By Shajia Sarfraz, Independent Researcher, Member of the GESF Alliance on Assessment for Impact

In a world increasingly driven by data, we often still don’t know whether or what children are learning. How can we make sure that the rise of technology drives improvement in national and global assessment?

For the last fifteen years, countries around the world have been pushing for education reforms to get more children into schools. This movement has yielded results. Today, we have 43 million more children in schools than we did in 2000. Despite this progress, many children entering these schools appear to be learning little. Children complete primary schooling not knowing how to read or write a simple paragraph or do basic arithmetic, as data from PAL Network members strikingly show.

There is growing consensus amongst the global education community that, in order to measure what really matters, we have to collect better evidence on learning. A major challenge under the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 on education is tracking progress towards targets based on a range of indicators including on the “proportion: (a) in grades 2/3; (b) at end of primary; and (c) end of lower secondary achieving at least minimum proficiency in (i) reading, (ii) math, by sex”. This makes ‘learning outcomes’ central to entitlements and measurement regimes, both nationally and globally.

The push towards gathering evidence for learning has created a buzz in the global education community to make education part of the Big Data movement. Within this post-2015 data driven landscape, several questions around the use of assessment data have emerged. This includes not only what is being tested, but also what is being done with all the data being collected? In particular, can technology make data collection simple, replicable, scalable and easily accessible to teachers and parents? Are there any potential dangers or risks with the use of technology for this purpose? How can data be better used to improve learning particularly for those at risk of being left behind?

The Global Education and Skills Forum (GESF) Alliance on Assessment for Learning is working on understanding how technology companies can support collecting assessment data. In particular, they are concerned with identifying ways to ensure this can be done ethically and securely and to give confidence that the data will be used to the benefit of improving learning for all children.

 The secret to success in making technology a part of the solution for rigorous, relevant and timely data is in partnerships. By breaking down the silos in which assessment data is being collected and sharing what has worked, what hasn’t worked, we can start to recognize gaps in the field. Hence, the GESF alliance is mapping existing assessment tools to identify the various initiatives that already exist in the use of technology for the collection and use of assessment data. This mapping will be used to draw up guidelines for setting out principles on the data flows to be considered in the collection and use of assessment data using technology.

The work of this alliance aims to provide clarity on how appropriate partnerships with technology companies can tackle the global learning crisis. By sharing guidelines on important aspects of ownership of the data, assessment tools and reporting on student outcomes, we can make sure that the promise of inclusive and equitable quality education can be delivered to all.


About the Global Education and Skills Forum Alliances

Global Education and Skills Forum (GESF) Alliances are groups of experts brought together by the Varkey Foundation to think about how education can change the world. Alliances’ members are drawn from across the world and include leaders from academia, government, business, civil society and teaching. Each Alliance works on one topic of international importance. The Alliances work on some of the key issues of our time: conflict, climate change, global citizenship and the status of girls. They also work on the future of education itself: teachers, universities, public-private partnerships and the use of assessment. The Alliances are working to produce many different types of outputs. They include reports to guide policy-makers, best-practice guidelines for teachers and school leaders, or even short films to capture the voices of teachers and school children.

Shajia Sarfraz is an Independent Researcher and a Member of the GESF Alliance on Assessment for Impact.