Big Data for Education

January 2015 | UNESCO Bangkok Office


Dear readers,

Welcome to our first edition of 2015, proclaimed by UNESCO as the year of Light and Light-Based Technologies!

This month we would like to explore the ever-expanding notion of big data, and investigate its potentials in the field of education. As it is claimed, big data can provide the data-informed foundation for unique and personalized learning experiences for every student based on their abilities, paces and interests; it can consequently provide support and assistance to the students in areas that they struggle with, based on the multidimensional data collected from numerous sources. However, with all of the positive aspects, there have been a few concerns over privacy of the users (students), inequality in data production and participation, gap in what we know from data and when we find out what it means, as well as more global challenges over effective and useful data collection that would contribute to education and development for it to become smart data.

We hope that you enjoy reading this edition!

Please let us know if you have any comments or suggestions.


 Big Data in Educational Assessment 
Written by David Gibson, Curtin University's Director of Learning Engagement, this article introduces the reader to the emergence of big data and its role in educational assessment, the related challenges, as well as the opportunities that are possible in the years ahead.

 An Overview of Big Data in Education (by UNESCO Bangkok) 
An article by the UNESCO Bangkok ICT in Education team on the importance and value of utilizing big data for education, its challenges, and ways forward. 

Sub-regional Corner: East Asia

  East Asia ICT and Education Indicators (by UNESCO Bangkok)
This article provides an overview of East Asia’s demographics, education challenges and improvements, as well as key ICT indicators.

Programmes and Projects:

  Crunching data to figure out the best way to teach each student

To break away from the one-size-fits-all approach to teaching, and to address the gap between the well-performing students and those who are struggling, the potential of data analytics comes as a promising benefactor: the assessment of each student that could be possible through data analytics to understand how he/she learns, and what learning and teaching approach they require.

 Rethinking Personal Data

This initiative aims to foster innovation and use of personal data, especially in growing economies for social development.  

 Personalized Learning, Big Data and Schools

From Google to Netflix, from the field of medicine to education, big data is being used to provide the end user with what he/she wants according to the data received. More personalization to learning and teaching can bring about more choices and options for the students. Teachers can come up with unique approaches based on lessons learnt and successful practices of others. Some of available platforms for students and teachers include OpenCurriculum, Activate Instruction, and Gooru.

 Nowcasting food prices in Indonesia using social media signals

This project developed between the Indonesia Ministry of National Planning and Development (Bappenas) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) addresses the food security issues in Indonesia due to the high poverty rates and high food prices. In order to provide policymakers and organizations with feedback to improve the situation, data on food prices is critical. In other words, “nowcasting”, or “forecasting in real time”. The selected food commodities were nowcasted using tweets in Bahasa. This data was then compared against the official food prices in the country, which helped generate a version of a real-time food price index. The findings from this research led to the development of a tool that compares the Tweets on the food prices as statistics. Consequently, this tool could be used in several beneficial ways for the policymakers, including unforeseen spikes in food prices. For more detailed project results, please click here

News and Events:

 Supporting Competency-Based Teacher Training Reforms to Facilitate ICT-Pedagogy Integration in Uzbekistan (January 21-23, 2015. Bostanliq, Uzbekistan)

With the goal of supporting the ministries of education in developing sound ICT competencies for teachers, the UNESCO Tashkent office, supported by the Korean Funds-in-Trust (KFIT), and facilitated by UNESCO Bangkok office together with IITE, will be hosting a national workshop on ICT-Pedagogy Integration.

 Mobile Learning Week 2015: Leveraging Technology to Empower Women and Girls (February 23-27, 2015. Paris, France) 

One of the main ICT in Education events will be taking place at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, focusing on empowering women and girls through mobile technology. The focus areas include access, gender-sensitive and include content, literacy and skills development.

  Big Data Innovation Summit (May 13-14, 2015. London, UK)

This Summit will bring together more than 20 industry speakers, more than 200 delegates, and is the largest gathering of experts in big data.

  Strata+Hadoop World: Make Data Work (Feb 17-20, 2015. San Jose, CA, USA)

This conference combines science and business, diving into the innovative technologies, case studies, best practices, and more. Almost 200 sessions, networking opportunities, discussions, and other events are part of this event. 


  United Nations Global Pulse

Initiated by the United Nations Secretary-General, Global Pulse focuses on big data, and the vision of its use in a safe and responsible way for the public good. Recognizing the potential of data, Global Pulse encourages discovery, development, awareness, partnerships, and approaches toward understanding big data.

 “Big Data in Education” course by Coursera

This online course will provide those interested in how and when to use data mining and learning analytics. Some of the themes include visualization of educational data, databases, and much more.

