Data strengthening and utilization in GPE-partner countries: Lessons from three KIX-funded projects

By: Hamidou Boukary Posted: 23 November 2021

In this blog, Hamidou Boukary summarizes the findings that were presented by three KIX-funded projects at the Global Education Summit side events in July 2021. Each project addresses data strengthening and utilization in education systems. 

World leaders and education advocates
Credit: GPE/Tom Whipps

As part of the “Global Education Summit: Financing GPE 2021-2025”, that took place in July 2021, KIX and three of the implementing agencies of the data systems projects organized a side event to share and make sense of the emerging lessons from the KIX-funded projects they lead. These projects include: (i) Using Data for Improving Education Equity and Inclusion (led by UNICEF), (ii) Data Use Innovations for Education Management Information Systems in The Gambia, Uganda, and Togo (led by University of Oslo) and (iii) Data Must Speak about Positive Deviance Approaches to Learning (led by UNICEF Office of Research-Innocenti).

All three projects seek to understand how to better design and scale data systems in terms of enhanced data production and analysis capacity, as well as how these create institutional cultures and tools for their use in the policy and planning processes. In many low-income countries in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia, data-driven decision-making in the education sector has been a challenge for many years. Despite significant progress in building the infrastructure and human capacity for strong and reliable Education Management Information Systems (EMIS), many obstacles remain. There is a need to ensure the timely availability of relevant data and its effective use at key loci of decision-making, particularly in ministries of education (MoEs), provincial, and district administrations, as well as in schools and communities.

Emerging insights from KIX-funded projects

Until recently, external and/or internal specialized agencies have packaged solutions to educational challenges and delivered these to governments in developing countries, with little involvement of the main beneficiaries: ministries of education (MoEs) and other local stakeholders. KIX and other initiatives are aiming at reversing this trend. By betting on MoEs’ interest and commitment to be involved in design (co-creation) and delivery (co-implementation), they are addressing key challenges through evidence-generation activities.  

Insights from Using Data for Improving Education Equity and Inclusion

Early evidence from all three projects indicates that working with experts in national statistical organizations and MoE officials can lead to major outcomes and this particular project has already noted important policy outcomes. By hosting national workshops that brought together a wide range of key education stakeholders, with the aim of helping them better understand how to interpret and use education data from existing household surveys (UNICEF Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys), this project leveraged the resulting knowledge on gender, equity, and inclusion to inform their policy decisions. As described in this blog, the education sector  plans have been revised to reflect key issues surfaced by the project. More importantly, a new piece of legislation has been enacted in Georgia to address inequities revealed by the data generated by the project.

Insights from Data Use Innovations for Education Management Information Systems in The Gambia, Uganda, and Togo

In this project, the University of Oslo has reported that the introduction of an innovation coming from the health sector, the DHIS2 platform, to improve EMIS in the Gambia, Togo and Uganda, has been catalytic to inter- and intra-ministerial collaboration in data systems capacity building. In the Gambia, for instance, the ministries of health and education are currently developing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to formalize their intentions to build a shared pool of DHIS2 capacity within the country. In addition, the project has facilitated close collaboration between three departments within the Ministry of Education in the Gambia, namely the Planning Department, the Standards and Quality Assurance Directorate (SQAD), and the EMIS and ICT unit. Similarly, the project has served as a vehicle for decentralized data use

The project is playing a key role in documenting and ushering in the strategic “EMIS Shift”, an ambitious country-driven initiative to implement a national system for individual learner registration and follow-up, with the aim of providing granular and timely data for school management and community engagement. In Uganda, districts included in the project have been empowered to use the DHIS2 EMIS data to inform allocation of resources based on key indicators in the system. The DHIS2-EMIS mitigated a data gap, to facilitate a national data call that informed school reopening, distribution of commodities and self-study learning materials during the national lock-down as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, the system will be used for reporting on COVID-19 surveillance in all learning institutions in the country following their official re-opening in January 2022. This has further demonstrated the need for strengthening cross-sector synergies across the health and education domains to ensure a safe learning environment for all learners. 

Furthermore, implementation of DHIS-EMIS has contributed to the harmonization of different partner and departmental needs at the Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES) which has led to development and customization of an integrated routine data collection tool within the system and optimization of limited resources. Similarly, the ability to integrate additional data such as examination results, population statistics from other existing systems into the DHIS2 has been a catalyst to engage the MoES to further support integration of additional data integration from HR and finance systems into the DHIS2 as a centralized data repository to inform evidence decision making.      

Insights from Data Must Speak (DMS) about Positive Deviance Approaches to Learning 

For this project, major achievements have been made in the implementation of co-created sequential research with 13 participating countries. The DMS research aims at: (1) Identifying, through existing administrative datasets (e.g., EMIS, student learning assessments, etc.), positive deviant schools i.e., schools that are outperforming others even though they operate in a similar context and with equivalent resources; (2) Understanding what are the positive deviant behaviors and practices implemented in those schools – “What Works” and; (3) Investigating actionable system, school, and community levers to scale those positive deviant behaviors and practices to less-performing schools in a given context – “How To”.  As the objective of this research is to generate data on good behaviors and practices in positive deviant schools to inform both policy and practice, the integration of these principles and methodology into policy and planning processes is crucial. The DMS research, by being co-created with a wide-range of in-country stakeholders from the outset, has already been embedded and/or informed several education sector analyses and plans. Through this co-creation process, in some participating countries, data collection activities have even been carried out by student-teachers in identified positive deviant schools and analysis have been facilitated by local experts and academics, ensuring that the innovative approach becomes an integral part of the local know-how.

Key challenges with data production and utilization moving forward

It should be noted that these three projects were launched in 2019-2020 and will continue their implementation until 2023. They have been negatively impacted by COVID-19 as most of the fieldwork could not take place during the long periods of lockdown and bans on both domestic and international travel.  

The shift from aggregated data to more granular data, which is more amenable to decision-making at decentralized levels, presents new challenges. The need for new data and the capacity building required go beyond the MoEs, to encompass other new stakeholders, including parents, school councils, school improvement units and bureaus of statistics, etc. This has obvious financial implications that may not have been anticipated in the education budget. Thus, additional funding from governments and/or technical and funding agencies is required. As illustrated in the Gambia, with new data comes the issue of creating an enabling policy and legal environment for its proper use that follows ethical principles. The Gambia is currently working on creating such an environment based on their interactions with communities and parents.  

It is anticipated that with progress in mitigating the pandemic, these projects will yield more useful data on the current co-creation and use of innovative approaches and tools to make informed decision-making a reality across multiple countries. 

To watch the recording of the presentation by all three projects at the Global Education Summit side event in July 2021, click here.