Tackling education’s data challenge through partnering with the private sector

GPE has convened a public-private roundtable of partners to diagnose the education sector’s key data challenges and to propose solutions to these challenges. The roundtable has brought together senior representatives from partner countries, the business community, global development partners, civil society and donors to consider ways to improve existing data tools, to develop better visualization of data to support decision and policy making, and to facilitate better integration of data systems.

October 29, 2018 by Alice Albright, Global Partnership for Education
5 minutes read
Education Data Roundtable Meeting in New York. Credit: GPE/Ludovica Pellicioli
The Education Data Roundtable participants met in New York on September 27, 2018. At the head of the table, Anthony Salcito, Vice President, Worldwide Education, Microsoft, and Alice Albright, CEO of GPE
GPE/Ludovica Pellicioli

The lack of accurate and timely education data is a problem in many of the countries that the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) supports. Gathering these data is complex and resource-intensive, but without it education authorities and their partners will struggle to design, implement, and monitor the targeted interventions that are needed to deliver results.

Without adequate and timely data, implementation of an education sector plan can be a bit like shooting in the dark and hoping to hit the bullseye.

GPE recognizes the data problem needs to be tackled decisively if the efforts of our partner countries, and the support we provide to them, are to make a real difference.

The critical data that we need to know include not only how many children go to school and how many do not and why, but also how many teachers are available, and how many hours of instruction children get; test scores need to be gathered and the results correlated to instructional practices.

The range and depth of the data that are needed are enormous. And data are not only needed at the operational level but also to inform future interventions and reforms to strengthen education systems.

Strong commitment from private sector partners

To highlight the data challenge and seek ways to tackle it, GPE launched in February the Education Data Solutions Roundtable to bring together partner countries (Liberia, Ethiopia, Gambia, Nepal, the DRC and Cambodia), multilateral organizations, charitable foundations, north and south-based civil society, and the business community, including representatives of the world’s top computer software, financial and business service companies.

This group met again in New York last month on the margins of the UN General Assembly for a deeper look at the data challenge and how to co-opt the expertise of the private sector.

Why the private sector?  Governments in many GPE partner countries are energetically trying to attract greater private sector participation in social and economic development so that these efforts benefit from the efficiency, expertise and technological innovation that the private sector can bring. These very qualities are needed to overcome the data problem.

The response from members of the business community to the education data challenge was heartening. In New York, six companies with vast experience in gathering and handling data—Econet, HP Inc., Intel, Mastercard, Microsoft and Tableau—made a commitment to:

“provide dedicated in-kind support to develop specifications for sustainable education data systems, design of tools for communication, data visualization and integration of data systems, depending on each company’s particular interests, by April 2019. Together with country partners, government donors and multilateral agencies, corporate partners will lend their effort and know-how to help develop solutions to global and national level education data challenges.”

Digital technology holds promise to solve the data challenge

In New York, Gus Schmedlen, Vice President, Worldwide Education at HP, said he appreciated the “supreme convening power of both the United Nations and of GPE” and thanked GPE for bringing together the best minds from the business community and governments.

HP Inc. committed a few years ago to enable better learning outcomes for 100 million people by 2025, and have already reached 14 million, including 3,500 Syrian refugee children who will go to school for the first time in a year in Lebanon.

Brian Gonzalez, Global Head of Education at Intel, noted that the company, which is marking its 50th anniversary, recognized from the outset the importance of education and that it had a role to play in this sector.

“We are now at the point where we can take that next big step of putting our collective thoughts into action on how technology can help teachers and administrators capture and convert data to assist in better decision making to the benefit of all country level stakeholders.”

Nikolai Astrup, Minister of International Development of Norway, noted the health sector has already tackled its data challenge. He said that the use of health management information systems led to more health sector partners, both locally and nationally, and contributed to the emergence of regional, national and global hubs of information systems expertise.

Minister Astrup is convinced, as I am, that digital technologies can make an enormous difference in the lives of the world’s poorest.

Ciarán Cannon, Minister of State, Diaspora and International Development of Ireland, discussed how he founded Excited in 2012, the digital learning movement in Ireland. He spoke of his passion for the role of technology in education.

This research and innovation center aim to enhance the use of technology to deliver education across the whole curriculum and seeks to empower young people to become the digital creators of their own technology.

Launching innovative solutions in 2019

The Education Data Solutions Roundtable members will continue to work over the months ahead and they will experience the data problems encountered firsthand through visits to Ethiopia and The Gambia. This work will be closely aligned with GPE’s thematic agenda on data through the partnership’s new Knowledge and Innovation Exchange mechanism.

GPE believes it can contribute to improving the collection of accurate and timely education data with the help of the private sector, and to use its convening power to bring partners together to find solutions to one of education’s most pressing problems.

It’s a win-win-win-win: for the children in our partner countries, who will receive a better quality education and will thus have better prospects at a brighter future; for partner countries, who will be able to use data to more efficiently target resources and programs and bring about results, thereby lifting their whole population and economy; for donors, which will see that their often scarce resources can be used more efficiently and effectively; and finally for the private sector: weighing in to help fix the problem of poor education data would represent a high-profile contribution to  a global good. And clearly improving education systems will benefit the economies, which makes business sense.

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Very clear explanation of an interesting initiative. Exciting to have so many GPE stakeholders working together towards a common solution to a thorny (and hugely important) set of issues. Education data need to catch up to other sectors, and our chances of doing so are greatly enhanced by such initiatives.

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