Education in Africa: Why data collection plays a key role

Data are essential to provide a better understanding of the educational contexts in order to make the system more innovative and effective in identifying trends and possibilities.

Statistical table of a classroom at the Yokon-Gbeme school in Benin. CREDIT: GPE/Chantal Rigaud

“Without reliable data you’re just another person with an opinion”

W. Edwards Deming

We live in a rapidly changing world, and every nation is endeavoring to adapt to these changes. However, without appropriate planning based on high quality data, tremendous resources and effort will be wasted.

Education is an important factor that can help improve a country’s situation, with constant adjustments to uncertain educational contexts, new societal demands, new student and teacher profiles, new teaching and learning methods, and the communications and digital revolution.

Data are therefore needed to provide a better understanding of the educational contexts in order to make the system more innovative and effective in identifying trends and possibilities.

Governments around the world are giving priority to data in their efforts to improve the services they provide to their citizens and to determine how best to adjust their policies to take advantage of new possibilities.

The African context

The number of students enrolled in African education systems at the primary and higher levels, including vocational training, has increased at an unprecedented rate, from 142.6 million in 1998 to 286.7 million in 2017 according to the most recent data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

This increase, a response to strong societal demand, has led to a transformation in the institutional framework, governance, available pedagogical training, and teaching practices at all levels of education.

As a result, new challenges have emerged at the national level, such as urgent needs in good governance, quality of learning and enhancement of equity.

Moreover, regional and global challenges, such as the objectives of the strategy for Africa over the next 50 years, “Agenda 2063, Continental Education Strategy for Africa 2016-2025 (CESA 16-25)” and the increase in the number of education targets and indicators in the context of the Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) are placing greater pressure on education systems in Africa and are generating increased demand for education data.

The existence of various sources of data makes it difficult to ensure consistency in collection and processing. This is the case for school statistics and administrative and financial data.

National statistics institutes or bureaus conduct population censuses and specific surveys, such as household surveys, and produce national statistics covering the education and training sector. Development partners produce regional and global data in all areas of education and training, usually based on information provided by countries.

Data are key to guiding and managing education and training systems in all countries without exception. They provide information on the state of the education system and its evolution over time. It is on the basis of indicators, calculated using the data collected, that such assessments can be made.

In the cycle of educational policies there are four key moments that illustrate the importance of data.

  1. Data are very useful in the formulation of education and training policies and strategies to determine the objectives and targets. Clear, relevant and sustainable choices cannot be made without reliable, relevant data
  2. Data are also important in the implementation of those policies. They make it possible to ensure that progress is being made toward the predefined objectives and can be used to identify and implement corrective measures to ensure that the policy objectives are achieved.
  3. High-quality data are essential to measure progress over a given period and to verify the achievement of the results and objectives.
  4. The conclusions of this assessment are ultimately the basis for decisions on whether a policy should be maintained or a new policy developed.

Thus, at all key stages in the process, analyses and decisions must be based on data to be relevant and beneficial.

Effective management of African education systems requires an education monitoring information system (EMIS) supplied with relevant, high-quality data on a timely basis.

Is there a brighter future for data on the African continent?

Despite the major challenges facing African countries, the future is promising. Many countries have an EMIS, although urgent measures must be taken to improve the collection and processing of data. It is essential to:

  • Modernize the EMISs to promote the optimal use of information and communications technologies (ICT) to improve data quality and production times and make the EMIS dynamic;
  • Build the capacity of participants in the statistics value chain by organizing adequate training based on positions held and key profiles;
  • Build the capacity of the data production structures by providing them with adequate material, financial, and human resources;
  • Establish stable and permanent EMISs to minimize the upheavals resulting from institutional changes that assign management of the education and training sector to one or more ministries, depending on the country or government. Excellent examples are Mali with its Education and Training Planning and Statistics Unit (CPS-EF) and Senegal with its Education Planning and Reform Directorate (DPRE), which produce statistics for the entire education and training sector, regardless of the number of ministries responsible;
  • Develop harmonized and complementary partnerships with organizations that have expertise in EMIS at the global and continental levels, particularly UNESCO and the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA).

A statistics culture is gradually developing in various countries owing to the joint actions of governments and the technical and financial partners such as ADEA and UNESCO. The need to base actions and decisions on evidence is pushing countries to focus more attention on EMISs. The principle of accountability is emerging and calls for high-quality data to inform and report on public actions.

ADEA’s actions to improve education data

Effective and efficient use of the tools developed by ADEA and its partners to guide countries in the production of high-quality data can significantly improve the availability of reliable and timely education statistics on the continent.

These tools include the EMIS Norms and Standards Assessment Framework developed by ADEA in cooperation with national EMIS experts. ADEA hopes to use these norms and standards—contextualized and adopted by the African Union and its Regional Economic Communities—to strengthen the entire statistics value chain through peer reviews, which also provide an excellent peer learning framework.

This exercise generally results in the preparation of a quantified action plan, the implementation of which will have a real impact on the national, regional, and continental EMISs.

As part of this effort to improve the quality of education sector data, ADEA is working with countries to develop EMIS policies covering the entire education and training sector to ensure effective monitoring of progress made in the implementation of the national and international agendas on education and training and to measure the performance of African education systems.