By Genevieve Mbama
The availability and accessibility of student Information is a critical success factor in optimizing targeted outcomes in educational institutions. The limited existence or lack thereof impedes the ability to effectively manage the educational life cycle of students, planning and decision making towards growth, quality of delivery and efficient allocation & utilization of resources.
In this knowledge and information age; Data is everything! The value of data is unlocked when it is analysed and transformed to information for decision making. Since education is central to human capital development in any nation, it behoves the Government (at all levels) and private sector to work in tandem to ensure the delivery of high quality education to achieve targeted outcomes. In what I may describe as the Constituent Power Reinforcing Loop (Diagram 1), (an interplay of forces that includes Education, Knowledge & Information with Technology as the foundation and enabler); Education breeds knowledge, knowledge is power and knowledge in information age resides in the information which must be available and accessible ubiquitously and leveraged by users, researchers and policy makers to improve education. No nation can thrive and be competitive where any one or more of the four forces are missing.
This was alluded to during the recent meeting between President Muhammadu Buhari and Bill Gates, Philanthropist and Founder of Microsoft Corporation & Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; to discuss on “Role of human capital investment in supporting pro-poor and economic growth agenda”. Bill Gates tasked Nigerian leaders to sincerely invest in not just infrastructural development but also invest in human capital development. Since education is the foundation for human capital development, it behoves the government to prioritise education over physical infrastructure although none should be mutually exclusive.
Growth and technology seem to be always in accompaniment of each other. Whenever and wherever you find one lacking you can also be sure that the other would not be there. This can be said about the domain of education as well. My experience in helping Educational institutions and Education Ministries & Government Agencies across Sub-Saharan Africa to leverage technology and innovation to optimize education outcomes has been revealing and provides insight on how and why the quality of education differs among countries. One thing stood out; the level of technology maturity determines the availability and accessibility of the student information; and student information is pivotal to effective educational planning, delivery, policies and decision making; the consequence of which is the quality of education. This is where Student Information Management System (SIMS) comes in (see Diagram 2). SIMS is a software Application to manage student data and all day to day operations and administration of schools such as kindergarten, primary, secondary and tertiary institutions including vocational school. It primarily supports the management of the student life cycle from enrolment to exit/graduation and as members of the alumni network to enable continuous interaction and information exchange. From government’s perspective, the SIMS is a student-level data collection system that allows the MDAs (Ministries, Departments & Agencies), collect and analyze more accurate and comprehensive information about students to meet federal and state reporting requirements, and to inform policy and programmatic decisions.
The Application comprises standard features that include prospective enquiry handling, recruitment, handling the admissions process; enrolling new students and storing teaching option choices; handling examinations, assessments, marks and grades and academic progression; maintaining records of absences and attendance; handling of award for grades, credit & exam scores and post-graduation contact with alumni. SIMS has transformed school management and can optimize school administration by assisting in determining the aims of the school, formulating strategic plans, distributing resources, and, tracking & monitoring student life cycle & experience, evaluating teacher/lecturer performance as well as organizational success. Sometime in 2012, I had the opportunity to engage consultatively with one of the Universities in West Africa that had just received a grant from an International Development Funding Agency for the purpose of deploying technology to transform the University operations, which included among other things the establishment of the Student Information Management System (SIMS). I engaged with the Registrar to obtain information about the university’s operations that would help in designing the appropriate solution and road map for deployment; but what surprised me was when he said, “If the funding Agency had not specifically tied the funds to the technology deployment, I would rather the funds be channeled to other more important projects”. I sought to know what the “other more important projects” were; he reeled out a couple of projects he thought were important but were still focused on building the University’s physical infrastructure. I explained to him that while physical infrastructure is important, however funding allocation should not be to the detriment of a technology solution that will drive efficiency and effectiveness of education service delivery, hence quality.
Without belittling the importance of the “other projects”, I took time to put him on enquiry with a goal to get him to have deeper insight and appreciation of the criticality of the Student (or School) Information Management System. I asked the questions, which I believe every educational institution and education policy maker needs to consider as part of developing the system of education delivery.
How are you able to track the student life cycle from enrolment to graduation and after graduation as an alumni to optimize the Student experience both in and out of school?
What information about students do you use in planning, policy making, program/course/curriculum development and decisions making to ensure the high quality of the delivery of education and continuing education to the students and alumni network and other third parties respectively?
How do you ensure efficient delivery of services and support to the students?
What is the experience of the students in having ready access to their academic results and performance as at when needed?
How are you able to leverage student information to maintain strong alumni network and engagement?
While his response showed these processes exist in some way, however, they were largely manually driven and paper based with lots of files and documents that were either poorly stored, very difficult to locate and may often get missing or damaged. A major weakness was that there was no centralized platform and single source of truth for student information, this was because data generated were fragmented, in silos and in different formats (manual papers & files, electronic etc). It was clear the University planned and delivered in “Blind” (that is; with very little information and unable to rely on available data because of the difficulty in accessing it). Gradually it sank in; and he realized the enormous challenges and why it had not been easy to achieve the school’s mandate. The impact on student life, experience and quality of education cannot be over-emphasized.
At the Ministry & Government Agency levels, where policy making, laws and regulations are established and monitored the challenge is higher because it requires an integrated education information system to track and monitor the educational life cycle of its constituents from kindergarten through tertiary education; without which it is pretty difficult to plan, issue effective education policies, laws and regulations and monitor same.
It goes without saying, that technology is the bedrock of information and knowledge. Therefore, to deliver the mandate and achieve targeted outcomes, it is imperative that educational institutions, education policy makers and regulators develop effective and efficient systems and infrastructure that support a harmonized and timely collection, processing, dissemination of student data and supports planning and decision making towards an efficient utilization of resources to improve quality of education and reduce education inequalities.
Genevieve Mbama is a Digital Technology & Innovation Solution Specialist; Economic Inclusion Advocate, Blogger and Writer. She holds a B.Sc Economics & Statistics, from the University of Benin and an MBA from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sloan School of Management.