How EMIS data drive education reforms: The case of The Gambia

In The Gambia, like in many other countries, EMIS data have been the livewire for education sector managers and stakeholders involved in the decision-making process. Over the years, the country has made great strides in making its EMIS more demand-driven. Read how here.

Students sharing a textbook in class. The Gambia, February 2019. Credit: GPE/Jim Cham
An instructor looking at data on a Board during a visit of the Bundung Lower Basic School organized on Day 2 of The Gambia roundtable. Bundung, The Gambia. February 2019. Credit: GPE/Jim Cham

In the early 1990s, The Gambia had a traditional education management information system (EMIS), supply-led, compilation-oriented, like those in most low-income countries. The system provided raw data, usually pulling from one database, and maybe a few indicators.

But it did not provide a holistic picture of each school. Since then we have made great strides in making the system much more demand-driven.

School report cards: A tool for information sharing, policy dialogue and improvement

In The Gambia, EMIS data have been the livewire for education sector managers and stakeholders involved in the decision-making process. For example, EMIS data are used to help increase accountability for school feeding programs and for the payment of school improvement grants (SIG), influenced by the ‘school report cards’ sent to schools. It provides a picture of the school’s performance and is a means by which to benchmark.

Parents and the wider community also use school report cards to inform their decisions for selecting schools for their children, particularly those transitioning from lower primary school level to upper primary and secondary levels.

The school report card is a profile similar to the student report card. It provides comparative education data and a means by which stakeholders can assess the performance of the different schools. The card provides comparisons of like with like, so as to make the comparisons fairer and more relevant. For example, if it becomes evidence that math scores are particularly low in a school, it prompts the school and education personnel to allocate resources to remedial math courses and additional training for teachers.

The school report card not only serves as a feedback tool from the EMIS and central offices to the school and community, but also to stimulate discussions among policymakers, school administrators and other stakeholders (parents, communities and students) on how to improve the performance of the learning institution.

The school report card therefore is a tool used during school performance monitoring meetings. These meetings, often chaired by the school management committee (SMC) chairperson or representative, focus on the performance of schools in relation to the resources allocated. Schools are expected to maintain good performance and address gaps, and therefore the meetings are a prerequisite for school improvement planning.

Better data integration and utilization

Such EMIS outcome reports as the school and community report cards have helped in the appreciation of EMIS and offered a good example of data integration from various databases and datasets (enrollment, assessment and exams, teacher and facilities).

This effort showcases how critical data are for improvements in the education sector, by increasing demand for data at the school level in addition to the supply that traditionally comes from education planners. The process strengthens data utilization from the planning directorate to the school and community levels. In addition, the development of these school report cards involves the active collaboration and participation of other stakeholders.

In The Gambia, the institutional home for school report cards is the Standard and Quality Assurance Directorate (SQAD), which determines content, metrics, indicators and tone of the message for the report card.

The Planning Policy Analysis, Research and Budgeting Directorate (PPARBD), which is responsible for EMIS data collection, does the collation, calculation, designing and producing of the customized cards for each school.

These are then shared with schools by SQAD using the Cluster Monitors, who are pedagogical experts who support quality improvement and invite parents for community report card meetings via the regional directorates.

Symbiotic data linkages among education stakeholders

The availability of timely EMIS data under the Planning and EMIS Unit informs the resource envelope and payment of school improvement grants, which is under the Budgeting and Finance Unit.

The grant for each school is calculated using official enrollment data from the PPARBD and disbursement of the grant is based on an approved School Improvement Plan (SIP) prepared at the school level by the SMC and approved by the Regional Directorate. Preparation of the SIP at school level depends on the timely preparation and printing of the community report cards by the PPARBD.

By 2010, the approach that combines data supply and demand was effective, based on providing schools and communities with a more holistic view of each school.

This was achieved through collaboration of various units within the ministry for both producing the data, adding value to it, and ensuring its utilization at school level.

Data integration across databases has also allowed the ministry to add value to what was traditionally just raw data.

Expanding data use and collaborations

More people and education stakeholders in public policy continue to find meaningful ways to use EMIS data to serve their needs. Even the private schools, initially reluctant to participate in EMIS, now see how this culture of data collection and use could be adopted and its value.

Today, data is more essential than ever to tailor and target critical interventions such as SIGs and mobilize government and development partner efforts to advance policy change.

The culture of data-driven decision making in the education sector is still in its infancy. However, the demand for more and timely data proves that all stakeholders–policymakers, planners, headteachers, school management committees – are ready to adopt new data tools, strategies, and solutions. Hence, the EMIS unit has been faced with new data demand that calls for a paradigm shift of focus from a macro level to a micro approach.

To strengthen these demonstrated gains and positive impacts on the education policy dialogue and debate, a variety of techniques must come together to support and nurture the Education Sector Strategic Plan (ESSP) on EMIS.

The culture of data-driven decision making must consolidate inputs from the community of statisticians and data scientists, social sector organizations, public private sector partners, communities, practitioners and policymakers.

As part of efforts to have wider participation and involvement of stakeholders based on the lessons learned from the GPE-led Data Roundtable, where the private sector led efforts were central, the ministry is working to implement a public-private sector approach to have the school report card digitized; it also partners with organizations like the World Bank, GPE, ADEA and the University of Oslo to scale up a new EMIS model throughout the country.

In addition, we are working strategically with partners to continue sharing good practices, which the Ministry of Education and its EMIS team can use to unlock the full potential of data for development.