Turning data into action for children that don't go to school

The Out-of-School Children Initiative Operational Manual helps developing countries find solutions for marginalized children

Four boys pose in front of their school in Nicaragua. Credit: World Bank/Arne Hoel, 2007

The Out-of-School Children Initiative and its acronym OOSCI have become remarkably well known in education circles over the past few years. Walk into any ministry of education, donor agency or education NGO, and you will find somebody who has heard about OOSCI.

The goal: more children in school

The best description of OOSCI is that it is a process for making decisions that will improve equity and inclusion and get more children into school. The idea is simplicity itself. If we can get really good data on exactly which children aren’t in school, then we can find out what is keeping them away and also decide the best approach to overcome these problems.

The first step in the OOSCI process is to get the right data. Since Education Management Information Systems only contain information on the girls and boys who are in school, they tell us little or nothing about the children who aren’t.

For this reason, OOSCI normally takes its data from household surveys like Demographic and Health Surveys, Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys or national censuses, all of which collect information on every child in the households covered.

Data help understand the barriers keeping children from school

Analyzing the data from these surveys not only gives numbers for the children that are both in and out of school, but also generates a wide range of other demographic details. We can, for example, see whether the children who are out of school are more likely to be from the poorest families (they always are), whether they are more likely to be girls (they usually are), whether they are more likely to be from ethnic minorities (they often are) and so on.

The value of these demographic details is that it points us to the factors that really make a difference in getting children into the classroom. For example, if large numbers of children from the poorest families aren’t going to school, then we should look at both the hidden costs of education such as uniforms and transportation, as well as the value these families place on education, particularly in terms of opportunities of getting a well-paid job in the future.

Adapting the solutions to the issues

The final and most important step in the OOSCI process is to work out how to tackle these problems. This might involve changes that affect the whole education system, like removing all school fees and charges or increasing the allocation of resources to poorer parts of the country.

Or it might involve more targeted interventions, like providing mobile schools for nomadic populations. In either case, the key feature of OOSCI is that it enables governments to make changes to their education system based on evidence of what is actually happening. It is for this reason that the tagline of OOSCI is ‘turning data into action’.

This idea has proven to be extremely attractive. Back in 2010 when OOSCI was launched by UNICEF and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, a total of 25 countries signed up to trial the initiative. Today, that number has grown to 87 countries, including 35 GPE partner countries. Of these, almost 40 have already completed an OOSCI study, and the others are either in the middle of conducting a study, or are about to launch one.

Five dimensions of exclusion from the OOSCI Operational Manual

Standardizing the research on out-of-school children

Right from the outset, it was clear that OOSCI needed a core model and processes that would be used in every study. Drawing on the University of Sussex’s CREATE model and the UIS typology of children out of school, UNICEF and UIS developed the 5 Dimensions of Exclusion model that includes a range of categories for children who are out of school as well as for children who are in school but at risk of dropping out. At the same time, UIS developed the statistical techniques to analyze the data from household surveys to put numbers against each of these categories.

While UNICEF and UIS haven’t changed the model or processes since OOSCI was launched six years ago, we have learned a great deal about how OOSCI studies should be designed and carried out. With support from GPE, these lessons have recently been collected together into an Operational Manual, which is available for download from the OOSCI website allinschool.org

A tool designed for developing countries

OOSCI Operational Manual cover
The manual has been designed as a step-by-step guide to launching and completing an OOSCI study. Starting with how to establish a national team to conduct the study, the manual outlines the 5 Dimensions of Exclusion model, explains how to run the statistical analysis, how to identify the barriers that keep children out of school, and what is necessary to overcome them. It also includes a range of background materials and templates that have been developed over the years, from examples of terms of reference for consultants, to a set of forms that can be used for a data inventory.

The Operational Manual is mainly aimed at the countries that are embarking on an OOSCI study for the first time. But UNICEF and UIS hope that it will also be helpful for the growing number of countries that are updating an earlier study using new data. In many ways, these countries are the best advertisement for the value of OOSCI, and provide proof of the demand from ministries of education for robust data on which they can make good decisions to improve the education of their children.

Note: The support provided to the OOSCI by GPE is part of knowledge development grants under the Global and Regional Activities program (GRA).


Senior Education Adviser, UNICEF
Mark Waltham has worked as a Senior Education Adviser in UNICEF’s New York HQ since 2012.  His primary focus is on issues of access to education, and he is responsible for leading UNICEF’s global Out of School Children...

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