By Stuart Campo, Innovation Deployment Specialist, Global Innovations Centre & Georgia Hill, Innovation Lead, ESARO Innovations Team

4 February 2015 – Harare, Zimbabwe

Thirty School Heads from the Goromonzi District Education Office gathered at the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education (MoPSE) for the alpha launch of an SMS-based real-time education monitoring system – eduTrac. The platform is being deployed by UNICEF in partnership with MoPSE in order to collect information from School Heads for better and more timely decision making and corrective actions. eduTrac is a mobile phone-based data collection platform that collects data on key education indicators such as pupil and teachers attendance, school supervision visits, and school infrastructure in order to strengthen the monitoring of education service delivery and improve the quality of education.

There were four objectives for the alpha launch:

  • Generate excitement about eduTrac and the value of real-time information
  • Validate the contact details for the School Heads already in the system
  • Register teachers that were not in the system
  • And, finally, gather some information on a selected indicator looking at school infrastructures

The first session of the morning laid the foundation with an overview of real-time information and how it will complement existing monitoring and reporting structures, such as the standard EMIS (Education Management Information System).

2015, Harare: District Education Officials collected traditional paper-based surveys and analyse the results.
2015, Harare: District Education Officials collected traditional paper-based surveys and analyse the results.

Before showcasing eduTrac, we conducted a little exercise to highlight the value of an SMS-based monitoring system. Through a traditional paper-based survey, the School Heads, District Education Officers, and Ministry Officials were reminded just how much time it takes to manually collect, analyse, and disseminate the information. This is especially true when, like many countries, District Education Officers in Zimbabwe are using bicycles to collect information.

Finally, with excitement about a new approach, we were ready to showcase eduTrac. There were still a couple of technical issues to work out with getting all of the networks connected to the shortcode, but by using a mobile phone relayer, a poll was sent out to the head teachers asking them to validate their contact information. While it took a few moments for the messages to go through the relayer, it worked, and School Heads replied whether their name and their school name was correct.

2015, Harare: eduTrac officially launched with a poll on infrastructure availability and functionality.
2015, Harare: eduTrac officially launched with a poll on infrastructure availability and functionality.

To demonstrate the type of information that would be collected from School Heads and how it would be viewed and analysed in real time, a poll was sent out asking questions about their schools’ infrastructure. However, halfway through this poll, we experienced a bit of a technological challenge – the relayer was reaching capacity and connectivity was intermittent at the Ministry, which made it challenging for messages to go out. This warning was a good reminder that no matter how prepared you are, challenges, especially with technology, come up and are not uncommon!

2015, Harare: The relayer was about to reach capacity. School Heads that weren’t even present at the Ministry were responding to poll questions!
2015, Harare: The relayer was about to reach capacity. School Heads that weren’t even present at the Ministry were responding to poll questions!

A total of 1,072 SMS were processed during the poll – hence the capacity issues with the relayer – and results were presented in real time to the School Heads, District Education Officers, and Ministry Officials.

2015, Harare: District Education Officials collected traditional paper-based surveys and analyse the results.
2015, Harare: District Education Officials collected traditional paper-based surveys and analyse the results.

Over the next three months UNICEF in partnership with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education will roll-out eduTrac to select and representative districts throughout the country by targeting five school in each of the 75 districts each month. This strategy will piggy-back on existing monthly meetings as well as target other District Education Officer and School Head training workshops. If all goes to plan, eduTrac will reach over 3,500 schools by the end of 2015. As the Ministry moves the system into its first phase of deployment, it is working with the name of DEAR MoPSE​ as the local adaptation of eduTrac. With this effort, the Ministry of Education will truly have a pulse on education across the country.

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