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Using ICT in Policy Planning and Management for Lifelong Learning

(by UNESCO Bangkok, Education for Policy Reform/ICT in Education)

© Flickr/United Nations Photos

As the world faces rapid economic, political and social changes, the demand for education systems that are inclusive, equitable, efficient, and of quality is growing unprecedentedly. However, education is a complex endeavor, and planning and managing the education sector can be a daunting task. If an inadequate policy decision is made, it can affect the entire generations for the rest of their lives, leaving a negative impact on the society at large.

Evidence-based policy planning and management is therefore crucial in improving access to and quality of education, while ensuring the provision of opportunities for lifelong learning for all. Timely, accurate, and relevant information related to students, teachers and schools is needed for making policy decisions based on evidence, and using ICT effectively can help this process greatly. When people hear about ICT in education, it is often associated with using ICT in the classrooms. Pictures of children using computers and/or tablets are some of the typical images of such use of ICT. However, the impact of using ICT to transform how the education is planned, monitored and managed is just as significant, if not more.

Education Management Information System, also known as EMIS, is probably one of the areas that benefited most from the recent advancement and availability of ICT. EMIS is as old as education systems themselves and had functioned without ICT. In the past, data collection for EMIS was done on paper – schools regularly submitted their data through different forms. It was easy to make mistakes, difficult to add-up and analyze, time-consuming and labor-intensive. With increased use of ICT, data on schools, students and teachers are now collected, stored, and shared electronically, often using spreadsheet applications, such as Microsoft Excel in most countries in the Asia-Pacific region. As Internet connectivity becomes more available throughout the region, some countries have even moved to web-based data collection. By using ICT throughout this process, policy makers gain access to more accurate and timely data for making informed policy decisions. Data from EMIS can also be analyzed using more complicated statistical techniques which are now widely available in software such as SPSS, STATA, and to some extent, Excel. EMIS data can also be easily connected to other databases such as household surveys, assessment results, and Geographic Information System (GIS) for further analysis. For instance, Lao PDR links EMIS with the data from GIS to analyze it by geographic location of schools, which allows them to develop plans and policies reflecting their contextual and geographical uniqueness. EMIS can also be linked to household surveys, for example, to identify out-of-school children, and help develop preventative measures and policies to combat this issue. In other words, EMIS can also be tailor made to specific focus areas that the governments are interested in prioritizing, pursuing or addressing in light of respective country contexts. Unfortunately, EMIS in many countries are observed as not robust enough to handle the large amount of data at different levels of schooling (pre-primary, primary and secondary) collected from different levels (central, regional and local). Realizing the growing demands on vigorous and coherent EMIS and significant benefits that such EMIS can bring to every aspect of education policy planning and monitoring, UNESCO has developed an open-source generic EMIS software, called OpenEMIS. The software is already equipped with basic administrative and education system structures, which can be quickly adjusted to the country’s specificities. It can be further customized by the national authorities and connected to existing national databases. Currently, UNESCO partners with Community Foundations System plan to deploy the system to the Member States, along with technical support, training and policy consultation. For more information, please refer to a special article by CFS in this issue.

Another way ICT is successfully used in education planning and management is through the development of simulation models. Often using a common software like Excel, a simulation model can be built and used for projecting the number of students over time, the number of teachers required, the number of classrooms to be built, and so on. These figures can then be used for calculating the costs of implementing certain policies, and facilitating policy dialogue for strategic prioritization. By using simulation models, policy makers can anticipate the impact of their policies more accurately, avoid the inadequate allocation of necessary resources, and therefore making detrimental policy decisions, or being unprepared for the reality and its impacts. UNESCO has been using its education simulation model, Education Policy and Strategy Simulation model (EPSSim), to provide technical assistance to the Member States in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. The organization has been supporting various countries using EPSSim and other similar costing models, including Cambodia, Uzbekistan, Myanmar and Bhutan.

ICT can also facilitate information sharing, hence enhancing transparency and accountability. For instance, Republic of Korea attaches great importance to transparency and accountability through information disclosure. Since 2007, all schools are obliged to regularly disclose their education-related information. This has not only improved accountability of the education service delivery, but also has positively influenced the validity of the information. Many countries now disclose their education-related information on their websites in forms of statistical yearbooks, reports, and score cards. Such information can be accessed by other policy makers, researchers, education practitioners, and parents.

Of course, ICT in itself is not the panacea to all challenges in education planning and management. Today, many countries are still struggling to ensure stable electricity and information networks. The availability and quality of data remain as challenges in many countries, not to mention the development of EMIS. Often, investment in ICT for sector planning and management is not high on the national agendas, compared to other pressing issues, such as ensuring access to education to all students and improving teacher qualifications and salaries. And even in cases where a large amount of data is collected, more often than not, such data are not properly analyzed for policy making purposes, and remain as just ‘data’. With the rise of international assessments such as PISA or TIMSS, countries face even more pressure to help students and teachers perform on an internationally “adequate” level. However, while these international assessments enable countries to collect a great deal of policy-relevant data, the use of such data for evidence-based policy making remains to be limited due to insufficient institutional capacity of countries to analyze such data and link results with policies. In light of this, UNESCO Bangkok recently launched “Learning Enablers for Asia and Pacific (LEAP),” a regional programme aiming at building capacity of the UNESCO Member States in education-related data for evidence-based policy making. To improve the quality of learning in the Asia-Pacific region, UNESCO Bangkok utilizes the Network on Education Quality Monitoring in the Asia-Pacific (NEQMAP) platform through the use of student learning assessment to strengthen education systems. The programme’s specific focus is to collect, analyze and utilize international and national assessment data for policy development and implementation, and organize workshops to help develop capacity in terms of data analysis and policy design.

With all these challenges, however, evidence-based policy making through collecting, analyzing, using, and sharing education information has become an integral part of education planning and management, especially in the aim of achieving the new set of education goals emerging from the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which were recently adopted at the UN Summit in New York. UNESCO Bangkok will continue its work in building national capacities in developing an integrated education information system using ICT, and linking data to policy making and good governance in education.

This newsletter will continue to highlight the value and potential of EMIS, through an additional expert article on the trends of EMIS in the Asia-Pacific region. The Programmes and Projects section features articles on the UNESCO Institute for Statistics database and education statistics, OpenEMIS, UNESCO EMIS project in Myanmar and LEAP programme, as well as UNICEF MICS. The News and Events section offers an overview of the World Teachers’ Day, a few conferences in New Zealand and UK, as well as an announcement about the UNESCO King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa Prize for the Use of ICTs in Education. In Resources, readers can get acquainted with the OpenEMIS software, the World Bank data and PovcalNet, and the Child Equity Atlas by UNICEF. Finally, in the New Publications, readers can find reports on teachers in the Asia-Pacific region and transversal skills in TVET by UNESCO, redesigning schooling by OECD, as well as on sustainable development by World Bank.


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