Open School Data: Here’s your go-to guide

27 April 2021



Open school data is a powerful tool. When used properly, open data can promote citizen control over the transfer and use of financial, material, and human resources. Open data can hold local and school authorities to account, improve service delivery, and detect malpractice at the school level – and most importantly, enable citizens to stand up for their right to a quality education.

There are a variety of open school data initiatives operating around the world. IIEP-UNESCO, as part of its long-standing research in this area, has explored many of them in-depth. Now, a new guide for educational decision-makers, planners, and managers goes behind the scenes to illustrate – in concrete, applicable terms – how to foster effective and usable open school data.

“The publication is designed to be a key resource for education actors seeking to confront corruption head-on, and remove it as a barrier to the attainment of equitable and inclusive quality education for all,” says author Muriel Poisson and IIEP expert on ethics and corruption in education.

Open School Data: What planners need to know addresses five key questions: from how to choose the content and format of data, to how to link them with accountability, while also understanding inherent risks. Covering Australia to Zambia, these questions are brought to life with real-world examples and lessons from 50 countries and several hundred interviews with school-level actors.

The book also argues that education authorities have much to learn from the experience of civil society in the area, emphasizing the need to shift from an administrative approach to a more citizen-centred perspective.

Voices of impact

The book features a number of interesting voices and testimonies, which highlight the impact of open school data:

“With the Dapodik system in place, it is much more difficult for schools to inflate their student numbers. For each student, schools have to submit many variables including their demographic background, family background, academic progress, and even the distance between the student’s home and her/his school. It is much more difficult to manipulate students’ data now.”
A provincial district representative in Indonesia.

“Previously, school management decisions had been taken by a handful of school staff without really involving parents or the community, even though everyone in Malawi knew this type of arrangement was conducive to corruption.”
A project manager from the non-governmental organization LINK in Malawi, which decided to use open school data to encourage collaborative planning approaches.

“We became more conscious because we are being checked. We managed the resources better based on needs, pursued the right strategy, and improved governance of resources. If you don’t do that, the collected data will show it.” 
A secondary school teacher in Bangladesh.

At the same time, the book does not ignore the risks that sometimes accompany the disclosure of school data. This can include misinterpretation or over-simplification of complex issues, possible stigmatization or school competition, and issues around data privacy and overall security, among other issues. One policy officer in Australia also raised the issue of the inherent shortcomings of data:

“Schools are complex places that are hard to ‘capture’ through any data sets. Our principals tend to be passionate educators who know that what schools deliver is not solely based on a list of data. They change lives and My School can’t accurately represent all that is done.” 
A policy officer in Australia.

Seven steps to design and implement open school data initiatives

Making school data public is an important step in itself – but it is not enough to provoke significant changes in education systems. A number of other steps must be taken – both before and after publication – to bring open school data to the attention of citizens.  As this can raise many questions for planners, the book proposes practical guidelines on how to design and implement open school data policies. It also includes a useful checklist, outlining what needs to be done and by whom.

  1. Design a clear open data policy framework: Review motivations for an open school data policy, clarify roles and responsibilities, and set expectations building on a theory of change.
  2. Prioritize data that can lead to positive change: Select meaningful data highlighting the current situation of schools and consider indicators that are comparable over time and between schools.
  3. Set up a strong information management system: Introduce open school data initiatives as part of existing educational management information systems (EMIS), organize technical trainings to teach school staff how to monitor data, and disseminate information in a timely manner.
  4. Present data attractively: Make sure data are accessible both online and offline in public areas where they are easy for all to view. Provide explanations to avoid misinterpretation, use simple language and incorporate tables and graphics.
  5. Make sure data are accessible to all: Send school report cards to all school principals, adopt legal provisions regarding the disclosure of data, and conduct advocacy campaigns in local languages to alert citizens.
  6. Strengthen stakeholder capacities to act on information: Enhance awareness among school administrators and teachers of the core principles of open school data, inform citizens about their rights and entitlements about education, and organize information sessions for pupils.
  7. Support efforts to improve accountability and fight corruption: Select data that can shed light on areas most vulnerable to corrupt practices, clarify the consequences of corrupt practices, and make the objectives of an open school data initiative evolve over time, from an information and communication tool to one of accountability.

By taking these recommendations into consideration, open school data policies and initiatives can have greater success and impact in the education sector. And once the initial foundation is laid for open school data, its architects can find ways to evolve and further engage with users over time. For example, the publication suggests incorporating private schools into databases, designing data presentations for different formats (e.g. mobile, tablets, and computers), developing interactive tools that allow users to engage in more complex data presentations, or creating a dedicated space for students to discuss issues related to open school data.