Listening to the education data

Noshin Kagalwalla, MD, SAS India
Noshin Kagalwalla, MD, SAS India

“The vast volumes of data that education bodies and institutes possess can be used to effectively analyse and uncover insights that can boost student achievement and improve operational effectiveness,” says Noshin Kagalwalla, MD, SAS India in conversation with Mohd Ujaley.

Edited Excerpts:

Education bodies and institutions have humongous amount of data related to students and teachers. In that light, what role do you see for data analytics in education?
Analytics has an all important role to play in education today. The vast volumes of data that education bodies and institutes possess can be used to effectively analyse and uncover insights that can boost student achievement and improve operational effectiveness. Analytics can help uncover trends across regions & states or across demographic parameters like age, gender or subjects or fields of study. Employment data that the institutes collect can be correlated with the courses, disciplines and nature of education. Industry needs can be further identified and the relevant courses can be designed in line to the trending skill needs of the industry (public and private sector) thereby developing an informed and industry ready individual.

What kinds of data have schools and institutes traditionally tracked, which can be analysed?
Most of the schools & educational institutes have a strong need to track and record demographics, educational performance, attendance, extra co-curricular and placement records data. They also need to closely monitor the financial planning and budgeting process, faculty data and other operational data. In addition, some institutes may also record parental information, location and medical background data of the students. This data is by itself a goldmine. On the operational front, interactive and visual dashboards than can provide interesting insights in several areas such as faculty attrition, popular courses and student preferences. Insights into educational performance can act as a strong guide for institutes to help their students opt for courses in higher studies, in turn, aiding them in their journey to choosing an ideal career path.

What new types of educational data can now be captured and mined with the help of data analytics software?
Today’s cutting-edge analytics software allow you to capture and derive insights from a wide variety of data. Institutes can now maintain not only academic data, but also capture and analyse data on extracurricular activities such as sports, music etc which may not be easily possible using traditional systems. Social media analytics is another emerging area of application. Important aspects of students learning styles, behavior and preferences can now be gauged from formal groups that the educational institute may have on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Blogs. This helps the institutes learn a great deal about students’ preferences, concerns, reactions and perceptions. Faculty feedback, faculty research interests, financial health of the institute are all in the areas where analytics can be effectively applied. Analytics can help uncover patterns & predict trends that may help the students in their career. It can also analyse historical data on donors, alumni and prospects and create predictive models that determine the likelihood of a donor donating funds. This in turn helps institutes cost-effectively target those who are most likely to donate.

With the deployment of data analytics software, what kinds of changes institutes are likely to witness in education and learning outcomes?
Analytics continues to deliver proven institutional value in a number of areas. It can help access information from across multiple sources and uncover patterns and trends. As a direct result of this, the institution can develop market relevant courses, attract the right students, maximize retention and sustain strong relationships throughout the student life cycle. Visual dashboards and reports can also give stakeholders the ability to analyse program performance and overall strategy and empower decision makers with a clear understanding on how the institution is doing.

What are the major factors that is driving the demand for data analytics in education sector?
Whether it is a businesses or an education institution, some of the business reasons for adopting analytics remain the same: need for data-driven, informed decisions, increasing financial/operational efficiency; need to deliver quality services and responding to the demands for greater accountability. Other factors are digitization and availability of data & increased competition due to active private sector role in education. Some of the technologies include the use of recommender systems, instant skill assessment tools, social network analysis, personalization, adaptive content and data visualization.

What are the major obstacles facing education data and analytics?
The Education sector is just warming up to the area of analytics. The major obstacles include : low awareness about opportunities that analytics has to offer in industry, the absence of a culture of data-driven decisions and the need of a promotor/leader who can spearhead the analytics initiative in educational institutions. Other key area is to address privacy concern. On an overall basis, data access rights have to be established instution wide and each stakeholder of the institute can be provided with selective rights. Each school have to come up with a data privacy policy which is best suited and preferred by all stakeholders of the school. SAS has taken several steps for spreading the awareness of analytics in education space. We conduct regular monthly webinars for academic institutes. Along with our partners, our consultants are often invited to deliver guest lectures, host discussion sessions and meetings with schools at several levels ensuring the spread and reach of analytics across the nation.

Education institutes are challenged by limited funding. Hence, they are unable to afford costly, propriety analytics software. How the challenge of affordability can be addressed?
Gone are the days when analytics was a tool in the hands of a select few. Innovations such as the cloud and affordable technologies such as Hadoop have helped in democratising analytics and making it available to more consumers at lower cost. So educational institutions that may find the infrastructure for analytics expensive, can definitely explore these options.

What are the growth projection of data analytics in education sector in India?
As per the IBEF (Indian Brand Equity Foundation) report, India’s education sector offers a great opportunity with approximately 29 per cent of India’s population being between the age group of 0-14 years. The schooling segment in India is anticipated to be around US$ 144 billion by 2020 from an estimated US$ 95.8 billion in 2015. In 2014, with 29.63 million students and approximately 48,116 colleges and institutions, India’s higher education segment is the largest in the world.  It is expected to increase to US$ 37.8 billion by 2020. Considering these findings, we are very optimistic that Analytics will see a high growth in this sector. While specific numbers for analytics are not available, there is definitely a large opportunity that lies ahead.

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