Why We Need Effective Education Management Information Systems

By Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS)

It may sound dry and dusty, but an education management information system (EMIS) lies at the very heart of efforts to monitor progress towards the world’s education goals, particularly Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4). It is a vital instrument that has, perhaps, had less attention than it deserves, given that an EMIS should be, in essence, in the core of the planning and policy implementation processes in a country’s education ‘machine’.

This week, I am meeting with governments and development partners at the International Conference on Education Management Information Systems in Paris. There is unanimous agreement that a truly effective EMIS goes far beyond than simply collecting administrative data on the numbers of students enrolled in schools that are gathered as a matter of course.

Modern EMIS has to be positioned in a well-known place of a national education information system, covering other areas different to the traditional ones, or at least technologically integrated to the relevant data sources allowing to know, for example, who is spending what, on whether children are actually learning what they need to know and with feasibility of data disaggregation at the school or even the student level. Only those characteristics will make an EMIS really relevant for the policy planning and the management of education systems.

No wonder the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) are working together with countries to help ensure that every EMIS is as good as it can possibly be. Through a task force of international development agencies, GPE and the UIS are working to strengthen the capacity of ministries of education on EMIS so they can produce the high-quality and timely education and finance data needed to reach their specific targets and goals. 

As many of my previous blogs have reported, data collection is a key part of the challenge of monitoring progress on SDG 4. But, more important, you also need a strong EMIS to put the resulting information to good use, produce the indicators relevant for national planning and implementation of the education policies needed.

Some countries are making great strides, such as Brazil, which is a member of the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on Sustainable Development Goal Indicators (IAEG-SDGs) and the Technical Cooperation Group (TCG, which is co-chaired by the Institute). The Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) has brought together all of the country’s official data producers to help construct the country’s SDG indicators, identifying gaps and setting out ways to close them. And the National Commission for the Sustainable Development Objectives is disseminating good practices that facilitate SDG implementation and monitoring, with technical advice from IBGE. An online data platform will go live later this month with locally produced SDG global indicators. Discussions in 2018 will aim to produce and publish national indicators, making the SDG online platform a one-stop data warehouse for Brazil’s education data.

In other words, countries are rising to the measurement challenges of SDG 4. As the Brazil example shows, there is plenty that they can do to push ahead with their data. And the UIS stands ready to help, with tools and strategies to get the job done.

For example, the SDG 4 Data Digest sets out a roadmap for countries and donors to collaborate on the production of quality education data. One major aspect of this roadmap is, of course, capacity development, with the statistical capacity of many countries stretched almost to breaking point by unprecedented demand for data on new areas. This demand compels them to collect and scrutinise more data from an ever wider range of sources. So it is critical to expand national capacity, particularly in the countries with the greatest data needs.

To support countries and donors in their quest for more and better data, the Digest sets out the UIS model for statistical capacity development. This is rooted in the formulation of a national indicator framework, which is developed with the full engagement of all national stakeholders and serves to specify all the country’s data needs, follows a comprehensive mapping that identifies the data sources that are already in place, as well as the information gaps.

Meanwhile, the recent Handbook on Measuring Equity in Education provides concrete guidance for data coverage to ensure equitable education opportunities for the most disadvantaged people. It sets out what it actually means to measure equity in learning, drawing on the experiences across 75 national education systems. It represents a recognition that unless everyone moves forward on education, the world’s education goals will remain tantalisingly beyond our reach.

That is why the UIS wants to ‘re-boot’ the education sector through the kind of data innovations seen in Brazil that respond to demand, and is promoting a Global Strategy for Education Data. As part of that promotion, we are constantly making the investment case for the data needed to chart progress towards SDG 4 on education.

If we are to succeed in our attempts to reach SDG 4, all of these efforts must be underpinned by a robust EMIS in each country. In Paris this week, the UIS will share perspectives on EMIS data utilisation, good practices and lessons learned in that area, in the context of the newest statistics developments related to the Agenda SDG 4-Education 2030. My hope is that this week’s conference will help to position this key tool far higher on the world’s education agenda.

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