It is impossible to dispute the importance of accurate education data and information for monitoring commitments to deliver quality, equitable education for all. As a result, governments worldwide are increasingly investing in new technologies and web-based tools to transform education management and delivery systems.
In 2017, for example, the governments of Kenya, India and Pakistan invested in technology to improve information available to decision makers. Proponents have cited the ability of these technologies to assist policy makers to analyze student progress throughout their education trajectories, monitor leakage and fraud, such as ghost teachers and schools, which deprive millions of children worldwide from receiving an education.
The 2017/8 Global Education Monitoring Report Accountability in education: Meeting our commitments highlighted the need for collecting transparent and relevant data about the strengths and weaknesses of education systems to enhance accountability in education. The Report showed that technology creates new possibilities for citizen engagement and access to information via online platforms than ever before, thereby enabling real time feedback and communication between education providers and users. Yet the Report cautions that countries need to be judicious in their use of data, keeping in mind the costs and time needed for data collection, which many low and middle-income countries cannot afford.
The Report showed that ICTs can help make providers accountable through three channels.
The first one is by simply connecting citizens and the government. Widespread, equitable use of information depends on it being relevant, accessible and understandable to target audiences, such as parents or government authorities. Ministry websites, such as Australia’s My School site, introduced in 2010, enables comparisons between similar schools. Similarly, online report cards are critical tools for promoting accountability for schools, districts, and states by publicizing data about student performance and program effectiveness for parents, policy makers, and other stakeholders. Report cards help parents/guardians and the general public see where schools are succeeding and where there is still work to do. Yet, these systems are unlikely to benefit low income populations. The Report shows that the United Republic of Tanzania’s raw data were not widely used, even though they were openly available, because less than 5% of the population had access to internet and the data was not presented in a simplified summary form.
The second channel is by measuring performance of frontline providers. Technological advances and improved accessibility of devices, such as cameras, tablets and smartphones have facilitated their use by communities in holding teachers accountable. In Udaipur, India, students used cameras with tamper-proof dates to photograph their teachers at the start and close of the day. Initial research suggested that this, jointly with the financial incentives provided, helped decrease teacher absenteeism. Similarly, a Ugandan project to raise teacher attendance in 180 rural public primary schools distributed mobile phones equipped with software to report teacher absence to education officials. Both examples demonstrate the benefits of technology coupled with citizen participation to address long-standing governance issues in education. Pakistan introduced an innovative project utilizing mobile fingerprint biometrics. The project is funded through the Global Partnership for Education and aligned with the World Bank’s Identification for Development initiative. It relies on mobile biometric identification technology to enroll and verify the identity of over 150,000 Pakistani teachers throughout rural communities.
A third way technology can strengthen accountability in education is by allowing citizens to express themselves by informing about their level of satisfaction of the education services. South Africa’s ‘Fees must fall’ protests – the largest student uprising since 1976 highlights the growing role of social media, to foster accountability, transparency and responsiveness by government. The Twitter hashtag #FeesMustFall trended countrywide, played a central role in the national political discussion and was widely used in mainstream media coverage of the protests. Eventually leading to the Heher Commission into the Feasibility of Fee-Free Higher Education and Training in South Africa.
Underpinning these examples is the notion that the use of ICTs leads to higher citizen involvement in education through more accessible channels of communication between education providers and users, a cornerstone of an accountable education system.