Shirley Walters comments on the article “The challenges regarding data production”
Professor Emeria, University of the Western Cape, South Africa and ICAE Vice President Africa
There are at least two important reasons why ‘data production’ for youth and adult education is a significant topic globally. This is the time that the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) is gathering data from all countries for the fourth Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (GRALE), and it’s the time when generating data against the multiple SDG indicators is underway. Both of these undertakings are alerting practitioners and policy makers to the significance of understanding sound data production approaches. It is therefore timely that Cesar Guadalupe identifies major issues regarding the generation and availability of data on youth and adult education in ways that are understandable to non-specialists.
Youth and adult education programmes are extremely diverse in the ways they are organised and delivered. They cover a wide range of subject matter for a disparate number of participants or learners. This makes the data generation far more complex than that for formal parts of the education system. Guadalupe suggests that the purposesthat the data generation efforts are going to serve are fundamental – is it for evaluation of the learner i.e. their attendance, success, or competence levels; for the assessment of quality of the programme; for financing purposes; for allocation of resources; or for reporting to funders? Although he did not mention it, it could also be for advocacy so as to try to mobilise more political support and resources for the field. He emphasises that a substantive and explicit description of the purposes is the cornerstone of any data generation endeavour. The purposes will determine the decisions on what data should be produced, how that data should be generated, compiled, analysed and reported.
Guadalupe suggests three main categories that can be used for data generation – these relate to whether there is formal certification for the programmes or not. Those programmes that are most similar to formal education systems are easiest from data generation perspectives; the more informal the programme the more difficult it is to generate data in conventional ways. He suggests that Household Surveys could be used for generation of some of the data. While he does not mention this explicitly, the data generation used for the GRALE Report includes other data sources from `health and well-being`, `employment and labour market` and `social, civic and community life`. In other words, youth and adult education is inter-sectoral and data generation must maximise relevant data that has been generated in other discrete areas of activity.
One of the issues which Guadalupe does not highlight specifically is the difficulties presented by the multiple definitions of youth and adult education. Without a common understanding of the unit of analysis, it is difficult to generate and use data for comparative purposes. (We made this argument in a recent article: Walters S. & von Kotze A., 2018 “If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist”? Popular education in the shadows of global reporting on adult learning and education. Studies in Education of Adults, UK, Taylor and Francis.) The diversity of youth and adult education calls for innovative thinking about data generation – as Aaron Benavot was heard to say at a recent conference, we need ‘out of the box’ thinking for the field, `like using a platform similar to ‘Wikipedia’ for youth and adult education`! Cesar Guadalupe offers a very helpful introduction to several of the challenges regarding data production. He warns wisely, that if you can’t generate data in an appropriate way, it may well be better not to produce any – at least you will know that you have a major gap that needs to be filled responsibly! What do you think?
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