Understanding and overcoming the scarcity of quality data on education policies and practices in Africa
4 Key messages
- Achieving the African Union Agenda 2063, the Continental Education Strategy for Africa 2016-2025 (CESA 16-25) and SDG 4 requires informed choices about priorities and strategies that are based on better evidence than is available today.
- Modernizing and strengthening Education Monitoring Information System (EMIS) is a task for all. International development partners, civil society and the private sector can and should work together to support the priorities and efforts of African governments and their national statistical systems so that they are capable of producing and using the right educational data in a sustainable and responsible way.
- The quality of education financing for statistics must be improved upon by reducing duplication, targeting investments where needs are greatest, ensuring everyone’s needs are counted, aligning to country priorities for data, and providing more relevant and sustainable EMIS capacity building.
- To guide countries in the production of high-quality data to improve the availability of reliable and timely education statistics on the continent, a cost effective and sustainable benchmarking tool has been developed by ADEA and its partner.
5 concrete actions
- Make and/or strengthen statistical laws, regulations and standards fit for evolving data needs.
- Improve the quantity and quality of financing for education statistics.
- Boost EMIS capacity and data literacy through new approaches.
- Increase efficiency and impact through EMIS Benchmarking tool and country-led approaches.
- Invest in and use country-led results data to monitor progress towards the African Union Agenda 2063, the Continental Education Strategy for Africa 2016-2025 (CESA 16-25) and SDG4.
Data and statistics are central to helping societies make real and meaningful progress.
They provide essential insights for understanding the practicalities of the development process, the interactions and feedback among different systems, and the factors that should shape decisions. The African Union Agenda 2063, the Continental Education Strategy for Africa 2016-2025 (CESA 16-25) and SDG 4 are all data-driven programmes of action.
However, in Africa as in most developing countries, there is a weak data and statistics culture. In the education sector, most assessments carried out by ADEA in several African countries found a lack of use of existing education data for policy dialogue. Thus, it is difficult to ascertain the effectiveness of existing educational policies, practices and programmes or whether available resources are being allocated to address the most urgent and serious educational issues. This article analyses how African countries can overcome the existing data challenge in the education sector. But let us first explore why data is important for improved educational policies and practices.
A. Why educational data is important?
African governments and their development partners need quality data to better understand the educational needs and make better data-driven decisions. Even though some data is existing, they are usually not produced on time, not accurate, and neither disaggregated nor widely available. This complicates the ability of making data driven decisions. Without appropriate planning based on high quality data, tremendous resources and effort will be wasted. Below are 3 other reasons to justify the need for quality educational data.
- Clear and sustainable choices on education and training policies and strategies cannot be made without reliable and relevant data.
- Educational data can be used to identify and implement corrective measures to ensure that the educational policy objectives are achieved within the expected time period.
- Educational data are ultimately the basis for decisions on whether a policy should be maintained, adjusted or a new policy developed.
From the above, it is obvious that data and statistics are powerful tools to inform, engage and create opportunities for all education stakeholders. Therefore, we can now explore the main challenges impeding a holistic system of data production, dissemination and use.
B. What are the existing challenges?
The scarcity of education statistics is a reflection of the poor statistics culture and infrastructure in Africa. Less than 5 Sub-Saharan African countries have national statistical legislations that comply with the UN’s Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics. Several assessments undertaken in the last decade by ADEA and other development organizations showed that most African countries face several challenges in producing education statistics that are timely, disaggregated and relevant. This situation makes it difficult to monitor the African Union Agenda 2063, the Continental Education Strategy for Africa 2016-2025 (CESA 16-25), SDG 4 and the UN 2030 Agenda.
Below is a list of specific challenges related to education statistics:
- No institutionalized SDG 4 and CESA 16-25 reporting framework.
- No generic information system tool that can be used to collect, process and report data and information on education and training to evaluate progress related to SDG 4 implementation.
- Diverse sources of data: More than often, national statistics covering the education and training sector are different from those conducted by international development partners. This is mostly the case for school statistics, administrative and financial data. And it makes it difficult to ensure consistency in collection and processing.
- Inaccurate data: 65% of the Millennium Development Goals’ indicators for countries in Central Africa were either estimated, derived from statistical models, or were last measured prior to 2010. The Learning Barometer from the Brookings Center for Universal Education also confirmed that: “most governments [in Africa] collect learning data in a fairly haphazard fashion”.
However, with the increasing number of students in African education systems and the additional educational challenges brought by COVID-19, it is critical to make more data-driven decisions to maximize the use of existing resources and achieve greater impact. The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) revealed that African countries with accurate and up-to-date data and statistics have found it easier to address challenges posed by the novel coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19).
C. How to overcome this education statistics challenge?
In general, political leadership is essential to forge a new mind-set that recognizes and values the key role of data in delivering inclusive growth, prosperity and well-being. It must however be combined with the right institutional and legal framework; financial, technical and human resources; and partnerships among public and private data producers and users are crucial for data to develop evidence-based decision making. But it is even more important to develop and/or strengthen education monitoring information systems (EMIS), which have been designed and adopted by African ministries of Education between 2010-2012 to curb the education statistics challenge. EMIS helped to make progress in the generation and use of education data to support planning and inform policy and decision-making.
