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Improving the Mix and Match in the Labor Market: Can Education Management Information Systems help?

Education in Georgia is essentially the responsibility of the public sector (the vast majority of total enrolment in the case of General education) and has received a lot of attention in recent years with public outlays to the sector tripling between 2010 and 2019 to reach 3.6 percent of GDP. This remains low by OECD standards, however: OECD countries spend on average a little under 5% of their GDP on education.1 This may partly explain why PISA scores have remained low in Georgia. Out of 78 countries, Georgia ranks 67th, 71st and 74th in the three PISA categories (mathematical, reading, and scientific literacy respectively). It does not explain it all, however, since Ireland, with a similar level of expenditure in education,2 ranks at the 21st, 8th and 22nd place respectively.

The poor PISA scores are symptomatic of serious problem in the education sector in Georgia. Higher education, for example, while increasingly widespread and international, continues to bring low economic returns. A recent report by Galt & Taggart (2020) gives three reasons for this:

• An excessive number of graduates while jobs are mostly concentrated in low-skill, low-wage sectors;

• Uninformed career decisions by graduates; and

• Educational institutions providing inadequate technical, cognitive and social skills.

Vocational and technical training also suffers from serious weaknesses. Young people are not keen to register for a type of education that is not considered prestigious and that is in any case not easily accessible to them. According to Galt & Taggart, the percentage of young people who participate in VET in Georgia varies between 3 and 6 percent of the enrollment versus 48 percent in the EU.

Overall, and beyond poor PISA scores, it seems that the education system suffers from a mix and match problem with the labor market. What is wrong? A number of donors have looked at the issue and offered their diagnostic as well as substantial help to the Government. The authorities also adopted the Human Capital Project in an attempt to catalyze private investments in the sector.  Most recently, it signed a major loan project with the World Bank that is wide ranging and targets all the relevant areas of the education sector.

Among these areas, the World Bank project proposes to review the weaknesses of the Education Management Information System (EMIS), a system adopted by many countries around the world, and implemented in Georgia under the Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia (and it became a separate legal entity under that Ministry in 2012).

The EMIS has several objectives. The main one is to make available all the data needed to inform educational policies. It centralizes a wide range of educational data on a single platform that can be accessed by policymakers and other stakeholders. The EMIS in Georgia gathers data from all existing education institutions in the country and at all educational levels – schools, universities (BA, MA, PhD) and VET. Other objectives of EMIS include implementing modern technological means in the education process, developing appropriate infrastructure, providing IT support of educational processes, and improving the quality and efficiency of the education sector overall.

In 8 years since its implementation, has EMIS fulfilled its objectives in Georgia? The answer is “not very much” according to a 2019 report by the State Audit Office of Georgia. The report covers the period 2015-2018 and provides a general evaluation of the system, including in terms of its governance, and whether the existing security practices were in accordance with international standards. The report acknowledges that EMIS had come a long way since its establishment, and that it had successfully contributed to the implementation of the eSchool system, which in turn helped simplifying a number of administrative processes in the sector. However, it also pointed out that there remained a lot of room for improvement, including some serious issues that needed to be urgently addressed:

• Besides gathering administrative and data about employed human resources, the system failed to collect some essential information including with respect to pupils’ performance, their state of health (immunization and disease history) and attendance. It also only functioned in a limited number of schools;

• Information was not recouped or regrouped in a way that would allow for well-informed strategic planning;

• The system failed to pass on the information collected from education institutions; and

• Human resources were not adequate to process and make full use of the available information while data security remained an issue. Besides, those operating it did not have a data driven culture.

One should certainly not take comfort in this, but the reality is that EMIS implementation has turned out to be a problem in most countries. A recent study by the World Bank discusses the challenges and successes that these countries faced.3 A selected sample from the region (or that share some of Georgia’s characteristics) shows that:

Armenia appears to be the one of the very few neighboring countries mentioned in the World Bank Report as a success story. The EMIS in Armenia has a comprehensive data coverage and a decentralized system at the regional level that manages to control the quality of input data.

• In Azerbaijan, even though the EMIS system is technically sound and quality data is acquired, the system suffers from a lack of data-driven culture among its users and, as a result, the available information is not properly analyzed.

• In Bulgaria, the whole process of establishing the EMIS was unsuccessful due to a lack of demand for the information it provided by stakeholders.

Turkey didn’t have the adequate capacity at the provincial level (a common problem in many of the countries covered in the World Bank report) and there was a lack of coordination between institutions and communities. The project was eventually withdrawn.

• Finally, the EMIS in Ukraine suffered from a lack of proper equipment, there were difficulties to develop the software and finalize the technical specifications. In fine, the data it generated was never really used.

The table below lists (on the basis of our understanding of the 2017 World Bank Report) the various characteristics of the EMIS systems in these countries and adds Georgia. For Georgia, the basis is our interpretation of the results of the 2019 Report by the Court of Audit.

 

Countries Armenia Azerbaijan Bulgaria Georgia Turkey Ukraine
Foundation of EMIS 1998-2002 2003-2010 2000-2004 2012 1999-2003 2014
Raw data (Input) Proper capacity at the provincial level Yes       No  
Adequate coverage of the EMIS information Yes Yes No No    
Acquiring quality data Yes Yes No      
Channeling the data and EMIS process System and technological reliability   Yes   No   No
Proper communication between stakeholders       No No  
Having proper data security       No    
Having data-driven culture   No   No   No
EMIS output Having necessary analytical analysis   No   No    
Demand for EMIS information   Little No   No  
Using EMIS data for decision-making purposes Yes No     No No

The importance of an efficient and smoothly functioning EMIS cannot be overstated: it is expected to gather comprehensive and accurate data to inform policies in the education sector. It is therefore regrettable that the EMIS in Georgia (and many other countries, it is true) struggles to achieve its objectives. It is high time to give it the resources (human and technical) it needs so that it can move forward for the benefit of all, and contribute to an improved matching between education and needs in the labor market. That will require investment from donors and decisive action at the EMIS. It will also require a serious effort to embrace the data-driven culture that is simply lacking at the moment. And that part is not confined to the EMIS staff: it is the responsibility of all.


[1] OECD (2019), “Education Spending”, in Society at a Glance 2019: OECD Social Indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris.
[2] About 3.5% of GDP according to the World Bank data.
[3]The World Bank, 2017. Lessons Learned from World Bank Education Management Information System Operations: Portfolio Review, 1998-2014.


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Friday, 26 February 2021

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