 A Report on Building the Field of Learning Analytics for Personalized Learning at Scale (The Learning Analytics Workgroup)

This report focuses on developing a general framework for learning analytics, raises questions to better understand it, defines tools and approaches within the field, determines key aspects needed to achieve these goals, and articulates a future plan for implementing these strategies.


- BubbleScore (allows teachers to export results of tests via mobile devices to grade books and track learners’ progress)

- iParadigms (leverages big data to cross-reference learners’ written work with public databases and other online resources to verify that all material submitted is original 


This is an online platform that captures the data generated by the users, learning outcomes to build a profile for the user and provide recommendations, as well as useful tools for teachers. This platform allows big data to be used directly for classroom use.

 Activate Instruction

To address the needs of standardized tests, this platform analyzes student data, helping teachers gather and share resources with their students; allows students rate and “like” their teachers; provides parents with opportunities to participate in their children’s learning experience; and much more.  


Convenient for teachers, this platforms allows them to upload content and information to create, edit and share with the students.


This tool provides support for teachers in personalizing student learning as well as an analysis of the data collected. 


This platform is useful to both students and teachers. Students receive a personalized learning experience through engaging courses. Teachers receive information on how and what the students learnt, recommending next steps. 


One of the most important data management and analysis software, Hadoop is able to process huge amounts of data, is open source, and can scale nearly without limits.

New Publications:

 Measuring the Digital Economy: A New Perspective (OECD)

This report provides a map of indicators set in place for the ICTs, describes the gaps in the framework, looks at the progress, and provides a future global measurement agenda. As ICTs have transformed our lives, economies and societies in substantial ways, they can also encourage innovation. Among other recommendations, the report urges new statistical tools to be developed to measure the digital economy.

 Education at a Glance 2014: OECD Indicators

This report provides a glance at the crucial role of education in progressing our development, in this case, in OECD countries. Although clear improvement in education and the level of skills development has been observed, the continuing gaps among different groups are still growing, influencing the unemployment rates in these countries.

 A World That Counts: Mobilising the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development (Data Revolution Group)

Expanding on the theme of data revolution, this report uncovers some of the existing inequalities in the access, resources, or capacity to participate in this new era. Although data can provide an innumerable amount of information that can be utilized to improve the quality of our lives, many communities around the world do not have the ability to be part of the data, making them data invisible. This does not only limit the capacity and effectiveness of the data, but can be considered as the denial to the basic rights. In order to reach the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the data revolution must take place in an all-inclusive manner in order to better assess situations and progress, and hold governments accountable to their people. Some of the action points include developing a global benchmark on standards, share technology and promote innovation, invest in capacity development, provide strong leadership, and develop SDG indicators in order to be able to analyze and visualize the data. The crucial message this report calls for is not how to create data, as that is already happening, but how to mobilise it to reach our SDGs. We should be minimizing the gap between the data haves and have-nots, those who know and who do not. Therefore, the data revolution should be a revolution with a mission of equality. Governments are some of the most important leaders in enforcing sound laws to provide privacy and security of data available. They are the ones who can ensure that the inequalities in their countries are lessened and that proper systems are in place to support that.

The need for data revolution is even more urgent due to the poor quality of data available, speed and lack of coverage, keeping many communities as invisible, including women, whose issues are still underdocumented. Additionally, a lot of the data is either not being used properly, or is not usable, relevant or simply accessible. Therefore, the vision for our future would be one where data is available and serving the interests of the people, usable and available at the right time for decisionmaking, and helpful in preparing for the future. Another key aspect of the future should include a dynamic “global data ecosystem” in which governments and public institutions respond to the data age and have appropriate frameworks to protect as well as provide data information. The key principles of the data revolution include: data quality and integrity, data disaggregation, data timeliness, data transparency and openness, data usability and curation, data protection and privacy, data governance and independence, data resources and capacity, and data rights.

 Fixing the Broken Promise of Education for All: Findings from the Global Initiative on Out-of-School Children

Despite the remarkable global achievements in access to primary education, the issue of equity remains to be of utmost importance. Pertinently, this report explores the new data from the Global Initiative on Out-of-School Children, which has identified the information on these children, who they are, and where they live. Thus, this report points to contextualized policies to address the issues in those countries, using data to assess and fill these gaps.

 Technical and Vocational Teachers and Trainers in the Arab Region: Review of Policies and Practices on Continuous Professional Development

This publication focuses mostly on pre-service and in-service training of teachers. It provides a comparative overview and analysis of approaches and outcomes throughout the ten Arab countries. It then situates the region in the global scheme of TVET, exploring the question of quality and effectiveness of the sector.


Next Issue: The February issue will focus on the theme of Distance Education for the Marginalized. If our readers are interested in contributing to this edition, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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The opinions expressed in the documents included in this newsletter are those of the authors and editors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or views of UNESCO, nor of any particular Division or Office. All rights to the resources included in this guide remain with their respective copyright owners, as indicated for each resource.