It is the test of times, it is the test of foresight, it is an age of vision, it is an age of blind reliance, it is an era of truth, it is an era of halves, it is an eon of revolution, it is an eon of stillness. It is a date with information, it is a tryst with knowledge. It is a phase of obesity; it is a phase of crisis.
It is, indeed, the best of times as it is also the worst.
Today is the age of digital revolution – a time where without a doubt we have to accept that data is the new oil. Data leads to information and information drives us to the path of knowledge. We are in a digital mesh(es?) where our social existence is inexplicably linked with our physical living, where our footprints in the virtual space are much more than the steps that we will ever take in our physical lives.
Collectively we have already produced a mammoth amount of data, and we are still making it grow at a frighteningly exponential rate. In such a data-obese world, using data contextually for a better understanding of human behaviour and pattern is a challenge. It is clear to all by now that without proper analysis and context to aid decision-making, collecting data has no value. Analyzing data helps to reveal trends, springs surprises and provides fodder for critical thinking. The need to maintain data in a ‘smart’ way for future reference is as much a necessity for educators as it is to stock market analysts, financial advisers, medical practitioners, or sporting consultants.
Unfortunately, it is probably safe to conclude that among the several basic domains of existence, education is the one that has the poorest data climate. The aim of this article is not to find the reasons for this delay in embracing data into the decision-making thought process. Rather, this article will try to look at some of the different kinds of data that schools may collect and how information / knowledge may be garnered as a resource for the benefit of schools and their several stake holders. It is to be noted that in India, through the digital awareness at the government level revolutionizing the schools, with the National Education Policy and several other ongoing initiatives, a nation-wide data governance culture is slowly building up. While the individual school data at the national level through the governmental data reservoirs will calibrate the school’s performance, this article also wishes to dig into the areas that concern the individual student of a school.
It is assumed that a school opting to embark on a digital journey has some sort of an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system in place – either home-grown or readily available in the market.
The foremost and easiest (to envision) collection and interpretation of data is in tracking students’ academic progress through the year. At the very basic level, examination-wise individual data needs to be captured for all the tests and examinations of the school across all the eligible classes and students. Not only does this data help the school heads to compare and match the performances of individuals, this data when presented in an agreed format will generate the term-end Progress Report Card of a student as well.
With the proliferation of the digital in our daily lives, our need to be fed with instant information has been a constant urge. It is impractical for a school to try providing the parent with even a daily update of the progress of the student. The progress is already communicated to the parents once the evaluations of the class-works or the unit tests are made available ahead of the term-end examinations. Rather, a parent may be interested in understanding the actual position (not necessarily a ranking) of his/her ward in the context of the ward’s class. Hence, such analytical reporting will lend more insight into a student’s performance – subject-wise average versus individual’s marks, subject-wise statistical mode versus individual’s marks, progress of marks in each subject over multiple examinations (across different years in different classes), band-wise aggregate distribution, etc., can be worthy data to be looked at.
COVID forced schools to monitor and manage vaccination statuses for all the eligible stakeholders – students and staff. Though maintaining complete health records may not be a priority for schools, they may still indulge in tracking some of the basic data that is relevant for their functioning. Height, weight records at particular frequencies can help calculate BMI of each student leading to decisions regarding choice of food in the canteen. All sorts of vaccination records, medical history, details on allergies along with blood group information and the associated doctors’ contact details can help schools take action in times of emergency.
Most schools that are data-ready have an attendance system in place for the students. Not only can the attendance system be linked to the students’ absence, but more importantly, random absenteeism of students can expose interesting trends – one common trait, for example, is to be absent a day before class-works whose marks get added in the term-end reports. Class-work routines may be planned based on this trend analysis to reduce loss in effective learning time of students due to absenteeism. Leave data statistics can also point to seasonal health ailments that affect students irrespective of other engagements.
Video as data
Most of the private, urban schools today have a surveillance system in place – in classrooms, corridors, hallways, transport system and what not. It is imperative to accept that CCTV cameras are mere devices, they are a means to achieve security, but they are not the end in attaining a safe and secure school environment. However, storing large video files daily without any analysis of it will just add another task within the daily schedule of unending operations. Most institutes that boast of having ‘n’ number of CCTV cameras working 24/7 end up deleting the data unused after a certain number of days to free up storage space. What use is this data if not culled properly for information to better a school’s administrative system?
Apart from reactively checking the video footage for an event of indiscipline or anomaly, regular analysis of the CCTV video may identify bottleneck areas on the school premises at different intervals of time. Like heat maps in football, the CCTV footages may be worked upon to expose foot traffic all over the school, throughout the day, across the different seasons and weather scenarios. This information may also lead to efficient evacuation routes during emergency drill exercises planned for students’ safety.
A regular monitoring of CCTV footage may also help in identifying delinquent student behaviours proactively, thereby aiding the concerned student through counselling and tracking his/her progress throughout his/her tenure in school.
In the two years during COVID a majority of schools adopted virtual, online teaching mechanisms via popular video streaming platforms including Skype, Zoom, Google Meet and several others. Quite a few schools were recording the lecture sessions as well with a plan to make them available at a later date should a student request for it. Not only did the pandemic result in a spike of online video content on a variety of themes and subjects appropriate for school children, it also opened up remarkable possibilities in reimagining teaching methods and evaluation patterns. There again, schools adopted ways to hold examinations and then accept, correct and return answer scripts via the available digital methods.
