Module A5: Data Flow and Information Dissemination

3. Data and information flow within the education system

All the efforts to record, collect, analyse and produce data, indicators and information about education will finally bear fruit when such data and information are regularly shared and used through- out the education system, by the media, and among the stakeholders.

3.1 data flow throughout the education administration

As can be seen in diagram 1, most education data and information flow vertically through various levels of the education administration.

Data and information flow within the education administration can take place as follows:

  1. Ministry of education informs decentralized education offices at provincial, district and local levels and schools about the latest policies, regulations and instructions (downward information flow ↓);
  2. Schools complete the annual school census forms and then return them to the Ministry of education (upward data flow ↑)
  3. Periodic school reports (required in some countries) that contain both statistical data and narrative-style qualitative information are submitted to the Ministry of education (upward data flow ↑);
  4. Ministry of education contacts schools to verify and correct errors and omissions in the data reported by the schools (2-way information and data flow ↓↑);
  5. Ministry of education feeds back processed and analysed information and indicators to the decentralized education offices and schools for reference in planning and management (downward information flow ↓).

All the levels within an education administration from the schools to local and district education offices, and to central/provincial education authorities share responsibility for promoting the flow of data and information throughout the education system. in principle, they transfer and exchange data and information in a two-way manner according to both regular and ad hoc schedules. For example, school censuses are organized in many countries to collect data from schools right after the beginning of the school year when enrolment numbers have stabilized. Schools may respond to a second school census or submit school reports towards the end of the school year. The Ministry of education may also release various kinds of information on policies, decrees, regulations, and reports during the year.

The chief concern with the flow of data and information throughout the education system is the quantity and quality of information that is shared, the frequency of sharing, and the speed of communicating data through various parts of the education system. These issues apply equally well to the flows (a) to (e) described above.

Take the example of a school manager who regularly receives information about policies, plans, regulations and instructions from the central, provincial and district education authorities. This helps the school to stay up-to-date and comply with the latest policies and priorities in the internal management of the school.

The quantity and quality of data the schools provide in the school census and school reports can have a strong influence on policies and decisions that high-level education administrators make. It is crucial therefore to facilitate access to such data especially for persons who can derive or generate value by further analysing the data, presenting, interpreting and disseminating the salient findings. The analytical information and indicators produced and disseminated by researchers at the central Ministry of education using data collected from schools can in return help school managers to compare performance and identify strengths and weaknesses, if not also to decide on measures to be taken to improve the school.

Activity 2

Carefully examine Diagram 1 and compare it with what you know about the flow of data and information within the education system in your country. Then, answer the following questions:

  1. What are the differences between the data and information flow in diagram 1 and the realities in your country?
  2. Why are there such differences?
  3. What do you think needs to be done in order to further improve the data and information flow in the education system in your country?

3.2 Principles and pitfalls

Regarding data flow from the school to the Ministry of education, schools that do not implement a standard school records management system often find it difficult to respond to the annual school census and to other requests for information from both higher levels of the education administration as well as local stakeholders. Such situations may arise when:

  • the school is not able to answer all the questions and to complete all the tables and details required in the school census form; and/or
  • some data are incomplete for example data missing for some classes, students and teachers, and can vary from year to year, which affect the consistency, reliability and comparability of data over time; and/or
  • the absence of school records or incomplete school records makes it difficult to verify and identify omissions or data errors, and to correct them.

Similar difficulties may arise when schools disseminate information to stakeholders. For example, if the school management board meets at the end of each school year to consider the re-employment (or discontinuation) of individual teachers, but the school records do not contain documented evidence of each teacher’s actual performance through the school year. in this case, the management board may find it difficult to justify their decisions about which teachers to promote, transfer or lay off.

To avoid these pitfalls, all parties involved in data flow and information dissemination must ensure that the data and information are transferred and exchanged based on the following principles:

  • reliable – authentic, accurate, and trustworthy; based on facts, records, documents, and reliable sources.
  • consistent – measured and collected using rigorous standard definitions and methodology.
  • timely – made available on time and refer to current (and not obsolete) situations.
  • clear – presented in an easy- to-understand way, without distortion or ambiguity.
  • complete – have all the required data, information and details.

Systematic school records management and careful management of responses to the annual school census questionnaire can play a decisive role in helping to minimize the pitfalls and ensure adherence to the principles above.

