Innovation is at the heart of the country’s growth agenda, and it has been identified that the rise of new technologies would have a major impact on South Africa.
President Cyril Ramaphosa last year said, “We see a country that has embraced the benefits of technology for economic growth, social development, and for more effective governance. We are producers of knowledge and drivers of technological progress.”
Innovation is, indeed, an incredible enabler. It can spur meaningful, sustainable growth and development for individuals and nations alike. But in order to harness the true potential of innovation, we need to keep the human experience front of mind.
This is something that the Department of Basic Education’s Data Driven Districts (DDD) programme works to champion — both externally and internally.
The programme makes school-level data from the South African School Administration and Management System (SA-SAMS) available — and moreover, easily accessible — to teachers and education officials on an online dashboard. This with the goal of equipping these teachers and education officials with tools they need to effectively improve the education outcomes of their learners.
Continuous Improvement, Based on Changing Needs and Demands
The DDD programme has, in the seven years since its launch, undergone a number of changes and upgrades.
With the latest release, for example, have come a number of improvements and new features — inspired by users who identified tools that educators need — including more detailed information around the number of subjects failed by a learner, providing a clearer picture of the kind of assistance and support the learner needs.
Thomas Sibiya, the deputy principal of Imfundo Secondary School, highlights the advantages of the most accessed report, the Learner Chart; “the Learner Chart shows us the subjects that a learner failed and we can, in turn, show the learner and his or her parents. It’s much easier to help both learners and parents understand, when we can support what we’re saying with charts and graphs.”
Users of the DDD programme are able — and encouraged — to inform changes and upgrades in line with what matters to them. Progressed learner management is but one example of the many data views that user input has brought to life.
“One of the biggest improvements I’ve seen has to do with the information on progressed learners which, in the past, we didn’t have,” says Ntombikayise Masemula, Chief Education Specialist for the Further Education and Training (FET) Phase in the Nkangala District of Mpumalanga.
Masemula first started using the DDD programme in 2016.
In 2017, after assessing feedback received from a number of education officials, we added a ‘previous year promotion status’ indicator in the Learner Chart report, which now allows Masemula and her colleagues to pinpoint progressed learners and give them the support they need.
One of the latest innovations to feature in the DDD programme, the Learner Intervention Planning report, goes a step further. It uses predictive analytics to identify and prioritise learners who are at risk of not passing.
“We can now view how our learners are performing throughout the year and it’s really assisting us to intervene when necessary,” says Masemula.
Better Informed Intervention Strategies
The DDD programme’s ultimate aim is to contribute towards a South Africa where children enjoy a better teaching and learning experience, and a better chance at future life success. One of the most significant ways in which the data made available through the DDD programme can contribute towards the South Africa we envision is through its use to better inform intervention strategies that foster an environment in which all children can learn, grow, and thrive.
These intervention strategies can manifest in a variety of ways.
Recently, Nthahleni Magwana — principal at Ludeke Junior Secondary School in the Eastern Cape — shared a creative way in which he and his team had approached the challenges of absenteeism and late coming at their school – as evidenced by the data relating to learner attendance provided through the DDD programme.
“During the Annual General Meeting at the end of the year, learner absenteeism was top of the agenda. We decided to launch an attendance campaign titled ‘No need to debate, go to school, don’t be late’. We put up posters in the classrooms and the learners stuck stickers on their diaries,” he explains.
And the proof is in the pudding. On August 27, 2019, 100% of the children enrolled at Ludeke Secondary were in attendance. “I recorded it in my diary because it was the first time that had happened since I arrived here. I was so happy,” says Magwana.
Magwana’s victory may at first glance, appear a small one. But this is how we build a culture that values data and, in turn, one of excellence — from the foundation up.
Innovation is Key to Success
The DDD programme launched in 2012. The following year, when the programme entered the pre-pilot phase, there were 54 000 learners on the system. Today, there are more than 11.5 million individual learner records accessible on the DDD Dashboard.
Scaling a programme of this nature is a challenging and demanding process. But that we have done it, shows progress is possible.
And key to the progress we’ve made in this context, has been user-conscious innovation — not just in terms of technology but of people and processes, too.
Khodani Makatu is a cluster leader on the Data Driven Districts programme at New Leaders Foundation. He is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the DDD Programme in five provinces across South Africa.