Education – Open data in action

Anjanamma sits on the floor in her one-room tenement in Bangalore. She has three children – a girl and two boys – who study in nearby government schools and is a strong supporter of education. “It is necessary,” she says. “Let children attain something. Let them study.”
A forward-thinking mother, Anjanamma wants her daughter to complete her education. “We never studied. Let our children study and do well,” she says. Anjanamma feels that if Santosh could study well he could earn well too, get a good job, something other than the construction work his father is engaged in. “Education will help. He should study,” she says. But the public education system has failed them.
Karnataka, a state in southern India, is perhaps most famous for its capital city, Bangalore, and the attention it has received for being the information technology outsourcing capital of the world. Given its international stature, one would naturally assume that primary education is on a strong footing in the city and the state. Indeed, a recent surveyfound over 97% of children in the state attend a school, either private or public. Yet the same survey shows terrible learning levels – close to 60% of children in Standard 5 cannot read Standard 2 level text and over 80% of children in Standard 5 cannot do division. This horrific state of affairs threatens to ruin the lives of millions of children in Karnataka and much larger numbers across the country. The oft repeated rhetoric of elementary education being a fundamental right seems to be accompanied by a chronic inability to make public schools work for most children.
The Akshara Foundation was created in March 2000 as a partnership between government and civil society with a mission of “every child in school and learning well”. Over the past 12 years, Akshara has identified gaps in the availability of preschool and primary school education and provides simple solutions thatcan be delivered through the existing education system. It has also developed a robust analytical culture to demonstrate the impact of its work.
However, we have to acknowledge that all our work has been on the supply side of the education equation and that improving the quality of demand is key to making long term changes. We recognised a lack of publicly available data about public education was causing an imbalance between the education system and its usersand within the system itself, so we set up the Karnataka Learning Partnership.
We need to bring about transparency and use data-based evidence to push for reforms and accountability across the system.Usually, that would mean using existing government data, but our experience has highlighted a lack of technical and legal systems to be able to publish open educational dataand we have had to create the data sets ourselves.
This is a major undertaking and impossible for any one organisation, short of government, to achieve. KLP is now a technology and process platform that allows multiple organisations working in public schools to share data.
The KLP project has grownsince its original roll out in 2006. The project has been unique in its approach to the problem for multiple reasons. First, by design, the project is able to track and analyse educational outcomes of large numbers of children and measure the efficiency of programmes and organisations from the ground up. Second, it was conceived as a partnership and not as a single organisation working alone – this means many organisationsget the benefit of Akshara’s early efforts. Third, it has created a common database and a platform fororganisations working in different areas to pool their data and better analyse correlations across programs and geographies. Fourth, it allows all stakeholders to make decisions based on data and not anecdotal evidence. Finally, in an ongoing effort, it supports the establishmentof communities around the schools and this has helped develop greater accountability and enabled people to push for change.
This article is published by Guardian Professional.Author Gautam John is a qualified lawyer with a focus on intellectual property laws and now works with two non-profits in the primary education and children’s publishing space.

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