Friday, May 13, 2016

Schools, Data and Fast food chains (Day 2)

Schools, Data and Fast food chains (Day 2)

by Rey Laguda

(This is the DepEd USec Rey Laguda's Day 2 of 50-day journey being serialized here with his permission, culled from his Facebook account. - Blogger/owner)

Not many know that we have around 48,000 public schools in the Philippines. These are all under the direct supervision of the Department of Education. How does one manage an organization this big? For a fast food chain, there would probably be point-of-sale (POS) machines that would track daily performance in terms of customer count, sales, product inventories, expenses, etc. Yet for DepEd, not all of our schools have electricity. Not all schools have access to Internet signals. And when we joined in 2010, not all schools had computers.

During the first few weeks in DepEd, I was busy coordinating and getting data that the Presidential Management Staff needed in preparation for the first State of the Nation Address of the President. Sadly, the first data set that I got and transmitted was wrong and immediately, I got my first reprimand. Something I would never forget and resolved should not happen again. There were systemic issues that needed resolving.

The prevailing mode of data collection on schools was manual submission - schools submit an accomplished 7-page survey form to the divisions where it is encoded and then regions validate and consolidate before submitting to the Central Office for national consolidation. By the time national figures on enrollment were finalized, it would already be March/April of the following year. So every year would involve stacks and stacks of spreadsheets and hours and hours of hard work.

Fortunately, our partner, Australian Aid (now DFAT Australia) was ending its project STRIVE which included a component of testing out an online capture of school level data and loading into a relational database. They had remaining funding though to support a nationwide rollout of this system including the necessary back-end hardware and connectivity. The Enhanced Basic Education Information System (EBEIS) was launched in 2011 as an online platform for submitting data and then directly feeding into a relational database that automates computations and consolidation. Historical data on enrollment was also uploaded into the database dating back from 2002.

Since this was a nationwide rollout for a huge organization, DepEd also invested in the orientation of planning officers for all 204 (now 218) divisions and 17 regions (at that time) and of course, to all school heads/designated personnel tasked to collect and submit data. Executive support, dedicated staff and planning officers, continuous communication, and the tremendous commitment of our teachers and personnel in schools allowed us to endure birth pains of such a huge rollout. I cannot fail to mention that we had consultants who were going beyond their terms of reference just to make this a success. The strategy was look for the computer/internet signal rather than wait for it to come to you. And ask any school and they will have war stories and battle scars that show how they survived and lived through the challenges.

The benefits were fantastic. It was necessary and important for DepEd to plan, budget and allocate not just based on gut feel or based on 3 year old enrollment data. This was a journey towards evidence-based decision making and data-driven planning. We now get enrollment data as early as August of the same year instead of March of the following year. By the time we are asked to make budget assumptions, we are now able to use last year's enrollment data and then use the current enrollment to adjust our current spending. This reduces margin of error. We have also reduced errors brought about by encoding because encoding is done once and consolidation is automated. And if there are such errors, we can trace all the way up to the source.

The EBEIS is made available to internal stakeholders from Central Office all the way down to the schools so for better planning and decisions. Analysis now has more depth because we are able to compare data over time and also allow for interaction of data elements with each other.

It was also important that data was made accessible to external stakeholders in the hope that they too can use data and contribute to education reform. So we initially made data available in spreadsheets on our public website for anyone to download. We also started to work with institutions and partners for big data research and analysis.

We are now about to begin our 5th year of encoding and using the EBEIS which now includes about 16,000 private schools and covering about 2000 data elements. There is so much more that can be done in the age of data. It is not far-fetched that enrollment data can contribute to addressing not just education issues but maybe even health issues. Or gender issues. There must be sustained efforts to maintain the integrity of data collection and storage, to make report generation user-friendly and customizable, and to keep continued access to data open for both internal and external stakeholders.

This is a clear testament to what teamwork, perseverance, focus, commitment and leadership can do and achieve. Ibang klase ang taga-DepEd.

P.S. Maybe it's timely to talk about this since there is so much interest in transmission of results and analytics and statistics.




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