Since 2018, ADEA implemented a participatory peer review mechanism in ECOWAS (Burkina Faso, The Gambia, Ghana, and Mali), in SADC (Angola, Botswana, e-Swatini, Mozambique and Zimbabwe), and in EAC (Uganda). This peer review resulted in an increase in the visibility and usability of EMIS among local stakeholders, the development of an EMIS policy to guide data collection, processing and utilization, and the development of an action plan informed by the recommendations in the EMIS report. Yet, there is still room for improvement. Alpha Bah and Youssouf Ario Maiga recently listed the existing limitations of EMIS such as:
- Its inability in providing necessary data on local and national languages that are introduced in early grades, to ensure interventions are designed and implemented effectively.
- Its inability to pull, capture and combine complex data from different types of systems in order to link assessment results with instructional resources.
- Its inability in producing and reporting comprehensive data, especially for critical domains such as assessment of teachers’ and learners’ attendance, learning outcomes, out-of-school youth, non-formal education, and refugees and learners with disabilities.
To solve the above-mentioned EMIS limitations, four strategic actions could be implemented:
- Modernize the EMIS to promote the optimal use of information and communications technologies (ICT) to improve data quality and production times and make the EMIS dynamic. For example, very few EMIS can generate reports showing student performance linked to participation in specific instructional programs.
- Build the capacity of relevant actors in the statistics value chain by organizing adequate training based on positions held and key profiles. This could be done through professional development and technical support. In most African countries with EMIS, teachers and school leaders are not adequately provided with professional development training on data-driven decision making. Becoming a data-informed educational leader requires an understanding of assessment concepts and basic data analysis concepts.
- Build the capacity of the data production structures by providing them with adequate material, financial, and human resources.
- Establish stable and permanent EMISs to minimize the upheavals resulting from institutional changes that assign management of the education and training sector to one or more ministries, depending on the country or government. Excellent examples are Mali with its Education and Training Planning and Statistics Unit (CPS-EF) and Senegal with its Education Planning and Reform Directorate (DPRE), which produce statistics for the entire education and training sector, regardless of the number of ministries responsible;
- Adopt a systematic and comprehensive approach to producing data and strengthening statistical systems. There is strong complementarity and interdependence among diverse educational data and it is important to collaborate with organizations that have expertise in EMIS at the global and continental levels, particularly UNESCO and the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA).
To complement the above EMIS related measures, it would be important to:
- Identify and train data champions to coordinate efforts in the use of existing data in decision making. For example, these data champions at the school level, could ensure that all proposals are backed by data and evaluated on a data basis.
- Set time to analyze and interpret data: Lack of time is commonly mentioned by teachers and policymakers as a barrier to the use of data for decision making. Hence, setting time aside within the regular work week for the examination of student data and the development of instructional decisions informed by data appears to be a key characteristic of education institutions that are leaders in data-driven decision-making.
- Integrate data literacy courses in the training curriculum of teachers and other actors of education. For example, countries could encourage or require teacher training programmes to incorporate assessment concepts and the use of data for instructional decision making into their teaching methods courses (science methods, language arts methods, and so on). These teacher training programs should incorporate modeling of good use of data for instructional decision making.
- Provide schools with good examples of practices that support the development of a data use culture within schools. Schools will have a hard time supporting staff in data use if they themselves lack a concrete understanding of how to do it.
Quality data is essential for African governments and educational institutions to accurately plan, fund and evaluate educational initiatives. Effective management of African education systems requires an education monitoring information system (EMIS) supplied with relevant, high-quality data and on a timely basis. The management and upscale of EMIS must be guided by a strong legal framework which enables and promotes a strong statistics and accountability culture. Investing in statistical systems needs to become a strategic priority for African countries and strong political leadership is needed to promote the cause of data management for development and ensure educational data are produced with high-quality standards. All actors have an important role to play if we want to achieve our common goals on education and training in Africa.
 Segueda Bénéwendé Bonaventure, Assad Redouane, et Derbala Reem, « Education in Africa: Why data collection plays a key role », 2018, https://www.adeanet.org/en/blogs/education-in-africa-why-data-collection-plays-a-key-role.
 As outlined in UNSC (2014), “Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics”, A/RES/68/261, United Nations Statistics Commission, New York, https://unstats.un.org/unsd/dnss/gp/fundprinciples.aspx
 Even when data are available, they are often insufficiently disaggregated, making it impossible for policy makers to track or compare the situations of different population groups or communities. See more here: IEAG (2014), “A world that counts: Mobilizing the data revolution for sustainable development”, Independent Expert Advisory Group on a Data Revolution for Sustainable Development, United Nations, New York, www.undatarevolution.org/wp–content/uploads/2014/11/A-World-That-Counts.pdf
 The number of students enrolled in African education systems at the primary and higher levels, including vocational training, has increased at an unprecedented rate, from 142.6 million in 1998 to 286.7 million in 2017 according to the most recent data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.
 This includes the opportunity to share best practices among peers within the region and build capacity among national and international peers through sharing knowledge and experience on EMIS processes.
 This includes ministries of education, national statistical offices and partners in the local education groups (LEGs)
 Bah Alpha et Maiga Youssouf Ario, « How Can Education Management Information Systems Facilitate Better Planning and Policy Dialogue in Africa? | Blog | Global Partnership for Education », consulté le 22 septembre 2021, https://www.globalpartnership.org/blog/how-can-education-management-information-systems-facilitate-better-planning-and-policy.
 A distinction must be made, however, between training that focuses on system use and training that focuses on how to interpret data for the purpose of making instructional decisions. Most of the past trainings have been more on system use than data use for informed decision, and were usually quite limited in duration.