The International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) is a statistical framework for organizing information on education maintained by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). It is a member of the international family of economic and social classifications of the United Nations.
The ISCED was designed in the early 1970s to serve ‘as an instrument suitable for assembling, compiling and presenting statistics of education both within individual countries and internationally’. The first version, known as ISCED 1976, was approved by the International Conference on Education (Geneva, 1975), and was subsequently endorsed by UNESCO’s 19th General Conference in 1976.
The second version, known as ISCED 1997, was approved by the UNESCO General Conference at its 29th session in November 1997 as part of efforts to increase the international comparability of education statistics. It covered primarily two cross-classification variables: levels (7) and fields of education (25). The UNESCO Institute for Statistics led the development of a third version, which was adopted by UNESCO’s 36th General Conference in November 2011 and which will replace ISCED 1997 in international data collections in the coming years. ISCED 2011 has 9 rather than 7 levels, created by dividing the tertiary pre-doctorate level into three levels. It also extended the lowest level (ISCED 0) to cover a new sub-category of early childhood educational development programmes, which target children below the age of 3 years.
During the review and revision, which led to the adoption of ISCED 2011, UNESCO Member States agreed that the fields of education should be examined in a separate process. This review is now underway with the view to establishing an independent but related classification called the ISCED Fields of Education and Training.
Related materials from the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training and also Eurostat provide further information and statistical guidance for the classification of sub-fields of education as a companion to ISCED.
|0||Pre-primary education||Initial stage of organized instruction, designed primarily to introduce very young children to a school-type environment and to develop their cognitive, physical, social and emotional skills. Designed for children from age 3 to the start of primary education.|
|1||Primary education or first stage of basic education||Normally starting between the ages of 5 – 7, designed to give a sound basic education in reading, writing and mathematics along with an elementary understanding of other subjects.|
|2||Lower secondary education or second stage of basic education||Designed to complete basic education, usually on a more subject-oriented pattern. It builds upon the learning outcomes from primary education (ISCED level 1) and aims to lay the foundation for lifelong learning and human development.|
|3||Upper secondary education||More specialized education typically beginning at age 15 or 16 years and/or completes secondary education in preparation for tertiary education, or to provide skills relevant to employment, or both.|
|4||Post-secondary non-tertiary education||Programmes that straddle the boundary between upper- and post-secondary education from an international point of view. ISCED level 4 programmes, considering their content, cannot be regarded as tertiary programmes. They are often not significantly more advanced than programmes at ISCED level 3 but they serve to broaden the knowledge of participants who have already completed a programme at level 3.|
|5||First stage of tertiary education||Tertiary programmes having an educational content more advanced than those offered at ISCED levels 3 and 4. These programmes may be academically based or practically oriented / occupationally specific. Entry to these programmes normally requires the successful completion of ISCED level 3A or 3B or a similar qualification at ISCED level 4A. All degrees and qualifications are cross-classified by type of programmes, position in national degree or qualification structures and cumulative duration at tertiary.|
|6||Second stage of tertiary education||Tertiary programmes leading to the award of an advanced research qualification, e.g. Ph.D. These programmes are therefore devoted to advanced study and original research and are not based on course-work only. It typically requires the submission of a thesis or dissertation of publishable quality which is the product of original research and represents a significant contribution to knowledge.|
|Level||ISCED 2011||Description||Corresponding ISCED 1997 level|
|0||Early childhood Education (01 Early childhood educational development)||Education designed to support early development in preparation for participation in school and society. Programmes designed for children below the age of 3.||None|
|0||Early childhood Education (02 Pre-primary education)||Education designed to support early development in preparation for participation in school and society. Programmes designed for children from age 3 to the start of primary education.||Level 0: Pre-primary education.|
|1||Primary education||Programmes typically designed to provide students with fundamental skills in reading, writing and mathematics and to establish a solid foundation for learning.||Level 1: Primary education or first stage of basic education.|
|2||Lower secondary education||First stage of secondary education building on primary education, typically with a more subject-oriented curriculum.||Level 2: Lower secondary education or second stage of basic education|
|3||Upper secondary education||Second/final stage of secondary education preparing for tertiary education and/or providing skills relevant to employment. Usually with an increased range of subject options and streams.||Level 3: Upper secondary education|
|4||Post-secondary non-tertiary education||Programmes providing learning experiences that build on secondary education and prepare for labour market entry and/or tertiary education. The content is broader than secondary but not as complex as tertiary education.||Level 4: Post-secondary non-tertiary education|
|5||Short-cycle tertiary education||Short first tertiary programmes that are typically practically-based, occupationally-specific and prepare for labour market entry. These programmes may also provide a pathway to other tertiary programmes.||Level 5B: First stage of tertiary education: typically shorter, more practical/technical/occupationally specific programmes leading to professional qualifications.|
|6||Bachelor or equivalent||Programmes designed to provide intermediate academic and/or professional knowledge, skills and competencies leading to a first tertiary degree or equivalent qualification.||Level 5A: First stage of tertiary education: largely theoretically based programmes intended to provide qualifications for gaining entry into more advanced research programmes and professions with higher skills requirements.|
|7||Master or equivalent||Programmes designed to provide advanced academic and/or professional knowledge, skills and competencies leading to a second tertiary degree or equivalent qualification.||Level 5A: First stage of tertiary education: largely theoretically based programmes intended to provide qualifications for gaining entry into more advanced research programmes and professions with higher skills requirements.|
|8||Doctoral or equivalent||Programmes designed primarily to lead to an advanced research qualification, usually concluding with the submission and defense of a substantive dissertation of publishable quality based on original research.||Level 6: Second stage of tertiary education (leading to an advanced research qualification).|
Source:International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED).