January 22, 2023
Article by Dr. Dwayne Dyce and Mrs. Judy Villeneuve-Dyce
Data is a dirty word for many people living in developing countries who mistakenly believe data is a lofty exercise that is best done in developed nations. The reality is that developing countries have been collecting data and using this data to make important daily decisions for generations.
Take for example a simple farmer who may plant peas in the same location on a hill until one season he notices that the pea leaves are a shade too pale. He realizes that there must be too much limestone in the soil which drained down the hill from the recent rainstorms. So, he decides to move his pea crops to a less affected section of his farm and instead plants tomatoes and sweet peppers in place of the peas. He knows this is a good solution because he knows that these crops will not be adversely affected by the limestone and thrive on the hillside.
This farmer collected data over time through either his own personal experience or was taught by other farmers. He conducted a study of his own land geography, its' altitudes, soil quality, environmental risk factors, and alternative farming strategies to increase yield productivity. He just did not write it down or store it in a database to share with other farmers to learn from his experience, which is also known as data.
Data is what the farmer knew, such as knowing pale pea plants' leaves will not yield production and therefore would never reach harvest. Data is also what the farmer did not know. Had the farmer intentionally employed soil analysis strategies to identify the precise impact the limestone has on the peas' nutrients, the increased nutritional benefit limestone has on the soil used to grow tomatoes, as well as the minimal effect limestone acidity has on the red peppers, he could have made more strategic farming decisions to increase the amount of his production of more nutritional products and beat his competitors with his foods' improved taste and quality.
Our developing countries must want the same for our children that the farmer wants for his crops, which for farmers is a high-quality yield that beats the competition in the produce market and for schools is high-skilled students that are equipped with the academic, technological, and social-emotional skills to successfully compete in the expanding global economic market.
This goal for our students may only be achieved through intentional data collection that informs creative problem-solving and innovation to effectively design and implement sustainable solutions that produce optimal education outcomes.
While UNESCO provided some suggestions in its Developing and Monitoring Framework for the Caribbean region, these recommendations do not form a basis for countries to develop intentional data collection strategies for self-improvement but rather facilitate developed nation comparisons with other developing and developed nations. However, developing countries will not be ready to compare progress and development until these nations develop an effective and efficient data culture.
The following fundamental strategies will help guide developing nations to begin to develop effective and efficient data culture on which real Data-Informed Education Policy, Design, and Implementation progress may be achieved.
1. Create Class Activities and Student Clubs to Develop and Reinforce Data Literacy
Schools may begin creating a Data Culture by incorporating data into the classroom and after-school programs to improve data literacy throughout the school community. Schools can start small by incorporating data collection activities during classroom instruction. For example, before a read-a-loud in the lower grades, teachers may ask students to choose from a selection of books in a democratic exercise of voting. Teachers may take volunteers or select certain students to write down how many children vote on a certain book to be read by the teacher, how many children enjoyed the book, and how many children would read the book on their own time. These data collection activities become more complex in the upper grades and may include having students both look at and interpret data in relation to geography, mathematics, politics, and other academic areas.
Sometimes, simply taking the pulse of students in the classroom about how they are feeling and what topics to focus on or how they prefer to learn a subject provides a level of scholastic differentiation and student-centered teaching that improves subject retention and their social-emotional well-being. Teachers will quickly realize that creating a school culture of data literacy improves multiple student outcomes in and out of the classroom.
School administrators can work with teachers to create purposeful data literacy avenues for students through further implementation of real-life projects, such as measuring the daily use of solar energy or investment banking trends online. This gives students the opportunity to observe trends and projections that become a part of school-based learning, which is relevant to their academic development and professional training for future careers. Many students come to school eager to think through complex issues facing their communities. Educators need only engage them and present the tasks in such a way that will incorporate their innate creativity and curiosity. This will reinforce students' data literacy.
2. Establish Data-Focused School-Based and Regional Teams
Many schools have conversations about educational data and how to create and monitor data management systems. The process is not one that requires excruciating planning by various high-level stakeholders but is much simpler. School-based teams can easily be formed by educators within a school who enjoy or want to learn how to keep up with the school changes and student progress. By no means is this task beyond the abilities of our teachers, which was evident during the pandemic.
At this time, educators learned to engage students and teach remotely using previously unfamiliar technological tools. They communicated with students and parents over various devices and online platforms, as well as, learned how to use online assessment tools to evaluate students' academic needs even though many of the systems in place were insufficient.
School administrators must revive these newly acquired skills in our teachers by tapping into the people who succeeded and thrived using technology during the pandemic. Each school that emerged from the pandemic has these hardworking teachers and support staff as critical school resources, from which a school-based data team may be assembled to organize and help lead the long-term data-driven changes in schools throughout each school district or region.
Much of the same type of data-focused leadership can be employed similarly to the ones employed at the district or regional levels where directors may provide space for data teams to meet, discuss, and implement simple but targeted educational policy and academic improvement strategies for schools to work towards achieving. Those educational leaders who are already showing interest in contributing to making meaningful changes at the school level may create teams composed of like-minded educators who are willing to identify data-driven change initiatives and see them through to fruition.
3. Incorporate Data Culture at the National Education Ministry Level
Data culture is essentially the integration of data-informed practices as a way of life taught at the school level and implemented at every administrative level of the education sector. It is especially important that, at the executive level of leadership, data culture is shared through systems of effective communication to minimize gaps in the chain of data-informed culture development and policy execution. The incorporation of data as a culture requires the administration to employ full-time data leaders to establish safe data storage practices, design the collection of data methodologies, and partner with education experts in leadership to guide their data-informed policy decision vision and actionable steps.
Adopting a data culture requires a change of mindset and for many people, change is difficult and likely met with opposition. Therefore, change leaders must be prepared to engage pushback with informed practices that can be communicated with care, empathy, and support throughout each district or region. Effective engagement is the key to successfully adapting to change and must be inclusive of all stakeholders within the school community. For our school systems to be effective, educational leaders at the ministry levels must create systems that consistently incorporate data culture in all regions or districts.
Once developing nations' school systems adopt a data culture, they will habitually collect data about measurable experiences, and qualitative information obtained from stakeholders. This carefully evaluated data will inform education policy decisions, such as, what 21st-century education priorities schools are adopting, how teachers administer differentiated instruction to students, what continued professional development training teachers receive about technology and other essential skills, as well as, what steps educational institutions take to ensure students are equipped with the entrepreneurial and skilled labor in demand within the global economy. These schools will be empowered with the data needed to create highly skilled, and educated students who will grow into valued citizens.
Dr. Dwayne Dyce is the Chief Executive Officer and Mrs. Judy Villeneuve-Dyce is the Chief Financial Officer at Education Solutions International Inc. a U.S. based 501(c)3 nonprofit focused on providing Educational consulting services, leadership workshops to governments executives, senior education administrators, and principals, teacher professional development training, as well as, donations, scholarships, and grants to schools and students throughout the Caribbean and diaspora member countries. For more information about ESI, visit educationsolutionsinternational.org to learn more about the authors, visit: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dr-dwayne-dyce-b8bab56a/ and https://www.linkedin.com/in/judyvilleneuve