Strengthening routine data collection with DHIS2 to boost education data use in four Ugandan districts
Norad and GPE KIX support the Ugandan Ministry of Education Basic Education Department to implement a DHIS2-based Education platform for decentralized data collection, analysis and presentation, promoting a data-backed education planning culture
The Uganda education sector aims at achieving SDG4; ensuring inclusive, equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all. Despite the country’s strides to achieve this through the introduction of free primary and lower secondary education, the sector still faces numerous challenges, including a lack of timely and accurate education data for planning, budgeting, monitoring and evaluation and policy development. Numerous attempts have been made to address this challenge with the development and adoption of different Education Management Information Systems (EMIS) with no substantial success due to limitations in designs such as failure to integrate/interface with other systems, lack of longitudinal analysis, and limited rights to access and modify system source code.
In March 2019, the Basic Education department of the Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES), in partnership with HISP Uganda and Save the Children and with funding from Norad and GPE-KIX, initiated an action research project in four districts, leveraging DHIS2 as a tool for the management of education data. The project objectives are to enhance education data collection, analysis, visualization and utilization with clear feedback mechanisms to support decision-making at all levels and to document learnings in DHIS2 as a district education management information system (DHIS2-DEMIS).
A key innovation of DHIS2-DEMIS in Uganda is the integrated termly tool — an electronic form used to collect essential data from schools on a termly basis to improve coordination, analysis, and presentation of the different indicators across departments. The termly tool has been used to support the harmonization of departmental data needs for routine data collection and design of program-specific dashboards for visualization of key education indicators like enrollment, school feeding, special needs, gender, infrastructure and human resource. The tool also helps minimize disjointed data collection by different departments working in silos, which has limited data use efforts in the past. The team has also built the capacity of the schools and districts to capture and utilize their data through hands-on end-user training and support supervision. Additionally, end-user videos have also been developed and shared online to serve as readily available guides to the staff at the school and district levels on data entry and analysis.
Revolutionizing education data collection and use through digitization and decentralization
Uganda has always prioritized education in its budget and national planning. Government funding, data-driven management approaches and good collaboration with development partners and stakeholders have seen the literacy rate in Uganda grow from 73% in 2010 to 79% in 2021. According to the World Bank, the net enrollment rate in primary education increased from 41% in 1980 to 95% in 2013. Notwithstanding these successes, some challenges still persist, including a recent slide in basic school completion rates. To this end, the government has continued to work with stakeholders in education to put measures in place that will improve education outcomes, including the optimization of education data management systems.
Previously, education data in Uganda was collected as part of the annual education census conducted by officials of the MoES using paper-based questionnaires. Subsequently, the forms were verified at the districts before being passed up to the MoES HQ for transcription into a central Microsoft Access database which serves as the standalone EMIS database located within the MoES building. This data was subsequently processed, analyzed and presented in statistical yearbooks with a 6–9 month lag, affecting the Ministry’s ability for real-time data-driven decision-making. Furthermore, the district offices couldn’t access the system, and it wasn’t connected to other systems like those for finance, human resources, and examinations, or to other sectors systems such as health. As a result, the MoES and the districts encountered challenges accessing timely and accurate data to support planning and resource allocation. This resulted in low data use at the lower levels and, in some cases, poor-quality data affecting interventions.
To counteract this, the MoES Basic Education department collaborated with a consortium of HISP Uganda and Save the Children Uganda to implement the DEMIS project leveraging funding from Norad. The DHIS2-DEMIS, a decentralized EMIS platform, was piloted in the districts of Gulu and Mayuge beginning in mid-2019. Following significant successes and notable improvements to the quality and access of education data for planning and intervention, the project was subsequently expanded to include two more districts with additional funding from GPE KIX.
The DHIS2-DEMIS project has also involved the development of tools to meet specific data needs: the termly tool and the school status report. The implementation of the termly tool started with a week-long data needs review and DHIS2-DEMIS customization workshop organized by HISP Uganda and Save the Children, for MoES staff in different departments in order to harmonize key indicators, reporting tools and build capacity on system design and maintenance. This laid a solid foundation for what became concerted efforts during the implementation phases. The DHIS2-DEMIS now enables timely data reporting from schools with computers and internet connectivity. Where data capture into DHIS2-DEMIS is not possible at the school level, data in completed paper forms are entered into the system at the district level.
