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A student in South Africa works on an assignment in a data-driven classroom

Managing the Shift to a Data-Driven Education System

Guest Author: Dina Mosia, Ph.D.

It’s often said that change is the only constant, and this has arguably never been truer than it is now, with today’s world — and the technology that has become such an intrinsic part of it that is — evolving faster than ever before.

The Department of Basic Education’s Data Driven Districts (DDD) programme collects school-level data from the South African School Administration and Management System (SA-SAMS), providing detailed visual metrics on millions of learners, improving the quality of teaching in thousands of schools across the country. This programme is completely changing the way we collect, analyze, and use vital educational data, allowing users to develop more targeted, focused learner intervention strategies to better support learners.

This kind of change brings the promise of a better tomorrow for future generations, but adapting to change of any nature can be a relentless process, and the management, challenging. However, changes in education can bring even deeper levels of educational reform for that better tomorrow.

Several senior education officials have shared their advice for others who are in the process of adopting the DDD programme, aiming to make the transition smoother in effort to effectively harness the full potential of the data.

Show Users How to Assist Learners in the Classroom

Actions speak louder than words. You’re more likely to convince someone of the value in something by taking time to demonstrate to them than simply telling them about it.

Benjamin Nkosi is a subject advisor for the Creative Arts and works in the Gert Sibande District, in Mpumalanga, and has been using the DDD programme for about three years now. He takes advantage of having data at his finger tips to assist him in the subject.

“It helps a great deal when you are able to show other educators and education officials the kind of information they are able to access with the programme, how to analyse their schools’ results and performance,” he further said, “They are encouraged when they see what they can gain from it.”

The Importance of Continued Support

The DDD programme is an online reporting and analysis tool and as such, requires a certain level of computer literacy on the part of users. It’s not complicated and is, in fact, designed to be as accessible to those from all walks of life. But, as Nompumelelo Thukwana – who is the acting Circuit Manager for the Alfred Nzo East District, in the Eastern Cape, and an education specialist – puts it, computers are still considered a new technology at schools that have not had previous access.

“At first, I, myself, didn’t understand how to get reports. For example, I would just browse through the dashboard and look at learner attendance and teacher attendance. I would also forget my username and my password but the more I logged in, the more I got used to it,” she says, “My advice is to be patient with those who might be struggling to get the hang of this technology. More often than not, they are trying their best and the easiest way to motivate them to continue is by sitting down with them and explaining to them why the information the DDD programme provides is important.”

Change takes time whether naturally or spontaneous and providing constant support and perseverance – formal and informal – is essential for progress.

Nkosi says that sometimes when he presents educators and principals with information about their schools, it’s as if they’re seeing it for the first time.

“I make sure to make some time to explain how they upload it and how I then access it through the dashboard and to encourage them to use the programme too, so that we don’t have to catch them off-guard with information that they’ve never seen before,” he says.

Thukwana, meanwhile, says she and her team regularly organise workshops for local principals to address the issues around computer illiteracy, which are prevalent in the largely rural Eastern Cape.

The End Results Are Worth it

Change is possible and the near national adoption of the DDD programme has proved this to be true. It does take time and effort, but Nkosi and Thukwana both attest to the fact that the end results are worth it.

“This programme provides the concrete information needed to develop effective subject improvement plans,” says Nkosi.

And, adds Thukwana, it effects real improvement in the performance of our learners.

“It allows us to track learner attendance and teacher attendance which is important because effective teaching and learning cannot take place without both the learner and the teacher actually attending class,” she says, “In addition, it allows us to be able to design focused intervention strategies tailored to specific learners and their needs. And at the end of the day, our output, as educators, is measured by the performance of our learners.”

Change is both inescapable and necessary. Those who resist change, inhibit growth. But those who embrace and champion it — like Nkosi and Thukwana — pave the way for a brighter future.

Dina Mosia, Ph.D., is a deputy chief education specialist in Mpumalanga, South Africa. She is responsible for the coordination of curriculum development and implementation in the province.