Technology for Accessing, Maintaining, and Using Education Data: Are We There Yet?


Radhika Iyengar

Angelique Mahal

Background to EMIS

Countries have been investing in their Education Management Information Systems (EMIS) to collect, manage, display and use education data. EMIS have been used to inform budget and resource allocation (International Institute for Educational Planning [IIEP] 2006; InfoDev, 2006d) and to aid educational management, policy formulation, and local and global communication and collaboration (Hua & Herstein, 2003). These systems are valuable for program and resource monitoring and evaluation (Hua & Herstein, 2003) and have been used to identify limitations to education plans and shed light on what is truly needed in a country’s education system (InfoDev, 2006d). One of the main objectives of EMIS is to provide public access to educational data that is accessible to civil society, NGOs, local community members, and government bodies at all levels, thereby building more accountability into the education system. To utilize EMIS to its fullest potential, stakeholders at all levels (local, regional, and national) need to have access to data that is relevant to their interests and planning needs. Particularly useful for monitoring and evaluation of educational projects, EMIS can be a resource for data-driven decision making. Subsequent examples from multiple countries show that EMIS is often used at local or district level government offices to track the progress of educational projects vis-à-vis resources allotted to these projects.

Country-specific evidence  suggests a wide range of uses of EMIS. For instance, in Southern Sudan, Ghana, Mozambique, Namibia, and Palestine, EMIS provided reliable and comprehensive electronic databases of education statistics. Southern Sudan and Ghana found EMIS useful for funding and resource allocation (UNESCO, 2010; InfoDev, 2006a). The Southern Sudan Ministry of Education, as well as donor agencies, used EMIS for building teacher payroll systems (UNESCO, 2010). In Ghana, district offices used EMIS to formulate their annual operational budgets, ensured funding provision at decentralized local levels, and empowered district offices to develop their own operational plans (InfoDev, 2006a). Southern Sudan and Mozambique demonstrated that EMIS is particularly useful for the monitoring and evaluation of  education indicators (UNESCO, 2010; InfoDev, 2006b). At the national level, Mozambique’s EMIS outputs played a significant role in generating targets for national policy frameworks, assisting in the process of monitoring progress and enabling the Ministry of Education to identify whether the recent expansion in enrolment levels was achieved at the expense of quality. However, at the decentralized level, EMIS outputs have not significantly impacted planning in Mozambique due to lack of funds, capacity constraints, and conflicting sets of indicators (InfoDev, 2006b).

Countries such as Palestine and Namibia have used EMIS for conducting research and policy analysis (Voigts, 1999; Sultana, 2003). In Namibia, EMIS is a well-maintained database of educational data that served as the basis for annual statistical reports, gave the government capacity to respond to requests for statistical information, provided geographical coordinates of all schools, and created capacity for conducting research and special surveys (Voigts, 1999). In Palestine, EMIS facilitated the demands of policy research by providing district level disaggregated data and highlighting gender-related issues through gender audits, and was a helpful source of information regarding schools, classes, achievement, population, manpower, finance, personnel, buildings, and student data (Sultana, 2003).


Challenges Associated with EMIS

Hosting valuable information doesn’t necessarily guarantee the use of it. Blank (1993) outlines several steps that should be included in the development of data systems. These include formulation of the research question, involving stakeholders, creating relevant indicators, ensuring data quality and data collection standards, reporting a reasonable but not excessive amount of indicators, collecting complementary additional data, and maintaining standards for aggregation and the presentation of data and indicators.

Following the steps outlined is not generally easy. EMIS is faced with many challenges. Firstly, since EMIS uses a technology interface, a strong technical backbone is needed to host the data. This platform itself often involves a lot of technical expertise which is not available in most countries (InfoDev, 2006d). For instance, Mozambique had difficulties establishing an IT infrastructure that would allow web servers to contain and update frequent data flows, overcome challenges related to having only a limited number of computers and minimal management software, and establishing a web security system (InfoDev, 2006b). Data-related challenges create additional problems in Mozambique, where struggles with the lack of access to data continue to render EMIS counter-productive to its main purpose (InfoDev, 2006b).  A second set of issues is with data inaccuracy or delayed data. Namibia and Palestine faced issues arising from dual sources of data that caused overlaps of information (Sultana, 2003). Nigeria faced significant challenges in nationalizing their EMIS program due to the lack of valid and timely data (InfoDev, 2006c). Ghana faces challenges in incomplete census coverage and missing data, which reduced stakeholder confidence in EMIS data (InfoDev, 2006a).

A third set of issues is around capacity building. Bangladesh, Ghana, and Southern Sudan lacked funding, commitment among government officers, and qualified staff working on data collection, analysis, and data management (InfoDev, 2006d; UNESCO, 2010). EMIS should be supported by capacity development that enhances staff confidence and provision of training workshops on topics such as understanding indicators found in EMIS (InfoDev, 2006d; Hua & Herstein, 2003).

A fourth set of issues relate to the actual use of data on EMIS. Simply displaying the data does not guarantee its use. The data needs to be presented in a user-friendly format and shared at various platforms to multiple stakeholder groups to get their buy-in. This buy-in has to happen before the indicators are decided upon and displayed on the technology interface. Having a target audience and engaging them earlier on ensures their use (Hua & Herstein, 2003). Another factor is the culture around data and its use in the countries. Lack of faith in data and not considering its value in their day-today operations posed a major challenge (Hua & Herstein, 2003). Civil wars and countries in conflict situations created gaps in the data related processes (data collection to setting up EMIS) (IIEP, 2006). Organizational structures and operations strongly influence the environment in which EMIS develops and unclear lines of accountability and poor coordination impede EMIS development (Hua & Herstein, 2003). High rate of staff turnover is another one of the major limitations to developing sustainable usage of EMIS (Hua & Herstein, 2003). Lastly, lack of budgets for development and upkeep of EMIS has been a major hindrance in the sustainability of EMIS initiatives (Bhatti & Adnan, 2010). Governments often fail to establish a sustainable budget for EMIS projects or provide staff training for the optimal utilization of EMIS (Bhatti & Adnan, 2010). For instance, insufficient resources for important EMIS maintenance made Ghana’s program obsolete (InfoDev, 2006a). Therefore, the uses of technology in education have thus far been focused on facilitating the provision of funding, identifying budgetary needs, engaging in monitoring and evaluation, helping inform education strategies such as enrolment drives, establishing a repository of aggregated and disaggregated data, and conducting document research and policy analysis. As noted, challenges have included development and maintenance of the technological interface, backend data processing and data updates, building staff capacity to maintain the system, and promoting the actual use of data.

Please read: for more details on the development of an EMIS-like data system for Nigeria. This paper discusses the development of the Nigeria MDG Information System (NMIS) which was developed for a baseline facility inventory of education, health, and water and sanitation facilities throughout Nigeria. This paper also provides an in-depth discussion on the challenges the project faced as well as some of the successes.



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