The Ministry of education may encounter the following pitfalls when communicating to decentralized education offices and schools the analysed data and indicators it has produced:

  • insufficient information – not enough for understanding the situation nor for making sound decisions.
  • information that is too general – not specific or detailed enough to highlight gaps, problems, issues and directions.
  • irrelevant information – there may be a lot of information but little is of relevance.
  • too much information – difficult for the user to find the key message and to interpret it.
  • available only after a long span of time – the information has become out-of-date.
  • no clear explanation of indicator concepts and limitations, and analytical methods used – users cannot understand what the indicator means and how they can use the key information that is conveyed by the indicator.

Before producing, presenting and disseminating a piece of information, we must carefully consider who will be interested in the information, for what purpose it may be used, and when, where and how it may be used. This will help us determine the kind of information we need to produce, and how best to present and disseminate it so as to achieve maximum impact.

For example, school managers and district education officers want to compare their school or district with other schools and districts, but the tables and charts provided by the Ministry only present the national totals and by province. it will help if the Ministry computes comparable education indicators for each district and school and shares these, so school managers and district education officers can use the information to compare and improve their own performance.

when the Ministry of education uses its computerized databases to generate a variety of indicators, tables and charts – and then distributes them to the provinces, districts, schools and the media – the quantity of information provided by the Ministry may overwhelm the users’ capacity to understand and use the data. Much of the data may be of little interest or even irrelevant to many people, depending on their role or interest in the education system. Furthermore, it takes a lot of time and effort to sort through masses of data and indicators in order to find the key information. Care must therefore be taken to avoid the problem of ‘information overload’ during information dissemination.

In some countries, the Ministry of education has solved the dilemma of trying to strike a balance between ‘over-informing’ and ‘under-informing’ stakeholders by allowing direct access to public data through the Ministry of Education’s website using flexible tools that make it easy for the visitor to search for and retrieve the information they need.These systems may either provide pre-formatted tables, or allow the visitor to flexibly generate tables and charts of the needed information.

Activity 3

Review your experiences of managing the flow of data and dissemination of information, and then answer the following questions:

For school managers and personnel:

  1. What difficulties have you faced while responding to the annual school censuses and responding to stakeholders’ requests for information?
  2. How would you rate the data and information reported and disseminated by your school in the table below, in terms of estimated percentage of data fulfilling the principles given above? Please add observations if any.
  3. What can be done in order to improve the quantity and quality of the data and information reported and disseminated by your school?
  4. what kind of feedback information would you like to receive from the Ministry of education and local stakeholders?

For district and local education officers, school inspectors:

  1. What difficulties have schools in your area encountered while responding to the annual school censuses and responding to stakeholders’ requests for information?
  2. How would you rate the data and information reported and disseminated by the schools in your area, in terms of estimated percentage of data fulfilling the principles given above? Add observations if any.
  3. What can be done to improve the quantity and quality of the data and information reported and disseminated by the schools in your country/province?
  4. What kind of feedback information would you like to receive from the Ministry of education and the stakeholders in the local area?

For central and provincial education administrators:

  1. From the quality of data reported by the schools in response to the annual school censuses, what are the main difficulties schools in your country/province encounter?
  2. How would you rate the data and information reported and disseminated by the schools in your country/province, in terms of estimated percentage of data fulfilling the principles given above? Please add observations if any.
  3. What can be done to improve the quantity and quality of the data and information reported and disseminated by the schools in your country/province?
  4. How should the Ministry of education communicate analysed data, indicators and information to the districts and schools?

 

Activity 4

Compare and discuss the ratings given in the table in question 2 above in order to sum up the views on the quality of data and information that have been reported and/or disseminated within the education system in your country.

Activity 5

List, review and discuss the actions proposed in answers to question 3 above in order to identify the most frequently suggested actions, together with observations regarding when, who and how to implement each action.

Activity 6

Review the answers to question 4 above, compare the needs for feedback information which were expressed by the district education officers and school managers with what is suggested for the Ministry of Education in this section, and highlight the differences as well as possible solutions.

3.3 Channels for data and information flow

There are various channels through which data and information can flow, including:

  1. sending paper copies of the school census questionnaire form, school reports, indicator tables, analytical reports, brochures, information sheets and administrative circulars;
  2. electronic transmission of questionnaire and data files on CD-ROMs, USB sticks or by email;
  3. schools reporting data directly online using the Internet;
  4. dissemination of feedback information using CD-ROMs/DVDs, USB sticks, emails, the web or mobile phone SMS.

