Raising Hopes with eduTrac in CAR
In a Conflict Affected Country, Hopes Arise with EduTrac among School Headmasters
On December 9, 2015, EduTrac was officially launched in Bangui, Central African Republic (CAR) in the presence of Ministry of Education (MoE) officials, school headmasters from in and around Bangui, journalists and UNICEF.
“I’m really happy about the MoE’s decision to introduce EduTrac. It will really help me with my work.” This sentiment was enthusiastically expressed by a school headmaster as she successfully registered in EduTrac by sending a text message to EduTrac’s short number “4004” during a demonstration session jointly organized by the MoE and UNICEF.
Key speakers from the MoE and UNICEF, including an official from the MoE, UNICEF Deputy Country Representative and the Director of MoE’s Statistical Department, expressed their hope and expectations for EduTrac by reminding the audience of some of the major challenges that affect the education sector in CAR due to a lack of reliable and up-to-date school data. For example, basic information such as the numbers of schools, which schools are functioning, and how many students are attending schools is not available, which directly impacts the ability to make informed decisions on education directives and policies. The speakers also mentioned how EduTrac will play an important supporting role in the MoE’s efforts to re-establish the Education Management Information System (EMIS). They expressed special thanks to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), who funded the establishment of, and related activities for this excellent and timely innovation.
As the MoE and UNICEF moved forward with EduTrac, a number of challenges related to technical issues and the ongoing conflict in CAR were successfully navigated.
Most importantly, security incidents that swept through Bangui in late September and mid-October 2015 caused a considerable delay in launching EduTrac activities. Several weeks of ‘lockdown’ in Bangui due to a fresh wave of violence impacted a majority of education activities including the opening of the official school year. Due to this insecurity, EduTrac was temporarily put on hold as priorities shifted to Education in Emergencies interventions to assist newly displaced populations.
Since EduTrac was unfamiliar to many stakeholders, including telephone operators, it took longer than expected to integrate the short number 4004 on telephone networks to achieve full operationalization. Some network operators were open and supportive toward EduTrac while others were somewhat reluctant to integrate the short number as they were not yet convinced of the importance of EduTrac. Nevertheless, after extended negotiations facilitated by government officials and the UNICEF CAR Representative, the four telephone networks have successfully integrated the EduTrac short number into their systems.
It was also noted during sensitization field missions that many school headmasters did not know how to send text messages. Therefore, teaching school headmasters how to send SMS messages required additional time and energy that had not been originally anticipated.
Despite challenges, the roll out of EduTrac remained a priority. School headmasters and MoE officials also continuously expressed strong excitement and enthusiasm for EduTrac. Despite ongoing frustrations due to delayed start up, the MoE and UNICEF organized several sensitization missions to even the most remote regions in the northeast and northwest of the country. Given the limited means of transportation and increased insecurity, it was especially important to reach out to these regions as one of the most significant contributions of EduTrac will be generated from the SMS answers sent by school headmasters in these hard-to-reach regions.
During the sensitization missions, the distribution of instruction leaflets greatly helped school headmasters understand how EduTrac works. Additionally, radio spots on EduTrac both in French and Sango (the national language of CAR) helped raise awareness on EduTrac among school headmasters. One of the headmasters told me that he first learned about EduTrac on the radio.
Among the six indicators in the EduTrac survey, there were two indicators that sparked their interest more than others. One of these was teacher attendance. Many of the headmasters I met regarded reporting on teachers’ presence in classroom through EduTrac as an important milestone for the future. According to one of the headmasters, she used to send paper-based reports to inform the MoE of the irregular presence of teachers in her school. But often times, there was very slow follow-up on her reports or no response at all.
“Reports were sometimes lost on the way. Otherwise, it used to take up to several months to send out the reports and hear back from MoE authorities. I believe that EduTrac’s SMS based method will help establish a faster and more regular reporting system on teachers’ presence and eventually help us find solutions to this chronic problem in many schools in CAR.”
On the other hand, a headmaster from a school located in the central eastern part of the country was more interested in flagging potential security incidents in his school via EduTrac.
“My school is rather isolated with very limited means of communication and transportation connecting us to the outside world. Unfortunately, under the currently unstable circumstances, my school has been a target of armed groups several times. I am happy that I will be able to use EduTrac to inform the MoE of incidents in my school for quick interventions.”
The successful launch of EduTrac in CAR is only the beginning of improving the collection and availability of education information in CAR. The MoE and UNICEF will continue to vigorously work to identify effective strategies and actions to consolidate EduTrac as an integral part of the MoE’s data collection system, promoting government ownership of this exciting innovation.
1. The last education statistical yearbook was published before the ongoing crisis in 2011 – 2012.