and upper secondary level student flows. We use country-specific entrance ages and durations at each level. As the historical data available does not allow estimating a rate of transition from upper secondary to tertiary, the tertiary education model calculates a tertiary intake rate from tertiary enrollment and graduation rate data using an algorithm which derives a tertiary intake with a lower bound slightly below the upper secondary graduation rate in the previous year.