Article

Do countries have the educational data necessary to respond to the pandemic?

By Alejandro Vera and Martín Scasso, Regional Bureau for Education in Latin America and the Caribbean (OREALC/UNESCO Santiago)

Education Management Information Systems (EMISs) have been strategic for the region’s governments to organize emergency responses to the scenario brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the suspension of in-person classes in March 2020, these systems have been employed to provide the data that supports the organization of distance education, the monitoring of school attendance in the different proposed modalities, the planning of the physical return to school, and measuring the impact on learning, among other needs.

These demands have stressed the EMISs: they have been asked for more data than they usually report, more frequently and more often, and in areas that are usually not considered for measurement.

How many schools are closed? Do the students have computers and connectivity? Are the teachers prepared to maintain online teaching? Are the schools in a position to comply with the protocols for a safe return? How much are students learning? When to return to in-person classes? These are some examples of the multiple requirements for information that have emerged in this context.

The document Educational information systems in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, from the Regional Bureau for Education in Latin America and the Caribbean (OREALC/UNESCO Santiago) presents reflections on the way in which EMISs have had to adapt to this scenario, making a synthetic review of the main challenges and dilemmas.

Countries have had to find different, creative solutions to respond to the needs provoked by the pandemic, adapting the way in which information systems collect and produce information. For example, according to a survey by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics regarding the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in the National Educational Planning Units, 62% of Latin American and Caribbean countries were forced to postpone the collection of educational data due to the difficulties arising from this context, while 58% implemented new data collection methods (34% via online surveys), and 54% required an increase in the frequency of collection.

On the other hand, the results of a recent survey by the Latin American Laboratory for the Evaluation of Educational Quality (LLECE) indicate that several countries suspended their evaluations of learning achievements in 2020, and others postponed them. Many plan to adapt their tests in 2021 for use as a diagnostic in response to the crisis.

Challenges

In this scenario, three major challenges can be defined:

  1. The current emergency has made a set of data, indicators or key dimensions a priority for the diagnosis that were not considered in the EMISs, or not in the required manner. These systems had to adapt traditional indicators to the new meanings imposed by the pandemic (such as measuring enrollment or attendance in distance learning formats), while also generating new, previously unthinkable information (such as aspects of hybrid teaching or the different ways of connecting students with learning), and improving the quality of existing data that did not meet planning needs (such as infrastructure data).
  2. The need to integrate the EMISs with other sources of information has become urgent, in order to consider dimensions external to the educational world, such as social or epidemiological indicators. This integration is rare, even before this context. The region’s educational systems function as “silos” where each department operates autonomously, which results in fragmented information systems. The COVID-19 emergency exposed the need to strengthen this integration, and progress has been made in building articulations to design better responses from the sector.
  3. Information production times have had to be reorganized. Historically, the processes of collection, processing and dissemination of census information meant that EMISs had a natural lag. The pandemic has forced the periods between production and availability to be reduced, since in a changing scenario the data quickly becomes obsolete.

The extent and depth of the impacts of the COVID-19-induced emergency are not yet known, but it is possible to imagine that education systems will require significant modifications in the medium and long term as a result. As such, the EMISs must be reconfigured to accompany this adaptation process, and to guide the responses to mitigate the negative impacts of the crisis. The challenge will be to identify the lessons learned from this experience to improve data timeliness, develop technological improvements and strengthen the connection with other data sources.