By Ankur Bansal & Mohit Bahri
Data has always been central to decision-making in the best organisations. However, in government, the uptake and usage of data has remained limited to a few institutions. In sectors as varied as education, utilities, railways, tax or public transportation, data can be instrumental in driving targeted reforms and making informed policy choices.
Some states such as Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Andhra Pradesh are defying the norm and making data central to their reform efforts, even in a sector as large and complex as education. Until a decade ago, most state governments were operating with a deficit of data. Today, the story is different. Now, data is available through UDISE (Unified District Information on School Education), teacher databases, assessment results, Census data on literacy, review and monitoring data, usage of education technology data, financial expenditure data, etc.
So, how has data helped in achieving specific targets in the education space in the country? Over the last few years, there has been significant focus on improving learning outcomes of students. A learning outcome is a skill/concept that a student of particular class is expected to know. Conceptually, the system is focusing on the right objective, but can this objective be achieved if progress towards it is not measured?
The first step in this regard was creating visibility about the levels of learning outcomes. Many states such as Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Andhra Pradesh have created a data analytics platform that clearly identifies leading and lagging learning outcomes. Himachal Pradesh’s Samarth Assessment Dashboard (www.hpsamarth.com) is one such example. Based on academic performance data available in this dashboard, the state has been able to identify learning outcomes for which students need more help.
To improve performance in these, the state has designed a targeted remedial programme, introduced relevant learning material for classroom teaching, customised teacher training to focus on those learning outcomes, and advised block officials to conduct targeted inspections of schools to check performance with respect to those learning outcomes specifically.
This dashboard not only provides information on weaker learning outcomes, but also ranks districts and blocks based on their performance. As the ranking feature on the dashboard is available for public viewing, teachers and block officials are motivated to play their part to improve student performance.
Similarly, to bridge learning gaps, Haryana launched a structured, state-wide remedial programme called the LEP (Learning Enhancement Programme) in all government schools across the state. The result: significant improvement in grade-level competency (measured through mastery of learning outcomes) across the state in primary grades. An assessment conducted by an independent third-party has found that 107 blocks in Haryana (out of 119) are now at grade-level competency.
Another way to use data is to support teachers to teach weaker learning outcomes better. Using data from student assessments, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Andhra Pradesh have established a training programme to train teachers specifically on weaker learning outcomes.
For example, Himachal Pradesh partnered with TheTeacherApp to develop a monthly teacher training course aimed at improving the overall quality of teaching in the state. More than 46,000 teachers are currently registered on this app. The content on the app has been curated based on the academic performance and requirements of the state. In addition to training courses, teachers are also provided monthly tips on activity-based teaching materials and can use a feature of the app called the Chatshala to share their views and experiences with other teachers.
Given the scale of a state’s education system, a big challenge faced by officials is staying informed about the smooth functioning of schools. Which schools are not being managed well? What support should the state provide to them? To address this challenge, Himachal Pradesh has launched a school monitoring app, called the Shiksha Saathi App, which captures all relevant information related to academic and administrative functioning of the school. The data generated from school visits becomes instrumental in taking corrective steps.
Using the Shiksha Saathi App, more than 1,500 schools are being inspected every month across the state, thus creating a rich pool of administrative and academic data. Since the launch of this app, more than 7,000 schools have been visited, and 4,200 issues have been recorded and made visible to every state official. These issues are discussed in the monthly review meetings by the state and district leadership, and corrective action initiated. The advantages of this app are threefold—increased visibility on challenges, improved ability to take targeted corrective actions, and fixing accountability at each level in the system.
Once this data is available and presented to all the officers and teachers in the education department, decision-making platforms become more effective. Consequently, data fuels the discussion, not anecdotal evidence. Common alignment on key performance indicators is as important in a public school system as it is in large multinational corporations.
Based on the experience of these states, it is evident that data-backed decision-making is both necessary and possible. The challenge is identifying what data to collect, how to collect it and investing in the right decision-making platforms. Equally critical is ensuring that these systems get embedded in the routine functioning of the department they are developed for, so that they remain updated and relevant. While it might take time and effort to institutionalise data-backed decision-making in government institutions, the positive effect it can have on governance to improve the lives of citizens is significant.
Bansal is co-founder and Bahri is senior manager, Samagra