Data monitoring during challenging times

Data monitoring can be difficult in the best of circumstances. Is the data reliable? Does it follow certain quality metrics or specific criteria? Can the data be used comparatively? Data analysts face such challenges constantly. In countries struggling through a crisis, monitoring data can be more challenging than in normal circumstances.

A primary challenge is that education is not often considered a top priority by governments or international agencies.

“The first thing humanitarian organisations do (during a crisis) is focused on WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) needs, and access to food and shelter. Education is a second or third necessity,” said Stylianos Karagiannis, a Human Capital Development (HCD) Statistician at the ETF.

“But it is the big picture the ETF focuses on, to gather evidence, that is developments in a conflict situation like in Ukraine, or to help change the educational system in a country like Lebanon.”

Karagiannis makes it clear that the ETF “doesn’t gather data, we gather evidence.” Such evidence is used to support ETF experts, the European Commission and policymakers. “Evidence starts with data to support specific needs and requirements, and to have the information to take decisions. By monitoring developments, we have a clear view of what is happening, given the hurdles and challenging times,” he explained.

Rounding the circle

Hurdles can include Lebanon not having a reliable population census (the last one was in 1932) and not having a labour force survey implemented every year, but also a lack of electricity in the country being assessed.

When the ETF was carrying out its Rapid Education Diagnosis (RED) assessment of Lebanon last year, the study was unusually challenging due to the COVID-19 pandemic preventing field visits by ETF staff, but more so due to the socio-economic crisis in the Southern Mediterranean country.

Since late 2019, Lebanon has been plunged into a financial crisis, with the currency depreciating by over 90%, while the lack of foreign currency and high energy costs caused widespread fuel and electricity shortages. The capital is also still recovering from the massive explosion at Beirut port in August 2020.

Indicative of the situation at hand was that when the ETF arranged a virtual meeting with members of a Lebanese ministry, no official was able to join the call for nearly an hour. “The building’s generator was not working, and they were waiting for the electricity to come back to get online,” said Stefano Lasagni, a Data Analyst at ETF who is supporting the RED projects.

Intermittent electricity did not, however, prevent data being gathered nor interviews with stakeholders from taking place.

“We carry out big group interviews to specific target groups, such as with school directors, parents associations, and other stakeholders to ask them questions like: What do you think are the main issues in education right now? We then use interviews to confirm what we find in the data analysis. It is like a circle, and is supposed to inspire what we can analyse, and what to look for in the data analysis,” said Lasagni.

The impact on Ukraine

Collecting education, labour market changes and training-related data during crises requires collating multiple data sets, from demographic changes – the internal displacement of people within a country, and those forced abroad – to the impact on infrastructure and the economy.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in March, the ETF has been monitoring and collating data to track and review the impact of the conflict on the movement of people, the consequences for the labour market, and the effect on schools and education. The ETF’s weekly report presents a snapshot of the unfolding situation, but is also helping to direct future-orientated policies in terms of reconstruction and educational needs.

“The Ukrainian government is doing a fantastic job collecting evidence of the various impacts. You can address the needs of people by knowing what their needs are,” said Karagiannis. “There are international organisations carrying out surveys in Ukraine, and in adjacent countries like Poland, Romania and Moldova to assess the needs of refugees. Having a variety of sources we can put together helps us to have a good understanding of what exactly is needed.”

Anticipating Ukraine’s future training needs

With 6.2 million Ukrainians internally displaced, and 5 million (children, teachers and personnel) in need of educational programmes, understanding how the provision of education is taking place has been important for the ETF. There has been a major move to online and hybrid learning for Ukrainians inside and outside the country.

“Projects at the ETF are addressing these online needs and setting up the next agenda, for now and the future,” said Karagiannis.

Many VET programmes are now taking place online, while micro-credentials through smaller programmes are also underway. The ETF is monitoring such programmes, while working to anticipate future needs once the conflict is over.

“New skills will be needed for the reconstruction of Ukraine, and for the economy, and it will be crucial to have VET and training in general.”

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