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Optimise data in education

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  • Data analytics can help teachers in more ways than one
  • With 1.5 million schools and 315 million learners in India, data analysis becomes crucial

Major points which were repeatedly emphasised in several sessions of Asian Summit on Education and Skills (ASES) and The International Education and Skill Summit (TIESS) conferences organised by India Didactics Association were the need for teachers to take ownership of their own professional development and the future of learning with advent of more technology. From several ministries of education like Maldives and Sri Lanka to private organisations like Microsoft and Education Initiatives, the language spoken was similar and research-based.

With Big Data analysis helping EA Sports to correctly predict the FIFA World Cup Football winners for the last 3 editions; probably influencing the outcome of the elections at one of the world’s largest democracies, it is time that data is used with efficiency in the field of education as well. Microsoft, in its 2018 publication titled Transforming Education emphasises the need to use and analyse data for optimising the transformation. Data analytics certainly can help teachers estimate correctly on student progress rather than assumption, which speaks about where the student has been! Incidentally, teacher estimates of student achievement rank highest in the list of factors impacting student achievement in the findings of John Hattie’s colossal research on Visible Learning as well.

How do we apprise our teachers and other stakeholders about the power of data? How do we support the teachers to take decisions on what help they need in the area of professional development? How do we provide the much needed evidence to back their decisions? The answer is relatively simple –gradually, all stakeholders need to start seeing the canvas from a different perspective. Teachers need to see themselves as researchers; senior stakeholders need to look for evidences at every juncture of decision-making; curriculum developers need to shift from teaching pedagogies to learning strategies. There is a strong need for teachers to get creative and collaborate with peers to maximise the benefit which data can bring to the teaching-learning environment. In a large country like India where there are 1.5 million schools and 315 million learners, imagine you are unable to understand trends and make future predictions. Disaster is the only thing that will loom on today’s children if we are unable to predict the outcomes of the education system and map with what the world is looking for. A lot of discussion and deliberation is currently happening on quality in education. However, student-teacher ratio, student dropouts, teacher absenteeism, infrastructure-related findings are important, but does not give a true picture of ‘quality of learning’. Unfortunately, there is no standardised system for measuring teacher efficacy globally. In the absence of such a framework and much needed standardisation, how do we set a benchmark for other stakeholders to take note? With rapidly changing times in the field of education, we need to remove stagnancy and complacency and ensure that there exists an equilibrium between ‘fresher’ and the ‘experienced’, ‘young’ and the ‘updated’.

Teacher, student and institutional data

A simple teacher-efficacy framework will allow teachers to evaluate his/her own strength areas and also identify and focus more on the areas of improvement. Balanced qualitative and quantitative findings of datasets will pave the way for mentoring and drawing up detailed recommendations which are measurable and can be practised in classroom situations. Frameworks allow standardisation & benchmarking and calls for repeated evaluation at reasonable frequencies.

A well-researched and exhaustive set of behavioural indicators mapping student achievement will allow teachers to contextualise and personalise learning strategies for children. Student achievement cannot possibly limit itself to the end of academic sessions or terms. It needs a continuous monitoring and a conscious shift from assessing what students know now (assessment of learning) to explicitly mentioning success criteria and driving students towards the set goal (assessment for learning). The world is talking about skill gaps and the need for 21st century skills. However, very few have managed to solve the puzzle of assessing these skills! Can one say that student A is creative today but not creative tomorrow? A detailed list of micro-indicators of behaviours defining the skill sets will allow teachers to spot and address gaps (if any) within the skill sets which global educators define to be absolutely necessary.

It cannot be denied that a school is as good as its teachers. The management, apart from infrastructural audits and taking into account facts like annual fees, curriculum on offer, teacher attrition rate, new student admissions, global programmes, safety and security, etc. should also look inside the classrooms before their decision making process. What is the purpose of a new programme? Are certain activities only carried out to tick a list of doables, or it has a positive impact in the larger teaching-learning process? It’s time that school management starts looking at impact of programmes, backed by data-driven evidences while chalking out developmental programmes including professional development for teachers and subsequent investments for the future.

Data is not just numbers

It is a common notion that data is all about numbers. It is extremely important to provide or analyse data in a manner which can be easily comprehended by all stakeholders. The distance between schools and parents have started to increase because a report card only talks about a 64 in Mathematics and an 80 in English! Though some schools do prepare portfolios of children of a few classes, it is not enough. The system needs to bring in parents with a more active role, benefitting the personalised learning experience for the child. Named one of the 13 most innovative schools in the world by Tech Insider, Steve Jobs School in Amsterdam involves parents while designing learning goals for every child which are integral to their Individual Development Plan (IDP). The parents are actively involved in the day-to-day learning journey of their child through a personal digital portfolio which serves as the ‘proof’ of the child’s performance per learning goal. Text documents, screenshots, audio and video get archived in the portfolio which a child can carry with him/her even after leaving school. Something to inspire from for some progressive schools of this country!

Teachers as part of their deliverables design many question papers every year. Is there a practice to analyse the quality of such questions? Do we efficiently engage ourselves in conducting a distractor analysis for all the MCQs that we frame? In short, how do we know that whether we are asking the right questions? An effective data analysis is capable of providing a way to all these untrodden areas. The findings can definitely make a reflective teacher look back at his/her own practices and improve wherever required. It is just the support they need backed with evidence and not with perception!

It is high time that all stakeholders join hands to improve the education system at large. It will only be beneficial if the interventions are taken on the basis of data-supported evidence.

-Arijit Ghosh

Vice President, Education Quality Foundation of India

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