Education Reform In Kenya Starts With The Data
In the past two years + I have been fortunate enough to work in the open data space. From the launch of the Kenya Open Data Initiative in July of 2011 where we made CDF data accessible through a mobile application to more recently where we deployed a pan-African repository for Government, Civil Society, Corporate and Donor Agency data. In this relatively short period, I have taken government data and made it easily interpretable for policy makers and the public alike. This has led me to see what power this data could have in shaping how we approach developmental issues; particularly its importance in the education sector in Kenya.
What Is Open Data?
Open data is the idea that certain data should be freely available to everyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control. The goals of the open data movement are similar to those of other “Open” movements such as open source, open hardware, open content, and open access.
- Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_data
This is a recurring question I receive (whether in facial cues or verbally) constantly when I say I work in the open data space so there you go. In short, open data is awesome and would allow a larger group of people to analyse and make fact-based decisions to impact the society. Also it enables keeping governments and institutions accountable.
Current State of Data In The Education Sector in Kenya
Last year at Code4Kenya we worked on FindMySchool (FMS.Ke), a portal to display results and help parents and students alike make more informed choices of schools based on their (the schools’ and students’) performance. Building FMS.Ke involved working closely with the Minstry of Education and Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC) to get data that was not available on the Government’s Open Data portal.
On receiving the data, we knew we were in for a hard time. First, the Ministry of Education and KNEC keep separate information on schools in separate databases with different IDs. So immediately there was no way of directly linking the different datasets we received.
Then there was the fact that all the data was outdated. Datasets on the school’s details such as number of students and the like are over 5 years old. There is no way of definitively telling you what those numbers look like today (or last year, or the year before that, or the year before that). In fact the only machine readable dataset available from Ministry of Education on such school details is from 2007.
Last but not least, performance datasets across the years were created on an yearly basis. Meaning that not only did the school IDs change but so did school names from spelling errors. This meant that we had to comb through thousands upon thousands of rows manually linking years of school performance data and fixing obvious errors.
No Data, No Progress
Being able to see first hand what was going on made me realize a deep-seated problem with how our public education sector (and most of our government) is being run. No cohesion across institutions and clear lack of simple information systems fundamentals.
The lack of data means that none of those political promises made can be quantified or reviewed. Meaning no politician can be said to have or not have fulfilled their duty to the people. All we would have to go by is the word of the [loudest] politician. Hence we choose by speech eloquence and not facts. Facts necessary if development is to happen as a factor of the leaders we appoint.
Strategic decision making is left to the headmasters of schools who do not have the necessary resources nor perhaps the skills set and experience to properly influence the bigger picture. The bigger picture being a better, effective public education sector across the country. This little gem has clearly stumped the growth with all sorts of malpractice being the order of the day at our primary, secondary and tertiary schools.
What Needs To Be Done
For data to become relevant and useful, we need an overhaul of the current information systems being used. At the very least, government should have a unified database for use across the different education sector entities.
Data collection still happens with a form filled out and passed along the chain of command. Being able to transform these forms or even supplement them with a simple sms, mobile and web connection to the main database could majorly cut down the time it takes to have updated, machine-readable data.
Most important yet, standards need to be created and implemented. Having a simple set of rules and guidelines on what kind of data is collected, how it is presented and who has access will allow for a clear cross-year comparison. These standards could range from how and what data is entered to who enters and verifies this data.
The data could provide unprecedented insights as to what could make the current dire situation better. It would allow linking this data with others such as medical and agricultural, and getting to the root of the problem instead of wildly going about blaming him or her and committing vast amount of resources to fixing non-issues.
Having a platform where the Teachers Service Commision (TSC) is able to keep track of its teachers. Then from performance data fed in by KNEC, they are able to assign specific teachers to the schools that need them the most. This would reshape the current corrupt teacher placement that is dependent on who one knows and allow for a more transparent placement and review mechanism.
This data could also define the strategic positioning of secondary and tertiary educational institutions. Knowing a certain number of pupils are going to graduate from primary education in a number of years allows proper planning of the transition into secondary and tertiary education. This would result in budgeting for more secondary schools and more teachers way ahead of time allowing to look for funds without delay or crisis.
I could go on and on how one would be able to correlate this data with crime statistics or employment data but if we don’t start to unify this data now, we will never know how much we missed. How many signs we should have been receiving that could have saved more lives and effect the development that we so badly need and want to see in this country.
We can only gain by starting to look at the data. And making this data available is the first step.
All in all, if our education sector can not do what it preaches (maths, computer science, science and languages), are we not all doomed?
Added Bonus [Video]
Here is a brilliant video on changing education paradigms adapted from a talk given by Sir Ken Robinson, world-renowned education and creativity expert and recipient of the RSA’s Benjamin Franklin award.