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Kicking Off a Data-Driven School Year in South Africa

Guest Author: Catherine Nell

After one of the most difficult school years in history, South African educators are starting the 2021 academic year later than planned. Last year’s pandemic-related school closures and the resulting learning loss provide new challenges for both educational officials and learners. With resources stretched everywhere, the data insights offered from the Data Driven Districts (DDD) Program can help educators and education officials prepare more effectively for the new school year.

Launched by the Department of Basic Education eight years ago, DDD supports improved learner outcomes by making high-quality education data available and encouraging its use. The program helps education officials identify problem areas so they can support learning goals at the subject, school, district, and provincial level.

While most DDD users were not able to access the dashboard while schools were closed, they can now take advantage of the tool to prepare for the new academic term. Here are ways the dashboard can help education officials move forward, despite the challenges ahead.

Putting Term Four Data to Work

Analysing Term Four data will help education officials further focus for the new year, and so far, more than 70% of schools submitted their 2020 year-end learner achievement data onto the DDD Dashboard. This data gives these schools insights on which learners and subjects to prioritize this year, so education officials can develop more targeted intervention strategies. The dashboard also includes several helpful reports that can further inform these intervention strategies — like the School Achievement Report and the Principal’s Dashboard Report. These reports show how schools perform against the circuit and district average, as well as subject improvement rankings, which will support planning for 2021.

Data Visualisation for Concrete Actions

In addition to empowering users on various levels to intervene early with support learners need to succeed, users can also quickly see the results of actions taken. Principals can assess learner progress and plan their resources accordingly. Subject advisors can analyse performance on subjects to see where action is needed, while circuit managers can see which schools need more support. Meanwhile, curriculum officials can easily view overall performance as well as performance per subject and grade level.

Easy-to-See Patterns and Opportunities

The program allows users to download reports as data comes in, and clearly shows patterns and helpful opportunities for improvement. As a result, decision makers can take action based on fact rather than anecdote and gutfeel. Without DDD, the data aggregation and analysis required to identify these insights would be time-consuming and arduous.

Encouraging Data-Driven Behaviours

The DDD team is continually refining and upgrading the program based on vital user feedback, and users often ask how they can grow the culture of data within their peer groups. As a result, last year the DDD team introduced a pilot scoreboards feature allowing districts and circuits to be ranked against their peers on how they are capturing and utilizing data on the dashboard. This feature will roll out nationally in 2021 to motivate users to enter their data and see how they score. Districts and circuits can compare their dashboard usage to others in their region, receiving motivation as they see further opportunities where valuable data can be used to improve the lives of learners this year and beyond.

Through the efforts of the Department of Basic Education and thousands of education professionals across the country, the DDD program is helping the education system become more data driven. Without the commitment of the education leaders who are actively using the tool, students would lose the benefit of valuable data and insights to improve their learning outcomes. We are grateful for all the educators who support the goals of their learners and have found the path to data-driven interventions.