Depending on the availability of computer facilities, internet connections and mobile phones, as well as staff capabilities, such vertical data and information flows may utilise a combination of the channels (a) to (d) above for different types of data and information.

3.3.1 Pros and cons

In many countries, information is usually shared using paper documents as described in (a) above, especially between schools and offices in local areas. The advantage of using paper-based documents is that most people are familiar with paper, whereas they may be uncomfortable with other methods of sharing data. The main disadvantage is the intensive physical handling required for transferring paper documents and the need to take account of distance, mode of transportation and the time required to send the documents. Furthermore, it involves the acquisition of quantities of paper, and additional costs of printing, distributing and collecting the completed school questionnaires and reports. dissemination of processed and analysed information in paper form requires similar considerations of space, time and material resources needed.

In many countries, the Ministry of education and some schools are equipped with computers and internet access. More and more, school personnel are using computers and the internet to exchange data and information with other schools and offices within the education system.

Items (b) to (d) above show that electronic media such as emails and the Internet can multi- ply the quantity of data and information transmitted and received, and drastically reduce the time and physical effort required to transmit them. For administrative and pedagogical purposes, policies and measures can be implemented to help schools to use computers and the internet for transferring data and disseminating information. Recent experiences have shown that even if some schools do not possess computer equipment or internet access, they can use the facilities in other nearby schools, local government offices, private homes, or internet cafes. For those schools that do not have any such access, paper documents may continue to be used.

Activity 4

Find out about the availability and current pattern of use of different channels for data flow and information dissemination in your school, local area, district, province, or country. Then, answer the following questions:

For school managers and personnel:

  1. Which channels can your school use to share information and data?
  2. What kind of difficulties do you experience in your school while using the different channels?
  3. What proportion of the staff in your school know how to use a computer and access the internet?
  4. How do you propose to improve the use of the different channels for data flow and information dissemination?

For district and local education officers, school inspectors:

  1. Which channels can schools in your area use to share information and data? in what proportion?
  2. What kind of difficulties do the schools in your area face while using the different channels?
  3. What proportion of the staff in the schools in your area knows how to use a computer and access the internet?
  4. How do you propose to help the schools in your area to improve their use of the different channels for data flow and information dissemination?

For central and provincial education administrators:

  1. What is the overall situation with regard to the use of different channels for data flow and information dissemination in the schools in your country/province?
  2. What difficulties do the schools in your country/province face while using the different channels?
  3. Overall, what proportion of the staff in schools in your country or province have the skills needed to operate a computer and access the internet?
  4. How do you propose to help the schools in your country/province to improve their use of different channels for data flow and information dissemination?

3.4 Communications for data quality assurance

Section 3.1 (d) above refers to a very important but often neglected vertical data flow. This occurs when the Ministry of education takes action to check and improve the quality of data that have been reported by the schools. This happens when the annual school census returns are verified and processed at the Ministry of education. Gaps, anomalies, and errors in the data may be identified for some schools during this process. The recommended practice is for the Ministry of Education to quickly contact these schools and request them to:

  • complete any data omissions;
  • correct any data errors; and/or
  • explain the data problems or deviations from standard definitions and practices.

As can be seen in Section 6 in Training Module A2, timely communications between the Ministry of Education and the schools are crucial for ensuring the overall quality and credibility of the data collected during the school census. Such communications can help to ensure that, once a school receives the enquiry from the Ministry of education regarding data omissions and errors, the school manager will organize detailed verification of the school records and other data sources in order to provide rapidly the requested corrections and/or explanations.

District education officers, local education officers and school inspectors can play a decisive role in this process, by ensuring the timeliness of reply and quality of data corrections from the schools. Taking advantage of their physical proximity and direct access to the schools, they can be informed and tasked by the Ministry of education to quickly follow up on communications about data quality. They can also advise and help the school to organize effective data verification and respond in a timely and reliable manner.

In the case of communications on paper, the Ministry of education can provide the district and local education officers and school inspectors with a copy of the enquiry that has been sent to the school, to specify the kind of data omissions, errors and explanations required. when using electronic media, these intermediate level education officers can be copied in the same way by email. As part of their regular contact with the schools, the district and local education officers can remind the schools of their need to act promptly to respond with the required data corrections.

If problems with data quality continue after the school has responded, the Ministry of education may issue additional communications to request the school to take additional corrective actions. All such communications should be copied to the district and local education officers for follow-up action and support.

