Global information about Data Must Speak

Unlocking data to strengthen community accountability and equitable education-system management

Through Data Must Speak you can…

  • Unlock education data and make information on school performance more accessible and understandable to parents, communities, teachers, and education decision-makers at all levels.
  • Empower communities to take action and drive change, holding policy makers and schools accountable by providing them with easy to use comparative information about the resources and performance of their schools.
  • Support education officials to make more equitable and more evidence-based decisions that target support to schools and students most in need.
  • Generate knowledge on what works in strengthening community action, accountability and governance through better use of existing data.

Education is a right and a crucial opportunity

It holds the key to a better life for millions of children and adolescents worldwide: a life with less poverty, better health and an increased ability to take their future into their own hands.

Despite common knowledge and growing evidence of education’s benefits, there are 263 million school-age children and adolescents are out of school worldwide. Among those most excluded are children from the poorest households, children with disabilities, children from ethnic and linguistic minorities, and those living in remote or conflict-affected areas. Evidence shows that even if children go to school, they often do not acquire the basic competencies due to the poor quality of education provided, with 617 million school-age children and adolescents are not meeting minimum proficiency levels in reading and maths. Alongside access and learning challenges, education systems suffer from insufficient local-level capacity and ineffective accountability mechanisms at government, regional, district and school/community levels.

A young girl smiling in class.
A female student with a big smile works in class at Svay Kal Primary School, Svay Kal village, Koh Koh commune, Kampong Thom province on July 5, 2018.

Effective use of data can improve equity and learning in education

There is an urgent need to build stronger and more equitable education systems. For education practitioners, information is essential to solve problems, build on good practices, and manage financial and human resources to ensure that systems are managed in an equitable and efficient way.

Education systems throughout the world collect large amounts of data from their schools on a regular basis, however too often these data are only used to produce long reports filled with dense tables.

Education decision makers generally don’t have the information they need in a user-friendly format when allocating key resources or targeting additional support to schools. However, by making existing data available in user-friendly formats more resources can be targeted to those that need them most, school inspectors can identify high performing schools and share their lessons for success, and decision makers at all levels can more easily identify, prioritize and address key challenges.

A teaching with his students.
Frederik Leenknecht, UNICEF Zambia Country Office
A primary school teacher shows to his students the school profile card in Malama Primary School in Zambia’s Northern Province

Data can increase community involvement and accountability

Information also enables communities to take action and drive change. Getting all children into school and learning requires education systems that are transparent and responsive to the communities they serve. Parents and other community members need support to hold school managers accountable for results. The International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity ranked community-based monitoring among the most effective practices to increase access and learning outcomes, and the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation also concluded that community-based monitoring can improve school enrolment and learning when communities are provided with information on the local education situation and what they can do to intervene.

A young teacher presenting findings during a session.
Darafify Ralaivao, UNICEF Madagascar Country Office
A 20-year-old teacher, recently hired, presenting the findings of her working group during a training on the use of school profile cards and education indicators in the district of Vavatenina in Madagascar

UNICEF’s Data Must Speak initiative helps countries improve education through data

Launched in 2014, DMS’s ultimate goal is to increase equity in access to education, and to improve learning outcomes, and it seeks to do this by unlocking and maximising the utility of education data that already exist in countries. DMS currently provides direct technical assistance in Madagascar, Namibia, Nepal, the Philippines, Togo, and Zambia while producing global knowledge on the use of data to improve equity in education and the role of community participation in improving educational outcomes, through evaluations and research.


To achieve its ultimate goal, DMS strives to ensure that:

Data drives policy decisions

Government education officials, at national and sub-national levels, analyze, compare and use education data to inform resource allocation and education system management with an equity perspective.

Communities are empowered

Communities, parents and students are aware of how their school is resourced and how it is performing in comparison to other schools and can pressure school managers to take action to improve their school’s performance. This is done through the development of icon-based school profile cards that are accessible for low-literacy audiences and depict a school’s current resources and performance in comparison to similar schools

Research generates improved knowledge of what works

Rigorous evaluations are undertaken along the way to learn about what works and doesn’t work when making data speak. This includes a randomized controlled trial of school profile cards and related trainings in Zambia and formative evaluation of the global initiative. In addition, DMS produces research country case studies on the associations between community/parental participation and school performance in several countries e.g. Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Côte d’Ivoire, and Ethiopia.


Students in their 5th grade class
Darafify Ralaivao, UNICEF Madagascar Country Office
Student Melene Miasa in her classroom of grade 5 in the public primary school Maromitety of the district Vavatenina (Analanjirofo region in Madagascar)

DMS at work on the ground

In Nepal and the Philippines DMS is supporting more equitable education systems To reduce Nepal’s inequalities in terms of education opportunities, DMS has supported the development of an equity index, which is used to provide more support to districts where schools are lagging behind. The index can be used to inform planning and budgeting, and is an incentive to not only improve overall outcomes but also reduce disparities. The government of Nepal has approved the equity index, and it was used in 2016/17 to target the 5 most disadvantaged districts for additional funding in order to reduce the number of out-of-school children in these districts.

In the Philippines, teacher deployment is a major issue, in particular in the most difficult contexts where there is a shortage of experienced teachers. Since 2016, DMS has supported the development and implementation of a teacher hardship index which is used as the basis for calculating the special hardship allowance to teachers working in the schools in the most difficult contexts in order to attract and retain teachers in these schools. The index combines factors of hardship ranging from travel times to internet access to municipality poverty levels. Teachers contributed to the development of the index through face-to-face consultations and online surveys.

In Madagascar, Togo and Zambia, DMS is catalysing community action
DMS has supported the design, development and production of district and school profile cards in Madagascar, Togo and Zambia and supported the training of relevant stakeholders on their use. The profile cards include comparative data and are shared with policy-makers, school management and community members to enable them to discuss with school management on ways to improve school performance.

As DMS works at scale with national stakeholders from the very beginning, huge numbers of schools and communities now have information on how well their schools are resourced and performing in comparison to others e.g. approximately 25,000 primary schools in Madagascar, approximately 7,000 in Togo, and over 8,900 in Zambia.

Learning by doing – globally and locally
DMS in collaboration with national stakeholders and end-users develops context-specific tools and resources. The tools, resources and lessons learned in each context become public goods that any other country or interested party can use. The profile cards developed have already been a source of inspiration, including beyond the list of countries receiving direct technical support from DMS, e.g. in Kenya, and Uganda.

With the goal of constantly improving the initiative, an impact evaluation in Zambia and an overall evaluation of DMS began in 2018.


A teacher explaining to students in detail.
Darafify Ralaivao, UNICEF Madagascar Country Office
School teacher explaining to a student the indicators used in the school profile card in the district of Fenerive Est in Madagascar