A simple focus on data collection tools, analysis, and training leads to data-based decision-making and ultimately, improved education service delivery.

In the education sector, a simple focus on data, and improving techniques for collection, analysis, and use, pay enormous dividends for educational outcomes across various contexts.

Take, for example, Afghanistan. The Afghan Ministry of Education manages 18,765 schools across the country’s 34 provinces. A total of 77 ethnic groups exist within these 34 provinces, Afghans speak 59 languages, and the topography varies from the vast Registan Desert to the imposing Mt. Noshaq, which tops out at just under 25,000 feet. The myriad differences within which schools, teachers, and learners sit is further magnified by the country’s fluid security situation. Ensuring quality education service delivery within this context requires education management decisions, which range from textbook language and placement of female teachers to latrine building and new school construction, based on current data.

USAID’s Capacity Building Activity (CBA), implemented by Chemonics, built capacity and strengthened systems within the Afghan Ministry of Education to standardize data collection tools and build an efficient system for data analysis. Simple improvements made under CBA to the ministry’s data collection and analysis capabilities enabled data-based decision-making, which in turn, led to improved education service delivery across Afghanistan’s varied provinces. For example, CBA developed a mobile app that made its existing Education Management Information System (EMIS) and its data entry, verification, and analysis functions accessible via mobile phones, which allowed Ministry of Education staff to easily collect data and run simple analyses while in the field. CBA’s work stands as a testament to the power of technical approaches in the education sector that simply prioritize data. CBA is just one education project currently implemented by Chemonics, and lessons learned from both current and past projects on data collection, analysis, and use abound. Here are three key lessons learned from CBA and technical approaches of other education projects in Chemonics’ portfolio:

1) Enhance rather than completely rebuild systems for data analysis. Though specific situations may require the procurement of an entirely new data analysis system, assess existing systems prior to proposing an action plan, and build out and improve existing systems whenever possible. This approach was more cost and time effective in the case of CBA and provided users with a familiarity that encouraged uptake and use. In line with this approach, CBA added a variety of new modules to the ministry’s EMIS that both enabled robust analyses not possible prior to the intervention and aligned the data analysis tool with the new Annual School Census Questionnaire (ASC) data catchment tool. This approach aligns with USAID’s Digital Strategy’s aim to meet communities where they are at and build capacity from a digital development perspective.

Chemonics applied this principle through its reading-focused work in Honduras, Rwanda, and the Kyrgyz Republic. In the Kyrgyz Republic, the Time to Read project worked with the country’s Ministry of Education and Science to develop an Online Leveled Reading tool. The tool is designed to evaluate data on existing and new story titles to ensure their appropriateness for children’s grade and age. This tool is the first of its kind to be created for the Kyrgyz and Russian language. Also related to reading materials, in Honduras, the Quality Reading Materials Activity strengthened the teaching and learning materials supply chain sub-system of the Honduras education system by implementing a tracking pilot project. This 20-school track and trace pilot program allowed parents, teachers, and school officials to track book deliveries through text messages and a smartphone application, and built the capacity of key local leaders to sync with and strengthen systems upwards from the TLM supply chain itself. Focused more specifically on COVID-19 and the effectiveness of digital learning materials, the Soma Umenye project in Rwanda collected and disseminated data on a weekly basis to ensure availability of up-to-date information on radio lessons and digital materials used during the COVID-19 pandemic. This enabled agile decision-making and programming shifts to address emerging issues.

2) Standardize data catchment tools. Improved education service delivery requires not only an efficient system for data analysis, but also standardized data catchment tools. CBA collaborated with the Afghan Ministry of Education to standardize and improve the ASC tool, which the ministry uses to gather data per annum from schools across the country. Data gathered from schools by the ASC includes information on number and gender of learners and teachers, attendance, teaching and learning materials among other topics. The project additionally developed guidelines that detail how to properly use the improved ASC. Standardized data catchment tools and procedures for their use allow for the collection of comparable information, analysis, and ultimately, data-based decisions that effectively provision resources in a manner tailored to the needs of different schools, learners, and teachers. Mr. Ghulam Nabi Sharifi, head of the ministry’s Statistics and Information Analysis Unit, said that, “upgrading the EMIS with advanced functionalities has considerably improved the Annual School Census (ASC) data accuracy and enabled instant generation of analytical, descriptive statistical, and ad-hoc reports that will lead to data-based planning and informed decision-making.”

3) Train staff and empower them to be force multipliers. Data catchment tools only wield power if employed correctly. Too often, development interventions produce shiny new tools which, despite their novelty and their in-depth user manuals, are never used. To avoid this situation, CBA trained Ministry of Education staff, not only to use the ASC correctly, but to build capacity of colleagues from the central to school levels. This training methodology created a multiplier effect and ensured institutional knowledge and capacity building of district education officers, Provincial Education Directorate staff, and departmental directors at the central Ministry of Education alike.

As USAID continues to roll out its digital strategy and current events such as the COVID-19 pandemic and growing insecurity in various regions across the globe demand flexible and responsive implementation strategies, the need for access to current data and data-based decision-making in development projects will deepen. Focusing on improved systems for data analysis, tools for data collection, and capacity to effectively use both constitutes the foundation required to meet these needs. For more information, get in touch with Chemonics’ Education and Youth Practice at educationandyouthteam@chemonics.com.

*Banner image caption: Participants engage in an advanced-level EMIS data analysis training in Bamyan, Afghanistan.

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