Blog post

Immense potential of “open” school data untapped in India

Mridusmita Bordoloi

Mridusmita Bordoloi

is a Senior Researcher at Accountability Initiative, at the Centre for Policy Research, which promotes accountability in public service delivery in India.

School report cards in India

Imagine knowing the details of how children are learning in classrooms and what facilities they are provided in schools to experience a better learning environment.

In many countries across the world ‘open’ school data – information on schools that is publicly available – are being used by parents and communities to either make choices for schools their children will attend or hold schools accountable for the quality of education. Indian parents too have the option to access such local data.
Yet the study I co-authored on the case of India, which has just been published by IIEP-UNESCO*, shows that there are multiple challenges in using this valuable information by Indian citizens.

In India, the Unified District Information System for Education (U-DISE), an annual database maintained by the government, is the only common source of information on the status of every school across all states of the country. Of course, there are a handful of states that also collect school-level data on a more regular basis and update them dynamically. Based on U-DISE data, school report cards (SRCs) are created and can be accessed online. Indicators covered in a U-DISE SRC include enrolment across grades, gender and caste representation, dropout rates, infrastructure facilities available in schools, teachers and their qualifications, incentives given to students and expenditure of government funds.
This data provides rich insight into how the school is functioning, whether children are able to access facilities as per legal mandates and if there are enough teachers for every class. Thus, the data can help in identifying roadblocks to the provision of quality education.

The study finds that this mine of information is being extensively used by the government for annual financial planning of school education and understanding the status of schools. On the contrary, only 10% of parents know that this type of data exists and 2% actually log on to the U-DISE portal to access school-level data (based on a sample of 154 randomly selected parents of children attending public schools in the three states). The lopsided participation of parents is problematic as they are currently not in a position to use such data as evidence to demand accountability from government-run school education services or to register grievances with respect to the public education system.

The study also highlights that till now, there has hardly been any large-scale initiative by the Indian government to raise awareness about the existence and usage of U-DISE school report cards. The effort of government schools – another source of information sharing – is inadequate. For instance, none of the sampled schools had put up the SRC on their notice boards for public view and only some discussed it with parents and community members in their monthly management committee meetings. And even if people knew of the data, it is not always presented in a manner that is easy to understand since school report cards in our country are laden with numbers and statistics.

In addition, the study finds that the top three aspects on which parents want information are: the learning levels of their children; the provision of basic infrastructure facilities in schools that ensure safety and hygiene; and the availability of qualified teachers on a regular basis. U-DISE data does not address learning levels even as it features the other two indicators among other information. Learning levels are assessed by a different government body (the NCERT) through the National Achievement Survey (NAS) based on a sample number of schools across every district in the country. As a result, the data on learning outcomes are representative at the state and district levels only, not for each school in the country. This issue of making school report cards relevant for parents by including results from learning assessments needs to be debated by policy-makers to arrive at a solution. For instance, technology can be a great enabler in making this happen over time.

Finally, the study emphasizes that a large proportion of parents of children attending government schools in India are from rural areas, and from economically poorer sections of the society. Most parents have low literacy levels and they may not have access to the internet. Until and unless they can access school report cards through offline modes and in local languages, the usage will be restricted.

As we recommend in the study, considering India’s unique challenges, a multi-pronged approach is needed to solve the usage problem of open school data among citizens. And learning from the experience of other countries – as documented by IIEP-UNESCO’s research on the topic – is also required to offer insights on how open school data can turn into a useful tool for ensuring better accountability in the public school system.

A longer version of this Blog is available on the Accountability Initiative’s website.

* Bordoloi, Mridusmita. Kapoor, Varun. 2018. India: Using open school data to improve transparency and accountability in education. Series: Ethics and corruption in education. Paris: UNESCO.

** Five other case studies on Asia have been published as part of the research. They are available here.

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