Development and Utilisation of Database for Literacy Programmes
ARUN C. MEHTA
Fellow
National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA), New Delhi (INDIA).
E-mail: acmehta100@hotmail.com

 
 

 
Introduction
The World Declaration on `Education for All' (EFA) held at Jomtien, Thailand in 1990 was based on the assumption that literacy programme promotes Human Resource Development at the mass level and it contributes to increase in investment and output per worker. Literacy was found to correlate with increased life expectancy and it contributes a great deal to control of rapid population growth. It also promotes participation of all individuals in their local communities and in the global society, which helps to create environment friendly awareness. However, keeping in view low literacy and high percentage of out-of-school children in general and position of women in particular in India, it is unlikely to achieve the goals of Education for All before the turn of the present century as was envisaged in the World declaration. Based on the growth of literacy during the last decade and on the assumption of continuation of past trend into the future, it is unlikely that the status of universal literacy would be attained before the year 2027 (Mehta, 1993 & 96). Hence, rigorous efforts are needed to achieve the goals. It is thus, of great importance to make concerted efforts to bring all concerned under the umbrella of education, efforts for which can be made both under formal and non-formal sectors of education. Sporadic attempts have been made in the recent past to obtain the goals of universal primary education and literacy but still achievement of goals are far out of the sight. Thus, it is hoped that efforts would be further intensified and would resulted into fulfillment of goals by introducing innovative programmes at the grassroots level to promote education of girls and women. Any programme/project can be implemented efficiently, if management information system is effective which can also play a positive role in fulfillment of goals and objectives. Therefore, there is a need first to develop an efficient management information system with focus on non-formal literacy programme, such as, Total Literacy Campaign (TLC) so that the same can be used to monitor the programme in general and education of girls and women in particular.
 
Need for a Database
The first stage of planning in any sector of economy is diagnosis of existing situation with particular reference to a number of indicators which may be termed as stock taking. In relation to planning for non-formal, literacy and continuing education, it is better first to diagnose literacy situation at the macro (country level) and/or micro (District and Village) level. This can be done by considering both time-series and cross-sectional data. The data, so utilised may be quantitative as well as qualitative in nature. The diagnosis exercise would help us to evolve appropriate strategies to face the problems and improve the existing position (for details see UNESCO, 1994). The diagnosis exercise may be based on both secondary i.e. census and primary sources i.e. generated through surveys and projects. Thus, for understanding of the existing situation, it would be proper to develop a database which may include information on a variety of variables both from formal and non-formal sectors of education so that out-of-school children and women who are at present not enrolled can be identified and estimated in future. Better, it would be to collect all the relevant information at the local level for effective monitoring of programme which can also help us to identify educationally weaker areas in both educationally advanced and backward districts. It would be proper to have desegregated picture with particular reference to male/female, deprived population, geographical location, etc.. The database, so developed at the local level, in turn can be linked to databases at the block/district/country level. Thus, for diagnosis, databases on the following areas need to be developed:
General Demographic Indicators
School Related Information; and
Literacy Statistics.


Before any programme/scheme is launched, it is pre-requisite to know thoroughly the population for which the scheme is planned. Not only total population and its age and sex distribution but its rural/urban distribution is also required at desegregated level. The position of district vis--vis other districts in the state and block with relation to other blocks of the district needs to be analysed. Pockets within the district/block having population growth higher/lower than the state/district along with the reasons should be identified. If considerable size of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes population is available in the block/district, due attention needs to be paid. In case of elementary education, population of age-group 6-14 years is required as compared to population of 15-35 years for adult and continuing education (TLC) programme. The basic information collected under the demographic sector be further used to compute a  variety of indicators, such as, sex ratio, density of population and annual rate of growth of population which can be of grate help at the time of formulation of plan at different levels of planning. For better planning, reliable estimates of future population should only be used.


