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Technology supports smarter education in SA

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BBD has partnered with the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation (MSDF) to enable South African schools to work smarter and analyse their data to drive better learner outcomes.

This builds in a partnership between the MSDF and the National Department of Basic Education signed in 2012, to enable South African schools to translate data into clear, actionable insights for use by education officials.

The Data Driven Districts (DDD) initiative is striving to enable data to be accessible and actionable for 80% of South Africa’s 12-million learners by 2018. By correctly utilising educational data, learner outcomes can be improved. This is of particular importance if South Africa’s poorer communities are to be uplifted through education.

BBD, a South African software company, assisted by developing an online dashboard to enable easy access to the learners’ data. The dashboard is a simple visual tool for officials and educators and shows how districts, circuits and schools are performing on learner achievement, attendance for both educators and learners and promotion.

Peter Searle, CEO of BBD, explains how the project has enabled schools and district officials to view relevant education data immediately and graphically via a dashboard.

“The dashboard enables education-related data to be captured, extracted and consolidated more effectively. By allowing educators to make data-driven decisions to facilitate targeted interventions, they can effectively improve the educational outcomes of all learners in the school system. Essentially potential problem areas can be highlighted to enable education officials to better decide where to deploy their resources, very helpful given these resources are limited.”

The DDD project extracts data from the existing South African School Administration and Management System. This data is consolidated and aggregated to provide insights at all levels within the education system, from circuit offices all the way to national. By showing the data in a dashboard – principals, circuit managers and district, provincial and national staff can identify meaningful insights to assist in improving learner outcomes.

MSDF South Africa country director Dean Villet advises that the DDD project has collected data from over 19 000 schools and more than 9-million learners.

“The scale of DDD’s quarterly data collection is an incredible achievement in and of itself, however, even more impressive is that we now have over 6 000 schools submitting a full set of attendance, assessment and curriculum coverage data every single week. Our initial research leads us to believe that there is not another education system in the developing world that is achieving anywhere near that scale of near-realtime data submission.”

Villet says the DDD Dashboard can provide data and information from country level right down to an individual learner level, to enable a school’s management team as well as district and provincial officials to provide the support required, at the point in time it is needed.

“The programme is active across seven provinces, with training and support being offered to education officials to ensure that data is collected, quality assured and then used in service of improving learning outcomes across the system.”

By putting in place a tech-enabled tool to visualise education data in a dashboard, education outcomes can be improved through fact-based insights driven by real data. Searle concludes that the application of analytics in an educational context is beginning to show real promise in South Africa.