This blog is the first of a six-part series on education management information systems (EMIS), developed to share lessons learned and strategies employed by countries to enhance their data systems. This series is aligned with the agenda of the UNESCO-GPE EMIS conference held in April 2018 and provides an updated summary of the discussions on EMIS within the partnership over the past year. Details of the conference can be found here: GPE-UNESCO EMIS Conference
A great deal of research has been conducted on the production and use of statistical data in public policy in developing countries, and in the education sector in particular. Available literature on the subject suggests that education management information systems (EMIS) - understood as the systems governing the production and dissemination of statistical data on education - are too often dependent on external donor support, and that the demand for quality data is often generated by international organizations, and not by the governments of developing countries themselves.
In fact, large investments are made in education data, both by governments and across more than a dozen multi- and bilateral aid organizations, including GPE. The 2018 review of GPE's grant portfolio indicates that 29 of the 37 program implementation grants that were active or pending at the end of FY18 had a component dedicated to strengthening EMIS.
And these investments often represent a large amount of funds: a 2017 study published by the World Bank showed that the average cost of EMIS development and strengthening activities in World Bank projects ranged between US$1 million and US$7 million per project.
While millions of dollars are invested in strengthening EMIS every year, many countries still struggle with data-related issues, from lack of quality and timeliness to weak policies and data system architecture.
Recently, a team of World Bank researchers reviewed 20 education sector plan assessment reports of GPE partner countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The study, presented during a GPE-World Bank webinar in November 2018, highlighted that in all cases there was ineffective collection, presentation, analysis and use of data – in other words, problematic EMIS in spite of these large investments.
Conducting EMIS diagnostics to systematically assess the robustness of education data systems
In order to address the inefficiencies in many education data systems, countries should be encouraged to conduct a diagnostic of their EMIS, through a holistic and systematic situation assessment of its different blocks (legal framework, data architecture, methodological process, accessibility, etc.).
Diagnostic and evaluation tools exist in various forms, but in all cases these tools can help identify the strengths and the weaknesses of a system, and the bottlenecks preventing the data system from functioning well.
EMIS diagnostic tools are usually structured around a series of norms or standards reflecting good practices in various dimensions. When administrated through a comparable methodology, EMIS diagnostics can help benchmark countries against each other and allow to identify good practices that can be replicated across different countries, for instance on data collection or data utilization.
The experience has shown that conducting a diagnostic may be a good starting point for national policy makers to reach consensus on what to do to make the EMIS more effective, generate momentum for reforms, and to prioritize EMIS strengthening activities in both the short and long term. And in fact, EMIS diagnostics remain relatively easy and inexpensive to undertake.