Strengthening data systems through investing in knowledge and innovation

By: Margaret IrvingandRudraksh Mitra Posted: 28 July 2020

This blog is the second in a six-part series on the KIX Discussion Papers commissioned by the GPE Secretariat to inform the design and implementation of the GPE Knowledge and Innovation Exchange (KIX). The article also highlights relevant thematic outcomes in the 2019 Results Report and from GPE’s ongoing country-level evaluations. This blog was originally posted on August 28, 2019 by the Global Partnership for Education.

Strengthening data systems through investing in knowledge and innovation
Credit: PME/Deepa Srikantaiah

Quality education data is essential to inform planning and policy decisions by governments and support effective school management; it is also a cornerstone of mutual accountability.

However, many developing countries lack robust education management information systems (EMIS) and the tools to communicate the data needed by governments and partners to target resources where the need is greatest. Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) highlights the need to ensure wider use of data to guide improvements of education outcomes in learning and equity.

Many developing countries lack capacity to produce and use data

Indicator 14 in GPE’s results framework measures the proportion of developing country partners (DCPs) that report 10 of 12 key education indicators to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). This is a good reflection of a national data systems’ capacity for timely production and reporting of data.

The results for indicator 14 in the Results Report 2019 are cause for concern: the proportion has remained largely unchanged between 2015 and 2018, with only 34% of the 61 DCPs assessed in 2018 reporting 10 of 12 key indicators, compared to 30% in 2015.

Lack of funding hampers data collection

Recent GPE country-level evaluations also point to several challenges that inhibit the development of sustainable data systems.

Insufficient and unpredictable funding for sector monitoring makes it difficult for countries to put in place technical staff in adequate numbers, and with the right capacity, to develop and operate data systems, and to generate time series data that are necessary to understand trends.

Further, investments in data systems are fragmented, often resulting in multiple parallel data systems that do not produce comparable data. Finally, some countries face physical barriers to regularly collecting reliable data, especially in remote regions or areas without electricity and internet access.

As a result of these weaknesses, the evaluations also found that partner countries did not have adequate data to adequately monitor the implementation of their sector plans.

GPE invests in data solutions through grants and research

Recognizing the need for more and better investments in data systems, GPE has provided significant funding for EMIS: of the 34 implementation grants active at the end of fiscal year 2018, 85% supported the development of EMIS.

GPE has also recently launched the Knowledge and Innovation Exchange (KIX), designed to promote the sharing and funding of proven solutions and innovations in education.

Strengthening data systems is one of the six thematic areas addressed through KIX, and a discussion paper on data systems was developed to map existing knowledge and highlight gaps and opportunities. It is notable that across all thematic areas, reliable data was consistently highlighted as a key challenge to progress.

‘Meeting the Data Challenge in Education’ begins by noting that the sector faces two broad challenges: availability of data (mostly linked to the supply side) and how data is used (mostly linked to the demand side).This global review of evidence reinforces many of the conclusions reached by the GPE country-level evaluations.

Challenges to data availability are partly due to the fact that data units in most ministries of education are understaffed and underfunded. They also rely on data systems that are optimized to report on enrollment numbers and inputs rather than quality of schooling and learning results—which are more challenging to measure.


Better data in The Gambia
The Results for Education Achievement and Development program in The Gambia, co-financed by GPE, provides an example of how these investments can lead to better data production and use.
The program was aligned to The Gambia’s education sector plan that had provisions for strengthening EMIS to produce timely, relevant and reliable data. The program linked National Assessment Test (NAT) results across different years to allow comparability of results over time and linked these data to EMIS data, education sector human resources data, and data from regional education departments.
Country-level stakeholders were able to use this comprehensive set of data for regular, evidence-based sector reviews and implemented recommendations from these reviews to improve sector plan implementation.

Teachers post exam results. Nyeri County, Kenya. April 2017.
Teachers post exam results. Nyeri County, Kenya. April 2017.
CREDIT: PME/Kelley Lynch


Most systems track data only at the aggregate level, not at the child level; they focus on the “average child.” This makes it difficult to assess whether the education sector is paying attention to the most vulnerable or using the right interventions to reach them.

In contrast to the health sector, there is also relatively little use of random-sample survey data, and there is insufficient investment in simple and adaptable ‘modular’ EMIS, that could be easily set up and deployed in situations of conflict and fragility.

Challenges to how data are used stem from the fact that data are not being collected and developed to address the needs of frontline users. This leads to a lack of demand for data among stakeholders in education that is not as apparent in the other social sectors.

Existing education data systems tend to support data flows up from schools to national and global levels, without much opportunity for use in solving local problems. Data systems also typically do not produce comprehensive reports detailing what is happening within schools (enrollment, dropout, learning, teachers, finances, and poverty and health contexts) as actual management units. The absence of complete school data means that major efficiency and equity issues are missed at the district and national levels.

Investing in capacity building and innovation

In response to these challenges, the KIX paper proposes a number of areas for potential investment with a focus on three broad themes: capacity-building through global and regional mechanisms, generation of evidence including through evaluations, and promising new innovations.

This broad menu includes both conventional supply side propositions, such as the use of technological innovations to improve data availability and use, but a call to investigate how to support demand-side concerns, including better evidence on user needs and habits at the school and district levels to inform EMIS design and improve data utilization.

As such, the paper calls for a clear focus not just on generating more and better data, but also ensuring is it used to support a culture of data-driven decision making for policy, planning and management.

As the proposals for the KIX global call are submitted by October 1st - and the regional grant proposals in April/May 2020 – it will be exciting to see how KIX investments provide opportunities for tangible capacity development, research support, and innovative practices to help countries improve their capacity to collect and use data. Additionally, the KIX Regional Hubs will provide an opportunity for countries to learn from their peers on innovative approaches to strengthening data systems.

This blog draws from the KIX paper “Meeting the Data Challenge in Education”, written by Luis Crouch.


KIX blog series:

1. What GPE does to strengthen early chilhood care and education