Under the literacy sector, both literates and illiterates over a period of time in different age-groups and educational level of literates needs to be thoroughly analysed. The literates in different age-groups should be linked to corresponding population so that areas where illiterate population concentrate can be identified which should ultimately be linked to opening of adult centers. While collecting information, its likely use should be decided well in advance. Information should not be collected for sake of collection. Naturally, collection of information should be linked to objectives of developing database and, if focus is on girls and women, even minute information which may influence their education be collected.


Though, the specific focus of planning in the present context is on non-formal literacy programmes, it is necessary to collect information on primary education because primary schooling, literacy programmes and non-formal continuing education programmes are complementary to one other. The efficiency of primary education system is directly related to the magnitude of the problem of illiteracy. So far as the school related information is concerned, the analysis should start from the indicators which give information regarding access. Number of habitations having primary and middle schooling facilities should be first collected which should be followed by information on percentage of rural population served by the schooling facilities. Such type of information can be obtained from all-India educational surveys conducted from time to time which is otherwise not available on regular basis through annual collection of statistics. Information on access, should be followed by collection of information on infrastructural facilities available in a school/block/district. Other important information relate to schools need to be collected is enrolment and attendance pattern; and pattern of wastage and stagnation at different levels of schooling. While analysing efficiency of education system, different indicators of efficiency be computed separately for male/female, rural/urban, SC/ST/General population etc. so that they can help in identifying educationally weaker areas within a block/district.


Information on these items are already available at different levels but in disintegrated manner. It is not only that the reference period and coverage are different and data is out-dated but even the definition of such terms as, literacy, being different under different sets of data (Mehta, 1996). Thus, while collecting such type of information, our focus should be on diagnosing the existing situation and not merely for preparation of status reports. Once the diagnosis is over, the next stage of planning is review of past plans, programmes and policies with respect to NFE and adult/continuing programmes including that of case studies of success and failure. This can be done by using both qualitative as well as quantitative analysis and by considering both government as well as non-governmental programmes at macro and micro levels.


Based on the diagnosis of the existing situation, it would be easy to identify areas where more out-of-school children and illiterates are concentrated. Interventions through innovative programmes in these areas are required. Thus, for any action based programme/project, monitoring plays an important role in effective implementation of the programme. For effective monitoring, strong Management Information System (MIS) is required. Though, MIS at different level is already in existence, but for effective implementation of National Policy on Education (1986 & 1992), literacy and continuing education programmes, such as, total literacy campaign, existing information systems need to be integrated so that it can become a decision support system at different levels of planning. Thus, a management information system (for details see UNESCO, 1994) of non-formal literacy programme with focus on girls and women needs to be developed with following objectives :


to collect, process, store, analyse and disseminate information
to provide educational planners/project functionaries with reliable and timely data and information for decision-making
to aggregate different databases and integrate them into a system
to prepare and disseminate aggregate statistics
to feedback information to village/block/district and project level to improve the quality of the programme and
to provide information that would help project functionaries set norms for performance and achievement indicators and to set the criteria for success and failure.
 

The first step in developing an educational MIS is the identification of type of information required at different levels. Broadly, the following databases need to be developed and integrated.
I. Learners/Participants/Students
- Population
- Enrolment
- Class Organisation
II. Education Personnel
- Present Staff
- Recruitment
- Staff Development
III. Curriculum
- Development
- Implementation
- Evaluation
IV. Literacy Programmes
- Literacy and Post Literacy Programmes
- Adult Education Programmes
- Distance Learning Programmes
V. Physical Facilities
- Existing Facilities
VI. Finance
VII. Legislation, Organisation and Administration
 
Use of Data Bases


The databases so generated can be used to convert information into a variety of indicators which would help planners/project functionaries to take quick decisions. This can also be done through graphic presentation including those of geographical maps. When the databases grow, the same can be used to judge the progress of programme with particular reference to:

Literacy/literates/illiterates
Out-of-school children, clientele population
Number of literacy centers
Number of learners/enrolment
Drop-out rates over a period of time
Institutions/teachers
Average daily attendance
Number of districts/blocks according to literacy levels
Information on teaching-learning material.


