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An educator in South Africa uses the Data Driven Districts dashboard in her classroom

How Educators in South Africa Leveraged Data During Lockdowns

Guest Author: Leigh Anne Albert

When education leaders and teachers are empowered with quality data, they are better equipped to help students learn. This belief rang true seven years ago when the Department of Basic Education in South Africa launched the Data Driven Districts Program (DDD), and today remains a core value for its nearly 11,000 users across eight provinces.  

The DDD Program not only increases the quality of education data but empowers education officials to use that data to positively impact learners. Since its inception, DDD has encouraged new ways of working and ignited a curiosity to learn how data can change the education system.

The DDD Program consists of a data management tool and a data visualization tool, known as the DDD Dashboard. The program is nimble, consistently evolving based on real-time feedback from users on what features and functions are driving learner success. Even in times of disruption like COVID-19 school closures, educators continue to invest time in the tool and share best practices with the program and one another.  

To further help educators and learners, the program set out to gather some data — about data. The team surveyed nearly 500 dashboard users on how they leveraged the tool during the COVID-19 lockdown. Below are some of the key takeaways from the responses.

Data Insights: The Dashboard in Action During COVID-19

Providing differentiated support 

The data available in the dashboard tells a story — not only one of where the learner or school has been, but where they need to go. In this instance, schools that submitted their Term One data before the abrupt closures were able to access dashboard reports that allowed them to plan for both learners and educators. With access to this data, educators could proactively prioritize their interventions knowing which subjects and learners would require additional support once schools could reopen.   

“The School Achievement Report assisted me to see Term One 2020 learner performance data and be able to profile subjects in accordance to their performance,” shared one educator.

Advancing professional development

While dashboard users typically participate in face-to-face trainings to increase their knowledge of the dashboard and its features, these trainings were held digitally during the lockdown.

Implementation partners at the New Leaders Foundation hosted weekly webinars that covered topics from the basics of dashboard use to analysing data to plan learner interventions. This shift of training into the digital space was a convenient way for hundreds of educators across the country to continue their professional development and take proactive steps to prepare for the reopening of schools. In addition to the ease of attendance for virtual events, it was also simple to collaborate with the Department of Basic Education, whose representatives provided their input as subject matter experts during the webinars.  

 “The presentations from webinars are assisting me as a newly appointed principal to plan interventions for my school,” said one educator.

Enabling remote data access

As the Department of Basic Education announced their plans to ensure school readiness, schools were required to provide their enrollment data to calculate the required amounts of needed PPE. With no access to files and documentation stored at their schools, the dashboard offered an online portal to visualize both learner and educator information needed to calculate these important figures.

 “We were able to get data that helped us to draw up a needs analysis for the District Office and also to submit statistics as per request of [the] circuit manager,” shared one educator.

Continue to Evolve: Lessons Learned

Despite these successes during the lockdown,it was no surprise thatconnectivity at home was an issue for educators. When many were not able to access the dashboard due to limited connectivity, the Department of Basic Education remedied the issue through the zero-rating of the dashboard from various cellular service providers. This means users don’t incur cellular data costs when using the dashboard website.

The survey responses show educators are relying more on the data available and are seeking ways they can proactively help improve the education system, even under challenging circumstances. We thank all the educators using the dashboard — not only for their honest and useful responses to the survey, but for their hard work to improve the lives of learners in South Africa through data.

I am encouraged to see the desire for data and learning overcome situational barriers in these trying circumstances. The pandemic has been a difficult time for everyone, and yet the need for quality data remains.  

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