How can real-time performance data lead to better education outcomes?

The use of data in international development has grown substantially during the last two decades. Data is increasingly being used by policymakers, implementers, funders, and academics to make critical choices about resources and priorities. This corresponds with a change in emphasis from outputs, such as Millennium Development Goal 2’s emphasis on universal school attendance, to outcomes, such as Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4’s emphasis on the significance of learning. This emphasis on outcomes, along with increased data literacy, is putting a fresh emphasis on showing and quantifying the attainment of good results for recipients of social programs all over the globe.

Senior Fellow, Center for Universal Education, Global Economy, and Development
Center Manager – Global Economy and Development, Universal Education Center

Internship at the Center for Universal Education
We have identified four categories of data required for attaining outcomes at the Center for Universal Education (CUE), including data on the cost of action and inactivity, ultimate results data, and data along the way—or real-time performance data. If we are to make significant progress on SDG 4 on education, we must gather real-time data and develop continuous measurement systems to guarantee systematic data collection, scrutiny, and use.

What is real-time data, and how does it vary from historical data?
The randomized controlled trial (RCT) movement, which gained traction in the early 2000s, advocated for a greater emphasis on rigorous end outcomes data for understanding what works (and doesn’t), yet RCTs frequently reveal very little about why. There is widespread and growing recognition in the international development community that end-of-term evaluations are insufficient, and efforts are underway to raise the profile of ongoing monitoring and evaluation, which can lead to course correction and improved outcomes through adaptive management.

Real-time performance data, as opposed to final assessment data, is acquired and evaluated fast for prompt decision-making decision-making and adaptation. Meaningful outcomes for beneficiary populations in multiyear government- or donor-funded programs or policies depend on knowing what is and isn’t working—and for whom—during the implementation period, rather than just ex-post after the program or policy cycle has concluded.

While organizations have traditionally gathered program monitoring data, monitoring is mostly focused on implementation fidelity and tracking program activities and outputs, rather than continuing outcome assessment. While these statistics are useful, they rely on crucial assumptions underpinning change theories regarding the relationships between activities and outputs, as well as ultimate outcomes and results. Real-time performance data focuses on the continuous monitoring of program outcomes for beneficiaries to better guide program inputs, actions, and outputs along the way.

Why do we need real-time data and how can we acquire it?
Real-time data availability and access help all stakeholders in the education industry. Administrators (such as school or government officials or program facilitators) may utilize performance data to manage resources adaptively and modify programs to the requirements of students and instructors. Similarly, instructors may utilize student data to verify that they are teaching at the appropriate level and can tailor their lessons to individual learning patterns and requirements.

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Related Information
Data collection in real-time is intrinsically difficult. Paper-based data collection systems have historically been slow, administratively burdensome, and prone to human error. Digital technology enables more efficient real-time data collection and analysis, as well as greater flexibility, and customizability, as well as functionalities such as automatically-generated visualizations and ongoing recommendations. This is in addition to the successful use of digital tools in other areas of education, such as recent booms in ed-tech-based instruction and electronic data collection for formal program evaluations, both figuratively and literally, through integrated data systems.

Digital tools for real-time data collection can take many forms, including education-specific data tools, adaptive learning tools, and survey data collection tools. Tangerine, a digital platform developed by RTI International, includes, for example, applications for student assessment as well as Tangerine Coach for classroom observation and continuous teacher professional development. Vera Solutions and the Aga Khan Foundation are developing Promise3, a tool that will track indicators such as educational access, quality, and equity/equality.

At CUE, we want to know how digital tools for real-time data are influencing data-informed decision-making in education in low- and middle-income countries. We created and distributed a survey to learn more about the creation and functionality of such tools, such as their usability and adaptability, data collection and analysis processes, and key stakeholders. We are excited to share our findings as we examine the various aspects of these tools.

Please contact us if you are interested in learning more about our research or working with a real-time data collection tool that would be useful for this study.