So far as the periodicity of different databases under MIS is concerned, it will vary from item to item and objectives behind it. It may be on regular (annual/quarterly/monthly), ad-hoc and sample basis which can be collected from a variety of sources and be grouped under different headings, such as, details of centre, teacher/instructor, supervisor, equipment and learning material, salary of teachers, learners, project office, media, and community support. Even, initially when a village is selected under the programme/project, a household survey needs to be conducted in order to get first hand information on education and related areas which can also generate consolidated position at different levels.
 
 Networking of Computers

The above MIS can be developed with computers or even without computers. Use of computers would naturally produce more reliable and timely information. The other important aspect of MIS is flow of information and level at which it is needed for monitoring of the programme. This can be in accordance to funds available and objectives of the programme. Computerisation of data at the local level i.e. village may be easy so as to feed the information but provision of computers to all the projects may not be feasible or even proper personnel who can handle computers may itself not available. However, once the information is collected at the local level, the same can be initially computerised at the block level which would in turn  disseminate aggregate information at the block, district and national level. More specifically computerised MIS has following additional features (DISNIC, 1990 & Directorate of Adult Education, 1989) :


- data to be processed are primarily quantitative in nature
- the volume of data to be handled and stored is massive
- fast and easy retrieval
- massive storage in compact form
- it facilitates tremendously the search, sorting and retrieval of specific       information
- accuracy and uniformity of output and
- increases information flow.


If the resources are limited, the best way of sharing them is through networking of computers. The precise information available at different places cannot only be accessed but can also be manipulated under the networking. When two or more computers (or a group of computers) and computer devices are linked together on transmission lines so that information and resources can be shared is known as networking. Networking links people to people and people to information which they seek. Dot matrix/laser printers, memory, RAM, programmes and databases are some of the computer devices which can be shared efficiently under the networking. Telephones is generally used as a mode of transmission between two or more computers. Networking can be established with in an organisation or between two or more organisations may be situated at distant places through communication lines. The computers under networking have their own processing capabilities (Central Processing Unit) and they share resources through the `Host Computer' (File Server) which over-all monitors the networking. The host computer may be a `dedicated' or a `non-dedicated' terminal. A computer is known to be dedicated, if it only control the network and cannot be used as a terminal. On the other hand, non-dedicated host computer can be used when it is not in the supervisory mode. Different computers under the network are known as `modes/working stations'. A node may or may not has local hard-disk but it has its own processing capability, that is why it is also known as `intelligent terminal'. On the other hand a computer without processing capability and without memory is termed as `dumb terminal' which is used only for entering data or viewing output. The dumb terminal has a direct communication link with the host computer. If the intelligent terminal has memory, it can also be used as standalone terminals.


A number of networks both under `Local Area Network' (LAN) and `Wider Area Networks' (WAN) are in operation throughout the world. Arrangement of computers under networking is known as `topology', hence networking has different topologies. BUS, RING and STAR are some of the commonly used topologies under Local Area Network (LAN). Under LAN, two or more computers are connected directly by a cable either in a room, building, between buildings, a group of offices, colleges, campus  etc.. LAN reduces hardware cost, shares software, data files and peripheral devices listed above. In the BUS topology, computers are connected through single two directional communication wire whereas they are connected in a ring/circle in RING topology. In the STAR topology, several computers are connected to central computer. All of these topologies have advantages and disadvantages too but BUS topology is commonly used topology under LAN.


