Using administrative data to design approaches to school reopening

The Framework for reopening schools - a joint effort by UNESCO, UNICEF, the World Bank and the World Food Programme - provides guiding questions and tips to help policymakers design and implement school reopening plans that promotes safe operations, improved learning, and the inclusion of the most marginalized.

July 20, 2020 by Marc-Antoine Percier, Global Partnership for Education
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7 minutes read
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Teachers post exam results. Nyeri County, Kenya. April 2017. Credit GPE/Kelley Lynch
Teachers post exam results. Nyeri County, Kenya. April 2017
GPE/Kelley Lynch

At the start of the pandemic, almost all countries closed their schools in an attempt to contain the spread of COVID-19. While schools were still closed in more than 40 GPE partner countries in July 2020, at least 26 countries have reopened schools or are in the process of reopening. Many more have announced reopening dates.

The Framework for reopening schools - a joint effort by UNESCO, UNICEF, the World Bank and the World Food Programme - provides guiding questions and tips to help policymakers design and implement school reopening plans that promotes safe operations, improved learning, and the inclusion of the most marginalized.

The framework recommends that country partners collect new data to understand “how schools, teachers, students and communities are coping with closures and the pandemic”. Collecting new data will allow policymakers, development partners and civil society organizations to understand in real-time how the COVID-19 crisis had an impact on the education system, and whether pre-conditions for reopening are met.

Data are already available within education ministries

While new data are being collected, ministries of education are sitting on a large set of administrative data that can be mobilized right now for analyzing the situation or for developing context-appropriate approaches to school reopening.

In most GPE partner countries, ministries of education regularly collect and disseminate administrative data on students and schools, including human, physical, pedagogical and financial resources. This information is usually collected through an annual school census, which constitutes – in most countries - the backbone of an education management information system (EMIS).

This blog will illustrate ways in which administrative data can support crisis management, and provide practical examples on how data has the potential to help partner country governments better understand the possible effects of the pandemic on their education system and design appropriate responses.

  1. Administrative data can help policymakers better understand how the education system and students may be affected by school closures
  • Student enrollment data can help estimate the number of students currently out of school as a result of school closures and in which parts of the country. Data on student enrollment is the most common information captured in school census. In the Benin COVID-19 accelerated funding application, provisional data for school year 2019-2020 were used to estimate that 3.3 million students and 88,000 teachers were affected by 16,000 schools school closures at all levels of education.
  • Data can be used to assess the reliance of communities on school feeding programs and design similar interventions. Loss of family income in the wake of COVID may further exacerbate challenges in food access, with negative consequences for children’s health and nutritional status. School census data can allow ministries of education and development partners to estimate the risk of malnutrition by looking at the number and the proportion of students fed in each school across the country. In addition, this type of information can be used by governments or development partners to target nutrition interventions in areas where the reliance on school feeding programs is high.
  • Data on enrollment in non-public schools are helpful for governments to estimate a potential influx of students into the public-school system. As a result of the economic crisis and increase in food prices, households may no longer be able to support private school fees. In addition, a number of private / tuition-based schools could potentially shut down in the short term. When data on enrollments are linked with a geographical information system, which tend to exist more and more, one could see even better where the private schools are located, and the geographical areas where public schools may be confronted with an influx of new students.
  • In the long run, administrative data will allow governments to understand the extent to which the COVID-19 crisis has had an impact on enrollments and dropouts, and whether students, particularly girls, have returned to schools. According to the Malala Foundation, 20 million more secondary school-aged girls could be out of school after the crisis. Comparing pre-crisis and post-crisis data would allow countries to get an overall picture of the proportion of children returning to school and to devise targeted interventions to promote access to and retention in school, including of the most vulnerable populations.
  1. Administrative data can help ministries of education devise plans for reopening and ensure that schools can operate safely.
  • Data on enrollment can help ministries of education decide which grade(s) or learners should be prioritized to return to class. Many countries have reopened schools partially or are considering doing so. A review of reopening strategies conducted by Insights for Education shows that countries tend to prioritize exam years, in order to mitigate the risk of not taking a national exam should schools remain closed for the rest of the school year. But other grades or segment of learners can also be considered, for instance early or transition grades. School census data often include the number and the proportion of repeaters and dropouts at the classroom level and in each grade. This type of information can be useful to mobilize if the government decides to prioritize grades where students are more at risk of falling behind or not return to classes when schools reopen because of high repetition and dropout rates.
  • Data can help ministries of education determine the feasibility of establishing physical distancing measures in classrooms. Testing the feasibility of distancing measures is contingent upon the availability of data on school enrollment (number of students per school and grade), classrooms and furniture (number of chairs, desks), which is commonly collected through annual school censuses.
  • Data can be used for reorganizing the school day. In many cases, physical distancing measures make it difficult to have all students in school at the same time. This means that countries need to establish double-shifts, reduced class size, use non-classroom premises, or staggered learning sessions to ensure that schools are not too crowded. Whether the decision to reorganize school timetables is a made at central, decentralized or school level, data on enrollment and school premises is essential to test different solutions.
  • Data can help ministries of education determine whether sanitary protocols can be established. Many countries have data on sanitation facilities and condition of school premises. Information on whether schools are connected to the water distribution system can be particularly helpful to test the feasibility of establishing sanitary protocols in schools. The Ministry of Education in Mozambique indicated that schools that do not have access to water will not be allowed to reopen. Data on access to water in schools can help ministries target which facilities to rehabilitate, where to install new ones, and where to distribute hand sanitizers. Finally, data on non-teaching staff (for instance janitors) can be helpful to understand the capacity of schools to regularly sanitize classrooms and furniture before students come in.
  • Data are essential for organizing the distribution of personal protection equipment and cleaning supplies to schools. School census data usually include information on the location and accessibility of schools across the country. This type of information can be useful, especially for governments who are committing to procure and distribute millions of masks to students, teachers and non-teaching staff in remote areas.
  • Data can provide insights on the teacher workforce, which are essential to prepare for school reopening. Most school censuses collect data on the number of teachers, their employment status (public servant, contract) as well as their role and other individual information (including date of birth), which allows to calculate student-teacher ratios and reorganize teacher deployment. School censuses can provide interesting insights on teachers’ qualifications and the ability of teachers to adapt to different administrative and learning approaches, and to implement infection prevention and control measures.
  • Finally, in a context where schools cannot reopen right away, data can also test the feasibility of implementing distance-learning solutions. This blog only discusses administrative data. However, information on radio, television, phone and internet coverage triangulated with household survey data can be helpful to identify whether different distance learning options can be implemented, and to what extent households have access to those solutions. This type of analysis can help policymakers devise a mix of distance learning modalities to benefit as many students as possible.

As seen above, a lot can be learned from administrative data for understanding the effect of the pandemic on the system and design context-appropriate responses. It is crucial to make use of available data to design sound reopening strategies. Poorly informed reopening strategies can leave some children behind (particularly girls).

There are also challenges associated with the use of administrative data to prepare an evidence-based COVID-19 response plan. In contexts where new information is needed or where the existing data is not totally reliable, governments will need to collect almost real-time data to make the best-informed decision possible about reopening schools.

The GPE Secretariat would welcome concrete examples of how administrative data was used to design data-informed interventions in response to the current crisis. Please feel free to leave a comment below or contact me at mpercier@globalpartnership.org.

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