OPINION: High-quality data can help us to better understand the complex lives of South Africa’s children and why they drop out

Datasets offer us knowledge about the world: they are things we know or assume about a phenomenon that allow us to make reasoned conclusions. In the absence of accurate data, the ability to make evidence-based decisions becomes tricky — whether in business, politics or education. This logic gets to the heart of the Zero Dropout Campaign’s call for the basic education sector to improve learner-level data collection and monitoring. Why? Because high-quality administrative data can be used to track the overall health and functioning of our schooling system, learner progress, grade repetition and dropout. But this is just the start: capturing and monitoring the right type of data can also help schools to flag learners that are at risk of dropping out based on indicators of disengagement. When used in this way, datasets form part of an Early Warning System (EWS) used to anticipate and prevent dropout. Crucially, datasets do not simply present us with a story but can help us to change the way the story ends — potentially for the better.

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