Under Wide Area Network (WAN), two or more computers at two distant places are linked by either telephone lines or by microwave relays/satellites. WAN not only facilitate sharing of resources and databases but it also facilitate sharing of ideas which can improve productivity and creativity of users. WAN has a wide range of applications. Air, train and hotel reservations are all done through WAN. Educational Networks and Electronic-mail are some of the other applications of WAN which are being utilised throughout the world by more than 20 million users linked to about 2 million host computers. Electronic mail which is popularly known as `E-Mail' is the computerised version of surface mail, but it is much faster and more reliable than any other mode of communication. Each user has an electronic mail box on the host computer on which others can leave messages for later reading. These messages wait till the receiver has the opportunity to read to which the user can respond later according to his own convenience. Through WAN, a user can log-in to a distant mainframe/mini or a super computer and can use programmes and share databases which are otherwise very expensive and out of reach of common users. The faculty members, researchers, students and administrators at different places can communicate, share ideas and resources and work jointly on problems and projects. Even, an article can be drafted in one location and the same can be reviewed, corrected and commented on in another location, all in the same day. All this can be done through a PC, a tele-communication line and a modem.


Computers do not speak the same language as that of telephones. Computer produces `digital' signals (`1' and `0') or electrical pulses whereas telephone lines transmitted human voice in the form of continuous `analog' signals. Thus both i.e. digital to analog and analog to digital signals need to be converted which is possible through a hardware device, namely, MODEM (MOdulate/[1]DEModulate) which codes and decodes messages. The speed of transmission through Modem is measured in `Bits Per Second' (BPS). If the speed of a modem is high, data transmission would take place at a faster speed which means less communication time on telephone. Modems can be installed either internally on the circuit board itself or externally on a serial port (9-pins) of the terminal.


On Line Processing
Before the development of PCs, hardwares were very expensive, hence the computer time was very precious. It was a practice to supply data in groups or batches to computer in order to save computer time which was possible through input/output devices i.e. card reader. The batch processing minimizes computer time at the cost of accessibility to information. Thus, there is a time lag in between data collection and processing. This type of processing of data is known as off-line processing. But, with the introduction of PCs, the whole scenario has changed. Managers and management demand data to be processed immediately. On-line systems have the capability of processing almost immediately and access to information is very rapid. Any change in the data are immediately reflected in the system files. That is why data generated through `queries' are accurate, reliable and up-to-date.
 
Setting up of MIS : Some Critical Issues
In order to establish MIS, the first step is to develop a complete plan of action which needs listing and sequencing of various activities in a logical order. Activity chart helps in timely development and implementation of MIS. The different activities may relate to preparatory  work, information collection, dissemination and feedback, hardwares and softwares, training need of staff etc.. Development of Data Capture Formats (DCF), periodicity, flow of information, dissemination and feedback are some of the important areas which need to be tackled carefully. In case of developing a computerised MIS on literacy, details of networking of computers at different levels need to be planned seriously. Acquisition of both adequate hardwares and appropriate softwares at different levels need to be planned and made available in time. Establishing networking through telephone lines would facilitate rapid sharing of databases and information. At the local level, the MIS so developed would become a tool of decision support system. Through networking, on-line data processing can be carried out for which selection of information (to flow) plays an important role. All the data and information generated at the local level need not be transmitted to higher  levels but only selected information for proper monitoring of programme be supplied to the higher and the highest level which should be identified before the software is developed. If need be, any part of the MIS can be made accessible to any level. Otherwise, if the entire databases are passed on to the higher levels, it may adversely affect processing and managing databases would be a difficult task. It has been observed that a huge amount of information is being collected under the present system but only part of it is disseminated at local level where decisions are taken. Thus, there is need to carefully develop dissemination plan which may also include a series of publications/documents. Periodicity and coverage of such publications should be in accordance with the need of researchers, administrators and policy makers working at different levels.


