BLOGS

ESSA, DJY, ZIZI AFRIQUE AND EDTECH HUB HOLD UNLOCKING DATA WORKSHOP

We held a workshop with Decent Jobs for YouthEdTech Hub and Zizi Afrique to get stakeholders’ views on data relating to youth skills and employment.

On the 6th of May 2021, our workshop brought together over 70 stakeholders in the education sector and industry from over 8 countries: Columbia, Pakistan, Ghana, South Africa, Kenya, Senegal, Canada, and India.

Moderated by John Mugo, Executive Director of Zizi Afrique, the launch saw the participation of various representatives of organizations including the International Labour Organization, MasterCard foundation, eBASE Africa, VVOB, UNICEF, GIZ, UNFPA and Traore Consulting. Through breakout sessions, participants shared their experiences, challenges and solutions in accessing data on education & youth employment in Africa.

In regions where government data is limited, unlocking the patchwork of data collected for baseline evaluations, landscaping studies and feasibility assessments would give decision makers a bigger picture of the state of education in their countries.

John Mugo, who participated in one of the breakout sessions aimed to interact with many people from different contexts to deepen his own understanding and sensitize his attitude on how stakeholders could do better for the benefit of all youth globally.

“The biggest gap is the use of evidence to connect trainers and employers to transform the way youth access opportunities post-training.”

The Chief Executive Officer of ESSA, Lucy Heady was grateful to participants for their contributions and highlighted the need for more collaborations to improve education and work for young people in Africa.

“So much energy, so much ambition from the group, it was really exciting to see”.

Visit the new Youth Foresight, a knowledge facility launched by Decent Jobs for Youth in partnership with Generation Unlimited. Tap into this network of knowledge, action and resources; supporting more jobs for young people.

LET’S BUILD UP THE NEXT GENERATION OF EDUCATION RESEARCHERS

Have you ever had a performance review that really hit home? One where you felt maybe your manager could see into your soul? Mine came a few years ago. I had been called out for not doing enough to implement a new reporting system. In response I mumbled something about being under pressure with all the other things on my plate.

My manager looked me in the eyes and said, “the thing is Lucy, I know you, if you want to make something happen you can. You just didn’t care enough.” I had no come back. She was right. I hadn’t cared enough, but until that moment I had not seen that this was the problem.

If we, the global education sector, were to give ourselves a performance review, what is the thing we could make happen if only we cared enough? I point the finger at sharing data.

DATA SHARING HAS OFTEN BEEN SEEN AS A TRANSPARENCY ISSUE BUT IT IS SO MUCH MORE; IT IS A SECTOR-BUILDING ISSUE.

Much is made of the need to build education research capacity in the Global South and yet we fail to invest in one of the simplest ways to do this: let us match scholars from countries in the Global South and their students, with the data sets they need to become experts in education research.

The last 15 years has seen an explosion in research and evaluation in education. We are convinced by the power of strong monitoring and assessment to contribute to effective education systems. Of course, the critic can point to how far we lag behind the health sector or how we are still finding the right mix of research methods to properly influence policy and practice, but no one can deny the progress in understanding impact.

WHAT WE HAVE NOT CARED ABOUT ENOUGH IS SHARING THE RAW DATA.

Data sets languish on the hard drives of academics, consultants and funders. In the best case scenario, they are rigorously analysed and published in an open-access journal but frequently they will be used to develop private reports that benefit only a paying client.

If data is only ever analysed by those who collect it, we miss out on the wealth of human imagination that could be brought to bear on it.

Different perspectives bring new thinking, new ways of combining data across studies, new research questions.

Anyone who has done a Master’s degree in a social science knows the pain of finding a good data set to analyse for their dissertation. We go where the data sets are. Data availability defines entire academic careers. Opening up data attracts the best minds to a discipline and increases access to those without the resources to collect primary data.

Last year Addis Ababa University hosted a meeting with the REAL Centre at Cambridge and the Centre for Global Development for African leaders in education research, based on findings from the African Education Research Database. Lack of access to datasets was highlighted by those attending as a major barrier to improving the discipline of education research on the continent and increasing influence with policy-makers.

There are lots of reasons why sharing data is hard: it costs money, data must be properly anonymized, academics are keen to harvest the publications they can before sharing further and so on. But none of these are killer problems if we care enough.

There are numerous examples of data repositories from the UK Data Archive to the Global Health Observatory which have set up approaches to access and governance that suit the needs of their communities.

THE GLOBAL CRISIS CAUSED BY COVID-19 CHANGES THE CALCULUS AGAIN.

It unlikely that any new primary data will be collected for months and so all existing data has become even more precious. Many researchers and their students will have had their plans change. While many will be absorbed with responding to the crisis, there will also be many with analytical capacity to spare.

Let’s do what we can now to direct this spare capacity to the education sector and build up the next generation of education researchers.

As a first step, we would like to crowd-source a list of education data sets that are already available so that it is easier for interested researchers to access them.