Activity 5

Find out about how communications and actions are organized in your country, province, district, or school in order to ensure data quality including what are the respective roles of different levels of the education administration. Then, answer the following questions:

For school managers and personnel:

  1. Has your school ever been asked by the Ministry of education to correct omissions and errors in the data you reported in response to the annual school census?
  2. If yes, did the communication from the Ministry of education clearly specify the omissions and errors? Have you been able to respond well to such requests? How did you do so?
  3. If no, do you think this kind of communication is important and useful? why?
  4. What kinds of actions have been taken by the district or local education officers or inspector to remind and help your school to provide timely response to such requests?

For district and local education officers, school inspectors:

  1. Have you ever received a copy of the communication from the Ministry of education to a school in your area, asking the school to correct omissions and errors in the data they reported in the annual school census?
  2. If yes, did the communication from the Ministry of education clearly specify the omissions and errors? were there instructions asking you to follow-up by reminding and helping the school to provide a timely response to the Ministry of education? what actions did you take to help the school respond?
  3. If no, do you think this kind of communication is important? why?

For central and provincial education administrators:

  1. Does the Ministry of education systematically contact schools to ask them to correct omissions and errors in the data they reported in response to the annual school censuses?
  2. If yes, what percentage of these schools responded well to such requests for corrections? How was the quality of such responses? why didn’t the other schools respond?
  3. Are the district and local education offices and school inspectors informed and involved in reminding and helping the schools to provide timely responses? How effective have they been in such tasks? Please give examples.
  4. If no, what does the Ministry of education plan to do in order to improve data quality in the future?

3.5 Feed back analytical information and indicators, decisions and impact

Schools are required to report data to the Ministry of education. in turn, the Ministry of education is responsible for analysing the data and providing summaries of their analysis and indicators to the schools and education officers at decentralized levels. These education officers and schools use the information to formulate policy, to plan and manage the delivery of educational services, as well as to monitor and evaluate their performance compared to other schools and districts.  This two-way flow of information from schools to the Ministry of education and back is an important mechanism for accountability within the education system. it also promotes informed decision- making at all levels of the education administration.

Using the data collected from schools, the Ministry of education can produce a variety of feedback information for different purposes and target stakeholders, such as:

  1. annual reports, indicator reports, news bulletins, media releases, brochures and posters for publication and dissemination to a wide range of stakeholders and the general public.
  2. thematic analytical reports and briefings for reference by policy-makers, planners and administrators at different levels of the education administration.
  3. provincial and district summaries comparing the districts and the schools in the district for use in decentralized education planning and management, and for comparisons of school performance (see example 1 below)
  4. individual school summaries with calculated indicators compared to district/provincial/ national averages for use in school management

As the Ministry of education communicates more and more information and indicators to education administrators at all levels and promotes accountability, they are expected to develop practices in systematically using information and indicators as a basis for informed decision-making. The more they use the information, the more they will become aware of its usefulness and the need to strengthen competencies and capacities in collecting, analysing and using data and information in their work.

Activity 6

Find out about what kind of feedback or information products, such as the ones listed in points (a) to (d) above, have been produced and disseminated, and then answer the following questions:

For school managers and personnel:

  1. Have you ever received any feedback information from the central Ministry of education or the provincial or district education department like the ones cited in (a) to (d) above? if yes, please indicate what you received.
  2. Do you think such feedback or information is useful for better management of your school? if yes, which information is especially useful? if no, why?
  3. More specifically, what would you like these feedback or information to present in terms of summary data, indicators and information?

For district and local education officers, school inspectors:

  1. Have you ever received any feedback information products from the central Ministry of education or provincial education department like the ones cited in (a) to (d) above?
    if yes, please indicate what you received.
  2. Do you think such feedback or information is important for better management of the schools in your area? if yes, which kind of information is especially useful? if no, why?
  3. More specifically, what would you like these feedback information products to present in terms of summary data, indicators and information?

For central and provincial education administrators:

  1. Does the Ministry of education systematically produce and disseminate feedback information products like the ones cited in (a) to (d) above to the provincial, district, local and school levels? if yes, what have you produced and disseminated? if no, why not?
  2. What have been the reactions you received from the different levels of the education administration about the usefulness of each kind of feedback information products you disseminated?
  3. What do you plan to do in order to further improve the production and dissemination of feedback or information to different levels of the education administration?

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