Using data to improve education in Angola
A digital application, developed with support from UNICEF, aims to bring back children outside the education system
CACULA/QUIPUNGO, Angola, 31 May 2017 – At Primary School n.231 in the municipality of Cacula, Huíla province, a young technician named Ernesto interviews the school principal by asking a series of basic questions. He inputs the answers into a tablet at an astonishing rate.
"Number of students and teachers per course in this school? Number of classes? Do you have electricity? Water? School supplies?" asks Ernesto. The principal answers the questions while observing the electronic device with curiosity. Meanwhile, some children approach timidly to see what is happening and how the tablet works.
The two are sitting outdoors on stones under a tree, where classes for the nearly 400 enrolled students are regularly held. Minutes earlier, Ernesto walked haphazardly across the school grounds, holding his tablet in the air to find the best coverage so he could identify the school's location coordinates.
The scene, unusual for a humble school such as this one, has been repeated in the 1,843 primary and secondary schools within the 14 municipalities that make up Huíla – Angola’s second most populous province, where half of the inhabitants are under the age of 14. Rural, urban, public, private – all of the schools were visited and registered in the Education Management and Information System (SIGE, in Portuguese) of the Ministry of Education.
As part of an innovative initiative led by the Cabinet for Studies, Planning and Statistics – Ministry of Education (GEPE, in Portuguese), the Provincial Government of Huíla is implementing a pilot project to collect and georeference school statistics via a digital application, developed with support from UNICEF. During each visit, a technician uses the tablet in three stages: photographing the school, georeferencing it, and inputting data on school features, statistics, quality and performance based on an extensive questionnaire.
By using the tablet's application, the data collected is transmitted from the ground to an online platform and then validated. The overall goal is for the information to be available in real time, allowing those responsible for the education sector at local, provincial and national levels to make decisions based on accurate, up-to-date information. They can then use the data to develop their plans based on the needs of the sector, and ultimately publish the Annual Education Report.
"Up to now, the data has been collected through paper surveys, which would take tremendous time," says UNICEF Angola's Education Specialist, Eneida Martins. “This system will make information available in real time, allowing it to be compiled, analyzed and validated in a short period of time."
According to 2014 Population Census, 22 per cent of Angolan children between age 5 and 18 are outside the education system. Timely information will help to understand the reasons why, and eventually help change the situation. "This process allows us, for example, to analyze the distribution of schools, and to find villages where they do not exist... We can also analyze the structure of each school," says the supervisor of the eastern municipalities, João Hequer.
By cross-referencing this project’s data with the Census and the projection for the following years, the Government can identify which areas have the greatest needs, as well as the level of demand for school infrastructure or teachers’ distribution and training. The project will help improve education offerings in terms of both quantity and quality.
But the project does not come without challenges. "In some cases, the distances between schools is very large and some are difficult to access," says Abel Bala, supervisor of the northern region. Dirt roads, rivers, hills – all hinder the work of technicians usually travelling on motorcycles. However, they still manage to gather data from about 50 or 60 schools on average per day.
Another challenge is the Internet signal, which can be weak or non-existent in remote areas of the province. But the system has been set up to allow for data collection in an offline mode, transmitting to the central database once an Internet connection becomes available.
The project began with digital data collection training for a group of trainers, promoted by GEPE in Luanda, who in turn trained 28 technicians, two from each municipality. "At first it was more difficult because some of the young people had never seen a tablet and did not know how it operates; but everything has gone well since," says Abel.
UNICEF provided technical and financial support to the project, specifically to its design, the software and equipment acquisition for digital data collection, as well as the training of national technicians who are implementing the initiative.
The participating technicians are committed to the project. Sometimes they prolong their working day until nearly night-time, checking over vague answers from some of the school principals at the moment of data collection with the tablet. "I am happy, it is an honour to be in this project, first in the province and in the whole country," says Estêvão, a technician in Quipungo.
For this reason, this successful pilot project in Huíla may become a model for a similar project at a national level. Once financial resources are secured, the Ministry of Education plans to extend this model to all provinces in Angola. And soon, the unusual image of a young person manipulating a tablet in the most remote schools will become commonplace throughout the country.