Data-driven decision making in education: A new guide for education management information systems (EMIS)

While nearly all lower-income countries have some form of EMIS in place, many have gaps in capabilities that need to be filled and upgrades that need to be made. A new guide developed through a partnership between the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) and GPE, and informed by experts from the business community, provides a methodical approach for ministries of education to navigate those challenges.

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Presentation and discussion of the Gambia EMIS by Alpha Bah, Head of EMIS team, Ministry of ICT. Banjul, the Gambia. February 2019.
Presentation and discussion of the Gambia EMIS by Alpha Bah, Head of EMIS team, Ministry of ICT. Banjul, the Gambia. February 2019.
Photo credit: GPE/Jim Cham

A strong education management information system (EMIS) can be a game-changer: It provides a way to measure education quality, reach and impact and that, in turn, powers effective, data-informed decision making.

While nearly all lower-income countries have some form of EMIS in place, many have gaps in capabilities that need to be filled and upgrades that need to be made. Defining where the gaps are can be a challenge as can determining which technologies and functionalities are needed from among the plethora of options available to align effectively with a country’s objectives and priorities.

A new guide developed through a partnership between the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) and GPE, and informed by experts from the business community, provides a methodical approach for ministries of education to navigate those challenges. Called Efficiency and Effectiveness in Choosing and Using an EMIS: Guidelines for Data Management and Functionality in EMIS, it includes both a “buyer’s” and a user’s guide.

The buyer’s guide covers how to determine which technologies and functionalities to acquire, build or receive in kind. The user’s guide illustrates how to put these tools to work effectively. The guide also presents pathways to build out systems depending on the current state of a country’s technology and technological infrastructure.

Created in response to ministry requests

The guide was created to fill a need that was identified as a priority by ministries participating in the Education Data Solutions Roundtable (DRT). The DRT was a GPE initiative that brought together country officials with experts from the business community as well as from the UIS and other education and development partners to define needs in the area of data collection and accessibility, and to identify solutions to those needs.

The development of the guide reflects advice from numerous public and private partners. The publication was one of the outcomes of the DRT’s work.

Some key considerations drawn from the guide

An excellent EMIS should collect data from various sources, such as individual schools, teachers and students, and then be able to transform the data into formats that bring all the pieces together in ways that are comprehensible to non-technical officials.

It should include data on enrollment, attendance, completion rates, learning assessments, student health, finance, teacher characteristics and certain administrative statistics. An advanced EMIS should also provide ‘hooks’ to data beyond the education system – such as poverty and population information – which then creates opportunities for contextual analysis.

The ability of an EMIS to integrate data is key – yet, it is something that is often lacking. Most ministries have different people looking at different pieces of data from disparate sources, which makes it difficult to gain a complete picture of all the factors that converge to affect the performance of a system, district or school – or individual child.

A big part of the job of a good EMIS is to provide a holistic picture to policymakers.

Achieving this requires particular staff skills to make the systems work together effectively. Often, school systems collect the right data but do not have the capability to aggregate, analyze and then present those data.

When considering what else an EMIS should do and what it should be measuring, it is critical that decisions be driven by a country’s education policies and priorities. Data should enable policymakers to assess progress against those specific priorities.

So, data engineers need to understand policies and provide functionality accordingly. For example, data that focus on equity and equality mandates are in especially high demand as these data show whether children from all demographic groups get the education they deserve. An EMIS might also reveal on a timely basis whether there are spikes in school dropout rates and what their causes might be.

The software and questionnaire are integrated as part of an EMIS. These two elements enable an EMIS to produce reliable and timely education data and indicators.

Putting the guide to work

The guide will help users work though issues such as those previously mentioned. But its reach extends even further. It covers every key element of how to go about the assessment, acquisition and implementation process.

It can also aid users in two other important ways – by serving as:

  • a reference point to negotiate with vendors or suppliers to ensure that what is acquired matches actual needs, and
  • as a reference point for ministries to better discuss their requirements with development partners who wish to contribute to the procurement of EMIS components.

The guide can also help ministries prioritize tasks if they decide to continue to improve home-grown systems.

For countries that decide to include SDG 4 indicators in their EMIS, the guide includes a section on specific elements of SDG 4 and how to measure them. To this purpose, the UIS produced a companion piece: the Operational Guide to Using EMIS to Monitor SDG 4.

It provides more in-depth guidance on how to implement data collection from the viewpoint of existing global commitments related to SDG 4 indicators.

EMIS knowledge hub

The UIS is releasing a dedicated microsite for EMIS to facilitate strategic decision-making, policy formulation and better management of education by ministries of education. The site is also meant to address the needs expressed by representatives of national EMIS units, Member States, partners and key stakeholders.

It provides resources on EMIS standards, including operational guidance to monitor SDG 4, examples of EMIS software, EMIS questionnaires, an EMIS typology report, the Statistical Year Book, EMIS quality assessment tools as well as other relevant tools to help countries establish or improve on an EMIS.

The EMIS site is the first of its kind and will serve as an ‘EMIS knowledge hub’ for Member States, partners and key stakeholders.

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