The DBE has identified a need to replace SA-SAMS with a new and modern web-enabled, cloud-based technology platform.
What is “data” in schools?
It is a very well-known phenomenon that having quality data is critical for decision-making. In schools, there are various types of data that are associated with managing education – and these extend beyond mere assessment or tests scores.
They involve data about learners, their parents, educators, school infrastructure, and others to mention a few. However, the data that is of paramount importance is that which provides the basis for, school management teams, educators and policymakers to draw inferences from this data and make decisions – data-driven decisions.
But what is data-driven decision-making? It is about collection, analysis and taking informed decisions based on data for school improvement. This data, when used efficiently and effectively, it empowers all stakeholders involved. It evolves into data-driven education.
How data assists in the measuring of effectiveness
In the South African schools’ context, data from schools is required for administration, management and reporting by the Department of Basic Education (DBE), Provincial Education Departments and their respective school districts. This is required for planning, decision making, and to support and monitor schools to improve learning outcomes.
The data collected at school level provides the means of accountability for budget allocated for education spend. In addition, it disseminates critical information that informs the national Department and provinces’ respective strategies and policies on education management and administration.
Having painted this picture, it goes without saying that this data needs to be of high quality and be accessible to all critical stakeholders in “real-time” or “just-in-time”.
To date, South Africa has made great strides towards a data-driven education system through DBE providing a free technology platform called the South African School Administration and Management System (SA-SAMS).
The system was initially designed to be a cost-effective, easy-to-use computer solution with the main purpose of addressing the management, administrative and governance needs of the country’s more than 25 000 schools and over 12 million learners.
There are three critical role-players who input SA-SAMS data at school level. These are educators, school administrators, and the school management team (otherwise known as the Principal, Deputy and the Head of Departments).
To make sense of this big data residing in SA- SAMS, DBE uses Data Driven District (DDD) programme, a web-based reporting and analysis tool to visualise this data. This is thanks to an initiative launched by DBE in partnership with the First Rand Empowerment Fund and Michael & Susan Dell Foundation in 2012.
The dashboard provided by the DDD displays how districts, circuits and individual schools are performing on issues of attendance for both educators and learners – including learner results and advancement.
Why is reliable SA-SAMS critical for schools’ data?
Even though SA-SAMS captures multiple data (school information, learner, parent and educators’ profiles, timetables, finance information, curriculum data, mark schedules etc.) for administration and reporting requirements, there are still some slight challenges residing with the current system.
Since this data is entered at source – which is at schools – there are problems with duplication in reporting since this data is accessed from a single point by national, province and district levels.
There are also issues regarding standardisation in data and reporting format across schools to circuits, districts and province.
Lastly, the quality of data residing in SA-SAMS hinders accessibility, mining, organisation and analysis for ease of developing reports for district, provincial and national spheres. The quality of data should be enhanced for better and optimized decision- making.
How will SA-SAMS Modernisation help with data-driven education?
While the current SA-SAMS is rich in functionality, there are areas where DBE has identified a need to improve and enhance the current system. Critical to these improvements is migrating SA-SAMS to a new and modern web-enabled, cloud-based technology platform.
The modernised system will be a whole integrated system that uses the latest technology. The system’s simple and intuitive functions will drive effective and efficient running of schools through streamlined and optimised processes and enable good quality data to be captured for administration and management, thereby enhancing teaching and learning.
It will also improve the usability of the user functions, validate data and submit information timeously, for use by various levels of users – from schools to districts to provinces to make quick interventions to improve learning outcomes.
In closing, as per the opening lines of the Minister of Education Angie Motshega in TALIS Report South Africa 2018 Country Note “as we are moving swiftly into the 6th Administration, we want to realise the elements of a ‘new dawn’ for teachers underpinned by a merger of collaboration and accountability within an enabling policy climate (pg. 2).
Improving the quality of SA-SAMS, and subsequently the South African Basic Education, will require a more collaborative approach and all hands-on deck.
The process for Request for Bid (RFB) for a supply, implementation, maintenance and support a Cost-Effective Commercial off-the-Shelf (COTS) software solution to replace the current SA-SAMS will commence soon.
For further information on the RFB document and date of briefing session, kindly check the NECT website, weekend national newspapers and e-tender portal from Friday, 16 August 2019.