One of the important drawbacks, in most of the existing MISs is lack of coordination between different institutions engaged in the activities related to databases/information. Thus, there is a need to establish networking of these institutions which will ensure smooth collection of information at all levels. Development of software is not an easy task which needs careful selection of databases and their inter-relationships. Software so developed should be user friendly and menu driven and be provided with on-line help which should be supplemented by a well documented user manual. Therefore, care should be taken, while selecting software development agency and preference should be given to those who has past experience of developing such softwares especially in the field of education. Training on use of hardwares and softwares is an important component of the whole exercise. Complete plan of training with respect to number of programmes to be conducted, duration of programmes, clientele group, teaching/learning material, identification of resource persons etc. needs to be carefully developed and implemented. The staff identified for MIS work and those who coordinate it at different level should be given proper training, responsibility of which can be given to the agency which develop software. Even adequate skilled staff who can handle computers may not be available especially at the lower level but the same can be trained and put on the job. Re-orientation training courses should also be planned on regular intervals. Feasibility of network establishment should be linked to the funds available for acquisition of hardwares and softwares. Keeping in view a large number of lower units (village/centre or even block), initially it may not be possible to provide computers at all levels but the same can be done in a phased manner. Even, private business houses, who are in the computer field, can be approcahed to arrange computers on rent basis (or free) which is successfully experimented in other countries. Maintenance of hardwares in rural areas may be a problem and there would be a time-lag between the complaint lodged and complaint attained. Continuous supply of electricity should be ensured for which uninterrupted power suppliers (UPS) may need to be initially installed at least at the level where consolidation is planned. Some of the activities are listed below. The list is only suggestive one and many more activities can be added to this list.


 I. Preparatory Activities
Awareness Campaign : Need of MIS/ computerised MIS
Legislation to enable information systems to operate efficiently and effectively
Networking of educational institutions engaged in information collection activities
Coordinating agencies at different level
Over-all coordinating/nodal agency
Budgeting of project and sources of funds
 
II. Information Collection, Dissemination and Feedback
Listing of different activities and their logical sequence
Development of Data Capture Formats (DCF): Village/Centre/Supervisor/Project(TLC)/Teacher
Printing and distribution of DCF
Data collection agency
Collection of filled up DCF at different levels
Periodicity of DCFs at different levels
Logical sequence of collecting information from Village/
Centre/Supervisor with periodicity
Dissemination of information and planning for publication of
documents
Generation of reports: monthly/quarterly at different levels
Feedback system
Complete planning of establishment of Networking
III. Hardwares
Details of hardwares configuration
Acquisition of Hardware at different levels : terminal,printer, modem, telephone line etc. and supply of stationery on regular basis
Arrangement of maintenance of computers
IV. Softwares
Development of Software on MIS on literacy: Government /Non-Government Agency
Acquisition of other softwares/operating system
Coding Plans
Details of databases to be covered under MIS
Demonstration of Softwares
Development of Manual
 IV. Training  
Identification of staff requirements
Recruitment planning : existing staff/new recruitment
Training on computer hardware/software, information
system (MIS), MIS software
 Training agency, number of programmes, duration, time schedule, objectives, periodicity and identification of
resource persons and
Development of training material and reproduction and distribution.
 
References
APPEAL Manual of Planning and Management of Literacy and Continuing Education[1] (Four Volumes), UNESCO PROAP, Bangkok, 1994.
Computerised Adult Literacy Information System[1],  Directorate of Adult Education, Government of India, New Delhi, 1989.
District Information System of National Informatics Centre[1], Planning Commission, Government of India, New Delhi, 1990.
Mehta, Arun C. (1993), `Education For All in India  -Myth and Reality'[1], Journal of Education and Social Change, Vol.VI, No.3, IIE, Pune.
Mehta, Arun C. (1995), `Development and Utilisation of Database for Non-formal Literacy Programme' and `Networking of Computers'[1], papers presented in `Workshop for Developing Literacy Resource Centre for Girls and Women in Bangladesh' held at Dhaka, Bangladesh during August 21-30, 1995, (Mimeographed).
Mehta, Arun C. (1996), `Education for All: Some Recent Insights in the Light of National Family Health Survey'[1], NIEPA, New Delhi (Mimeographed), January.
 
 Note: The article was written in 1995, because of the Information Technology, many of the issues raised have become irrelevant.
 

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