In a first of its kind initiative, the Andhra Pradesh government has embraced Artificial Intelligence to monitor hygiene in government schools in the State. The Andhra Pradesh State Government School Education Department has partnered with IT giant Tata Consultancy Services Limited (TCS) and implemented the tracking system in as many 45,000 government schools across the State.
The system is equipped with a mobile app for capturing images of the school toilets such as commodes, urinals, wash basins and floors, daily. The images are then processed by TCS’ AI engine and cleanliness of respective toilets are graded accordingly. The AI system sends the graded response back to the respective schools and in parallel gets reflected in a dashboard portal for public review every day. (https://jaganannagorumudda.ap.gov.in/MDM/TMFDashboardLatest.aspx)
This initiative that has reportedly increased school enrolment and reduced girl-child dropout is an eye-opener for similar initiatives that involve minimum but effective data capture on a regular basis.
Overview of the TCS’ global offering ‘Inspection-as-a-Service’ is available on YouTube here: ‘TCS Inspection-as-a-Service – Enabling Sustainable Living and Improving the Quality of Life’. (https://youtu.be/nZqRAx6_oUo)
Managing the performance of staff members (both teaching and non-teaching) has now become a mandatory process for any school that wishes to foster a culture of openness, sharing of practices and knowledge, analytical self-critique, and a desire to continuously improve. Performance appraisal in an objective way eventually gets reflected in a significant improvement in student achievement.
A simple and quantitative SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Bound) methodology can be adopted by schools to engage its staff members to submit yearly/half-yearly goals, as applicable. Near the end of the appraisal cycle, a staff member needs to fill in a self-appraisal form which is to be discussed with the reviewer for final closure. For a teacher, the self-appraisal evaluation may be against (but not limited to) the following criteria:
• Class control
• New approaches to teaching
• Identification and nurturing of talent in class
• Application of training / workshop experience
• Question paper setting
• Correction of answer scripts
The reviewer feedback (numeric score) against each appraisal criterion will identify the gap in achievement. An analysis of this latency may lead to training requirements – both on soft skills as well as on core subjects.
A school, like any institute, is an evolving workplace that needs encouragement, review, and policy changes from time to time. Survey feedback is one of the foremost working mechanisms, adopting which a school can understand the views of its various stakeholders, viz., parents, students, teachers, and vendors. Intelligently crafted objective questionnaires may help a school to collect data regarding standard of academics, quality of communication (both online and offline), visibility of school in social space and so on. This perception data can be calculated as a Satisfaction Index – separately for each group of stakeholders and then tracked as a trend analysis every quarter or half-year.
Gone are the days when school heads would rely solely on their years-long experience at the pretext of ‘intuition’ to make decisions. While that may work well for visionary leaders, for most others, the outcomes relied heavily on the intelligent capacity of the leaders in question. The point is, storing data is the first step towards a data-rich, information-focused, knowledge-attentive academic system. Representing the data as meaningful information and mining the information to uncover unexpected knowledge is where the school leader’s intuitive intelligence will come into play in the new paradigm of education. Only a thinking leader may recognize trends otherwise ordinary to many others, pre-empt problems and thereby plan for developmental strategies to overcome the issues. Achieving success with data depends on regular training to staff members on data literacy. Training has to emphasize that in the present and the future, data is not limited to numbers but extends to images, audio, video, texts, sentiments, and so on. A data-rich school must also train its stakeholders to identify ‘good’ data and to segregate it from ‘bad’ data, thereby helping to maintain its sanctity for future analytics.
The first and foremost strategic objective of the National Digital Communications Policy 2018 to be achieved by 2022 (https://dot.gov.in/sites/default/files/EnglishPolicy-NDCP.pdf) is ‘provisioning of Broadband for all’. The first three of the seven goals that have been laid down for 2022 under ‘Connect India’ mission of the Policy are as follows:
• Provide Universal broadband connectivity at 50 Mbps to every citizen.
• Provide 1 Gbps connectivity to all Gram Panchayats of India by 2020 and 10 Gbps by 2022.
• Enable 100 Mbps broadband on demand to all key development institutions; including all educational institutions.
How much of these have been achieved considering the adverse impact of two years of COVID is a conjecture; subsequent reports and documentation on the progress will confirm the success rate of the policy. However, it goes without saying that as a nation, India is on the path to bind the country digitally. The ‘Recommendations on Roadmap to Promote Broadband Connectivity and Enhanced Broadband Speed’ published by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on 31 August 2021 (available at https://trai.gov.in/sites/default/files/Recommendations_31082021.pdf) shows the seriousness of the endeavour to eradicate the digital divide that plagues India and its student population. But, only network speed is not the deterrent to bridge the gulf between India’s affluent elite and its poor other. Availability of affordable handsets, having apps written in the vernacular are other areas where there is a lot of emphasis and focus from the Government of India.
As of today, out of India’s estimated population of nearly 450 million children in the age-group of 3 and 12, approximately 250 million go to school. India’s ‘National Education Policy 2020’ aims to achieve 100 per cent Gross Enrollment Ratio in school education by 2030. This aligns with the communication revolution sweeping the country. The service sectors, the banking conglomerates and the financial aficionados are all reaping benefits from the digital infrastructural support by managing, maintaining, and mining the plethora of data. Will India’s schools (both private and government) lag behind? The future is now the present and it is out there to conquer.
The author is a writer and film critic residing in Kolkata. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.