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South African student with a tablet benefits from data-driven education

South African principals reaping the rewards of a data-driven education system

Guest Author: Themba Kojana

When you ask Eric Siyolo Mayekiso why he became a teacher, his answer is simple: He wanted to help people.

“I like to see people progressing. And I like sharing information, I don’t like keeping it to myself,” he says.

The vast majority of educators and officials share Mayekiso’s sentiments. They chose this industry in the hopes of making a difference in the lives of as many children as possible. And ours, as the Department of Basic Education and custodians of the national education system, is to support their efforts.

One of the ways we’re doing this is through our Data Driven Districts (DDD) programme, which provides educators across the board with an online reporting and analysis tool that collects school-level data from the South African School Administration and Management System (SA-SAMS), which the department provides free of charge, and visualises critical metrics and indicators of educational attainment. This allows for both learner and teacher performance to be tracked more effectively and paves the way for better decision-making when it comes to intervention strategies and improving the efficacy of teaching instruction in the classroom.

The DDD system equips teachers and education officials with information and detailed performance data for more than 11.5 million pupils in more than 22,000 schools around the country.

The principal of Goqwana Junior Secondary, in the Eastern Cape, Mayekiso was first introduced to the DDD programme in 2017, when the department sent him and five other principals from his circuit to East London, in the Eastern Cape, to take part in a training workshop.

“I came from the East London workshop with my dignity having been restored, because I knew how to manage my school,” he says.

Mayekiso’s staff was at first — and understandably — wary of the new programme.

“They had the assumption that it was there to catch them out and so I had a series of capacity building workshops to let them know that this programme was here to stay,” he says.

But now, Mayekiso says, his staff comes to him to ask about their performances.

“This programme is in their veins now,” he says.

The DDD programme allows Mayekiso and his staff to galvanise subjects that learners are struggling with and to put in place classroom support interventions.

“I’m able to give plenty of feedback to both learners and educators and to let them know instantly whether they are on the right track or not because everything is displayed on the dashboard,” he says, “I can also continuously monitor progress and clarify the target objectives.”

Mayekiso describes the programme as “spot on.”

“We know where to go to. And it has also created constructive competition among educators.”

Eugene Sibisi, the principal at Tswelelo Primary School, on the outskirts of Johannesburg, agrees. Sibisi was first introduced to the DDD programme in 2016, when he too attended a workshop with the provincial task team.

He says the way the dashboard represents the data — using pictograms and graphs — makes it easy to understand and analyse.

“It gives us a clear idea of what the state of access within the school actually is,” he says. “We discuss the reports very regularly and we try to make sure that most of the school management teams are logging into the system, so that what we discuss is accessible to everyone.”

Sibisi explains that some of the most useful insights relate to learner and staff attendance.

“We also look at the task marks that have been completed; the speed at which we are working; and learner performance, which shows us which learners are performing below a certain level and allows us to intervene before it’s too late,” he says.

The DDD programme is helping the teaching corps and driving improved learner outcomes at Tswelelo, says Sibisi. He encourages other principals who might be hesitant to try the programme, to take the leap. And as the department, so do we.

“This programme allows me to stay tapped into my school at all times, whether I’m on the school premises or not. I have 24-hour access to all the information I need to pinpoint the areas which need my attention,” he says.

Themba Kojana is deputy director-general at department of basic education in the Eastern Cape Education Department.