International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED-97)
Summary (*)

(*) The full text of ISCED-97 is available in English, French, Spanish and Russian on UNESCO's website (

X: No schooling

Less than one year of schooling.

Level 0: Pre-primary education

Programmes are designed primarily to introduce children, aged at least three years, to a school type environment; they are school or centre-based.

Level 1: Primary education or first stage of basic education

Programmes are designed on a unit or project basis to give students a sound basic education in reading, writing and mathematics along with an elementary understanding of other subjects such as history, geography, natural science, social science, art and music; religious instruction may also be featured. The customary or legal age of entrance is between five and seven years. This level covers in principle six years of full-time schooling. Literacy programmes for adults are also included at this level.

Level 2: Lower secondary or second stage of basic education

Programmes are designed to complete the provision of basic education begun at Level 1. They are usually on a more subject-oriented pattern, often with teachers conducting classes in their field of specialization. The end of this level often coincides with the end of compulsory education where it exists.

Programmes can be sub-classified according to the subsequent education or destination for which they have been designed:


direct access to Level 3 (3A or 3B) in a sequence leading ultimately to tertiary education;


direct access to Level 3C;


direct access to the labour market.

Programmes at Level 2 can also be sub-divided into three categories according to their orientation: those providing (i) General education, mainly designed to lead to a deeper understanding of a subject or group of subjects, especially (but not necessarily) in preparation for further education; (ii) Pre-vocational or pre-technical education, designed as a preparation for entry into vocational or technical education programmes; (iii) Vocational or technical education, mainly designed to lead to the acquisition of skills, necessary for employment in a particular occupation or trade, the successful completion of which leads to a labour-market relevant vocational qualification.

Level 3: Upper secondary education

Educational programmes typically require the completion of 9 years full-time education (since the beginning of Level 1) and the completion of Level 2 for admission; the entrance age is thus typically 15 or 16 years. More specialization may be observed and teachers more qualified or specialized. As at Level 2, programmes can be sub-classified according to the subsequent education or destination for which they have been designed:


direct access to Level 5A;


direct access to Level 5B;


not designed to lead directly to Levels 5A or 5B, but rather to the labour market or to Level 4 or other Level 3 programmes.

The programme orientation categories are the same as for Level 2.

Level 4: Post-secondary non-tertiary education

Level 4 captures programmes that straddle the boundary between upper-secondary (Level 3) and post-secondary education. Due to their content they cannot be considered as tertiary programmes as they are often not significantly more advanced than Level 3 programmes but serve to broaden the knowledge of participants who have successfully completed Level 3 programmes. They have a typical full-time equivalent duration of between six months and two years. Programmes can be sub-classified into two 1 categories according to the subsequent education or destination for which they have been designed:


preparation for entry to Level 5;


do not give access to Level 5 (primarily designed for labour market entry).

The programme orientation categories are the same as those for Levels 2 and 3.

Level 5: First stage of tertiary education (not leading directly to an advanced research qualification)

Entry to Level 5 programmes normally requires the successful completion of Level 3A or 3B or a similar qualification at Level 4A. Level 5 programmes are subdivided into two distinct categories:


Programmes are largely theoretically based and are intended to provide sufficient qualifications for gaining entry into advanced research programmes and professions with high skill requirements (e.g. medicine, dentistry, architecture, etc.) They have a minimum cumulative theoretical duration of three years full-time equivalent, although typically they are four or more years.


Programmes are practically oriented/ occupationally specific and mainly designed to permit the acquisition of the practical skills and know-how necessary for employment in a particular occupation or trade; successful completion usually provides participants with a labour-market relevant qualification. Programmes are typically shorter than in 5A with a minimum duration of 2 years’ full-time equivalent and they do not provide direct access to advanced research programmes.

Level 6: second stage of tertiary education (leading to an advanced research qualification)

Programmes are devoted to advanced study and original research and are not based on course-work only. They typically require 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 not stated


1 In order to maintain parallel structure to the educational and labour market destinations at Level 3, it has been proposed that Level 4 be split into 3 sub-categories, 4A, 4B and 4C. Although not formally part of ISCED-97 a sub-category 4C is used in the joint UNESCO/OECD/ EUROSTAT Data Collection on Education Systems.

Source: ILO