The next blog in this series discusses how we can accelerate research on these data sets by scholars from sub-Saharan Africa and their students.

Now is the time to open up access to data sets in education, to release those spreadsheets from dusty hard drives. We can do this; we just need to care enough.


We are building a list of open access education data sets.

If you would like to add to this list, or contribute an idea to our blog series ‘Doing more with Data’ please email comms@essa-africa.org.

AFRICAN SCHOLARS MUST BE CONNECTED TO THE DATA WE NEED

It is thought that the extended closure of education institutions following COVID-19 could worsen inequity in many ways. Scholars on the continent can use this moment to provide solutions through analysis of the situation and publication. However, the research output of African scholars has been the lowest in the world.

Connecting African scholars to quality data may help accelerate research output in Sub-Saharan Africa, and improve education and learning on the continent.

Though Africa is home to 17% of the world’s population, less than 1% of the global research output originates from Africa.

Some authors relate this to the poor ranking of African Universities. In the Ranking Web of Universities (2020), only 4 of the African Universities are ranked among the top 500 universities globally. All the 4 are from South Africa. The top ranked University of Cape Town is ranked 276th globally.

CHALLENGES FACED BY SCHOLARS IN AFRICA

Looking at what is written about this, the perspectives of African scholars are poorly represented. First, poorly matched by resources, the expansion of the university in the last decade has yielded an extremely poor lecturer to student ratio.

In most social science classes, it is common to find one lecturer in front of 1,000 students. The teaching workload, exacerbated by marking of scripts in an examination, rather than knowledge driven education system, is one untold scholarly nightmare.

Related to this, the low ratio of Ph.D. holders to graduate students has yielded very poor supervisor ratios. One scholar lamented:

“At one time in my early years of scholarly life I was supervising 11 PhDs and 24 Masters students.”

At the same time, the relatively low salary of university scholars, against the expectations of being the most educated in society, yields pressure. Scholars are often trapped in part-time teaching of commercial courses (referred to as moonlighting in Kenya) or leading a life of consultancies.

Access to research funding is poor, as most universities have sunk their capital into the development of infrastructure to accommodate the swelling student populations.

Combined, these circumstances present the worst recipe for research output.

NOT ALL IS GLOOMY, AND COVID-19 OFFERS MOMENTUM TO ACT

In 2018, documentation by Duermeijer and others established that in Africa, scientific production grew by 39 % between 2012 and 2016, the fastest in the world. However, much of what is published is in the health sector and other areas of the economy. Despite the fact that most scholars are in education (within universities), publications in education are relatively low.

The education closure following COVID-19 offers a moment of reflection on how we, African scholars, could change the landscape.

Though teaching is moving online for most universities, the burden of moving to class and marking physical scripts is less. Many research consultancies have dried up now, and a dip in field research opportunities is expected in the period of recovery that follows.

This period, and the next months, present a grand opportunity for scholars to pick up analysis and writing. This may be the best time for African scholars to pick up the broken pieces, and demonstrate their resilience.

CONNECTING SCHOLARS TO DATA AND TOOLS IS POSSIBLE

Many solutions to the improvement of scientific output have been sought, including facilitating greater access to data and analytical tools, increasing funding, and restoring a balance between teaching and research workloads.

Despite the low scientific output, the amount of data generated on Africa’s soil is immense. Most of these, however, sit idle on closed datasets and in unpublished research reports, gathering ‘dust’ in the hard disks and flash disks of scholars and programme officers.

While collecting good data is expensive, many organizations and funders have invested heavily to collect data on various development issues. Most of these datasets are hardly scratched to generate knowledge.

HOW COULD WE INSPIRE COLLABORATION BETWEEN DATA GENERATORS AND OWNERS, AND SCHOLARS IN AFRICA?

First, a call is made to African organizations and funding partners to make their data available, but also contribute modest resources to facilitate analysis and publication. Making data available is a powerful imperative to our commitment to Africa’s development.

On the other hand, senior scholars can work with junior scholars and graduate students to land on the data, mine knowledge, publish, tell our stories and help improve learning and development for Africa.

Investing in rapid cleaning, anonymization and publishing of data can be possible, as Africa is not low on statisticians. At the same time, creating fellowships is necessary to incentivize analysis, publication and presentation in conferences to share this knowledge.

Now we will wait to see who reads this, and who wants to achieve this goal with us. 


 We are building a list of open access education data sets. Here are some of the education data sets that are available by the Zizi Afrique Foundation, info@ziziafrique.org

  • A national study on youth and skills among youth not in education, employment or training in Kenya (2019).
  • A study of youth supply and demand among entry level youth employees and employers in various sectors in Kenya (2019).
  • A study on youth and skills among youth not in education, employment or training in Kenya (2019). 

If you would like to add to this list, or contribute an idea to our blog series ‘Doing more with Data’ please email comms@essa-africa.org.