OPINION: Missing learners and shaky data. Why data collection systems need to be fixed

If someone wants to know how many pupils are enrolled in the South African public schooling system, we say ask the Department of Basic Education (DBE). If someone wants to know about absenteeism rates, repetition rates and matric pass rates, the department would have those answers too. The education department should, in theory, be the most reliable source of learner-level information. If you ask the minister, she would — and has said — the same thing. But when these datasets are inaccurate or incomplete, children can get lost in the system or drop out without anyone noticing.

There are several aggregated datasets tracking information about learners. What you don’t often hear or read about is that these ‘big picture’ datasets have gaps and inaccuracies. You seldom hear about why these problems exist and the implications of unreliable data on learner outcomes. This lack of awareness is perhaps why many educators themselves struggle to grasp how and why accurate data can help to improve learner outcomes.

In this article, we use the findings of a seven-month inquiry into data discrepancies at one school in a low-resourced community to demonstrate how pupils are falling through the cracks of our schooling system and what we can do to stop it. These data discrepancies demonstrate weaknesses in existing systems, processes, capacity and accountability mechanisms at schools. But they are not insurmountable.

Read the full piece on News24 to find out more.