The team further developed the school status report which helps schools keep track of important indicators such as enrollment, infrastructure and human resources. The system has provided data to inform other government initiatives such as the UgIFT program through which the Ugandan government provides a special fund to address critical needs in education by leveraging performance data. Using data from varied sources to guide government interventions, well-performing districts are incentivized with additional resources for school expansions, additional teacher allocation and classroom upgrades thereby sustaining good performance and motivating others to improve basic education quality in their districts.
Custom dashboards with insightful visualizations were also developed to simplify and promote increased data use at all levels of education management in the country. The dashboards present key indicators such as enrollment trends, retention and teacher-learner ratios, among others, for ease of access and use by education managers. The visualizations also present data relating to learners with disabilities, infrastructure and gender-related issues in easily readable formats for timely interventions.
The promise of transformative education data use enabled by DHIS2
Some results from the research-based DHIS2 implementation as an Education platform for data collection, analysis and visualization in Uganda have been promising. With improved data collection, management and analysis, education stakeholders now have the ability to make informed decisions based on reliable and timely data. The platform has improved the monitoring of education indicators, such as enrollment, proxy to school dropout by monitoring reasons for learners not returning to school on a termly basis, teacher-pupil ratios, ratios of available toilet facilities to the number of pupils, among others.
Since its implementation, the DEMIS platform has been used by education managers at different levels of the system in Uganda to guide planning and policy towards improved education outcomes. The districts have utilized data from the DHIS2-DEMIS system in several ways to support their educational initiatives. Firstly, enrollment figures captured in DHIS2-DEMIS were crucial for budgeting and the allocation of capitation grants to government schools. These enrollment numbers were submitted during the budgeting process for Gulu City and Entebbe Municipality, providing an indication of the expected student population for the upcoming year.
Additionally, school mapping using the Maps App in DHIS2-DEMIS played a vital role in supporting partner activities for the re-entry of students who dropped out into the Accelerated Education Program. The system allowed districts to visualize schools with high learner dropout rates on a map, facilitating targeted interventions to re-enroll drop-outs. Also, the mapping process identified gaps in the water supply by locating schools in relation to the nearest water sources, thereby informing the construction of boreholes. Another important use of the data was in informing primary school teacher transfers. By analyzing the teacher-pupil ratio captured in the DHIS2-DEMIS, districts were able to identify schools with limited teaching staff and facilitate the reallocation of teachers within Gulu district to address staffing shortages and ensure a balanced distribution of teachers across schools.
The districts further leveraged DHIS2-DEMIS data to address challenges with school dropout rates and absenteeism. Early warning indicators for dropout, such as absenteeism and reasons for leaving school, were visualized on dashboards, enabling districts and schools to design immediate interventions and seek partner support. For example, in Gulu City, the education office collaborated with partners to conduct community sensitization through radio talk shows and podcasts, raising awareness about the importance of keeping children and adolescents in school.
Furthermore, the improved data management practices using DHIS2-DEMIS positively impacted the performance of local governments. The Gulu city team achieved a 94% score for the education department in national assessments, establishing itself as a model district for learning and benchmarking by other districts. This success led to the initiation of the local government exchange learning/benchmarking program, aiming to establish regional districts of excellence. Furthermore, visualizations of the District Score Cards in DHIS2 help stakeholders keep track of essential basic education data in the supported districts.
Beyond education management, the data from DHIS2-DEMIS facilitated cross-sectoral collaboration between the education and health departments. The enrollment numbers helped district education teams distribute mosquito nets to combat malaria among school-going children, while enrollment data from Early Childhood Development centers aided in planning polio immunization campaigns for children below six years old. This collaboration strengthened the partnership between the education and health sectors at the district level.
Finally, data collected through the DHIS2-DEMIS has proven valuable for scientific research conducted by local universities. Graduate students from Gulu University and Makerere University have utilized the data to conduct independent research, focusing on topics such as the relationship between school performance, school feeding, and absenteeism. The availability of data on key education indicators highlighted educational challenges in the district and provided valuable areas of interest for further research by interns and upgrading officers.
With DHIS2-DEMIS, education data management in the four implementing districts in Uganda has become more efficient and effective. The platform’s robust data analytics tools enable education stakeholders to visualize and analyze data in real time. This has made it easier for decision-makers to identify trends and emerging issues, and respond accordingly. The platform allows for the dissemination of education data to all stakeholders, including parents, civil society organizations, and other interested parties. This has improved the participation of all stakeholders in decision-making processes, promoting transparency and accountability.
Moving forward, the project team is exploring synergies and opportunities for collaboration and sharing lessons learned to inform the ongoing efforts in the development and implementation of a national EMIS under the MoES Planning Department.