Global data dashboard aims to tackle education crisis

A schoolgirl in uniform. Photo by: Bread for the World / CC BY-NC-ND

BARCELONA — Three development heavyweights are uniting in an effort to improve the quality of global education policy through a data dashboard.

The partnership announced Monday between the World Bank, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the United Kingdom Department for International Development will focus on delivering data to give low- and middle-income governments a better sense of what’s going on in their education systems at the classroom level, so they can make real-time policy decisions at the national level.

“[Data] is critical in allowing policymakers to see which aspects of the system are working and which need fixing.”

— Jaime Saavedra, senior director for education, World Bank

It comes after the World Development Report 2018 revealed many countries were experiencing a “learning crisis”: Children are attending school but not necessarily learning. For example, in Ghana and Malawi, 80 percent of students at the end of grade two, or around 8 years old, were unable to read a word such as “the” or “cat,” while in Nicaragua, only 50 percent of a grade five class, ages 10-11, could solve the sum 5+6. According to the report, poor service delivery, unhealthy politics, and unaligned policies around education for all were to blame.

“Tackling the learning crisis requires improving the quality of every child’s experience in school,” said Jaime Saavedra, senior director for education at the World Bank, in a press release. “Supporting the measurement of what students are learning and how well school systems are performing ... is critical in allowing policymakers to see which aspects of the system are working and which need fixing.”

The team behind the integrated dashboard said it will measure the quality of the four key school-level ingredients of learning — teaching, school management, inputs and infrastructure, and prepared learners — as well as the systemic drivers in policies and politics, developing 34 comprehensive indicators.  

However, Manos Antoninis, director of the Global Education Monitoring Report at UNESCO, questioned some of the features. “It’s costly as its data implications are heavy since it requires a service delivery survey and a management review,” he explained. “Is this what countries need most, or would it be more important to support a mechanism of peer learning whereby neighboring countries would feel more comfortable discussing the policy responses that best suit their needs?”

The World Bank said the dashboard will collect new data in each country via surveys, school visits, classroom observations, legislative reviews, and teacher assessments while drawing on existing data where available. The goal is to make it inexpensive enough to be applied in many countries, the bank added, though it did not say how much money is provided for the project. 

“Though there are many robust instruments for each of the factors included in the dashboard, they tend to be detailed and thus expensive to implement, which has resulted in many countries having either an incomplete picture of their education systems or one that is based on dated data,” wrote Omar Arias and Reema Nayar, managers in the World Bank’s Education Global Practice, in the report.

“By lowering the cost of data collection, the streamlined versions will allow more countries to have access to the key data they need to tackle the learning crisis and to monitor progress in the short- and medium-term.”

While the list of participating countries is not yet finalized, the partners will begin piloting the dashboard in 13 countries across Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and Eastern Europe in the coming months, before eventually rolling it out more widely.

The Gates Foundation has launched a similar but unsuccessful initiative in the past focused on improving teacher effectiveness in low-income schools in the United States and is funding a broader Global Education Data Portal with the UNESCO Institute of Statistics. But Girindre Beeharry, global education director at the foundation, said this dashboard would provide actionable information on key bottlenecks for better learning outcomes, making it a valuable tool for “reform-minded policymakers.”

“The ability to read fluently by grade three is critical and underpins learning in later grades, which is why the education dashboard emphasizes foundational learning as a key outcome,” he said.

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    Rebecca Root

    Rebecca Root is an Editorial Associate and Reporter at Devex. She has a background in journalism and communications, and has written for a variety of publications while living and working in New York and London. She is now based in Barcelona and produces multimedia editorial content for digital content series and media partnerships.