The global drive to engage in evidence-based decision-making has been widely acknowledged and adopted at the regional and national levels worldwide. In the Pacific, there is a growing pool of data banks that are being used by Pacific governments to amend policies on critical issues affecting the region.
Adding to the Pacific’s consistency with the global evidence-based decision-making norm, the Pacific Community (SPC) is investing in strengthening the availability of education data for Pacific Island countries to use in improving the quality of education across the region.
The region’s largest assessment, the Pacific Islands Literacy and Numeracy Assessment (PILNA), which is administered by the SPC’s Educational Quality and Assessment Programme (EQAP) provides data on the literacy (reading and writing) and numeracy skills of students who have completed four and six years of formal primary education.
The overarching goal of PILNA as a long-term Pacific-wide regional assessment is to generate cognitive and contextual data that can be used to drive ongoing collaborative efforts to monitor and improve learning outcomes for children in the Pacific.
EQAP’s Large Scale Assessment Team Leader, Torika Taoi, explained that “PILNA contains a wealth of invaluable data collected over the PILNA cycles since 2012. When carefully explored and findings addressed, this data provides a roadmap that could lead to improvements in policy that will bring about meaningful change in students’ learning”.
In October 2022, the EQAP team convened a regional data mining workshop to enable the participating countries to gain knowledge, experience and skills to extract and explore in-depth the relevant data from the 2021 PILNA report and identify aspects of the PILNA data that can inform national planning, research, and monitoring and evaluation.
Nine Pacific Island countries participated in this regional workshop.
Nora Warren, the Assistant Chief Executive Officer of the Policy, Planning and Research Division at Samoa’s Ministry of Education, highlighted the usefulness of the workshop for participating Pacific Island countries.
“This workshop will help me understand the PILNA data from the lenses of a student, a school teacher and a school leader. Understanding their reasons will inform better decisions, policy development, research and practices for the country, especially for the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture in Samoa”. Similar responses were received from other participating countries.
When dissected, the PILNA 2021 report can be divided into two components, cognitive and contextual. The cognitive component of PILNA is designed to collect achievement data on student learning outcomes in reading, writing and numeracy at Year 4 and Year 6 through the administration of the assessment.
On the other hand, the contextual data relates to the responses of students, teachers and head teachers of the participating schools. These groups fill in questionnaires following the administration of PILNA to provide information about the contexts that students come from, including factors related to their home and community.
Responses to the questionnaires provided information about teachers, their classroom practices, and the resources available at their schools.
In affiliation with the achievement data, the contextual data provide information about associations with student learning outcomes. This information provides a more in-depth understanding of the observed assessment outcomes and the implications of these outcomes for designing improvement strategies.
The participating PICs are now disseminating the country-specific data, generated through the PILNA 2021 assessment and contextual questionnaires, to their relevant Ministry of Education staff to drive local interventions.
To calculate the impact of this workshop, the EQAP team will be hosting a second data mining workshop this year. Through this workshop, EQAP will be gauging the changes in the education systems and practices that stemmed from the initial workshop convened in 2022.