A recent article by the head of the International Finance Corporation, an affiliate of the World Bank Group, urged the responsible use of big data analytics to improve student learning around the world. IFC works in more than 100 developing countries supporting companies and financial institutions to create jobs and contribute to economic growth. Supporting improved education is one of their strategic priority programs.
The IFC article highlighted several initiatives that they are supporting:
- Bridge International Academies in Kenya uses adaptive learning on a large scale in its 259 nursery and primary schools, with monthly tuition averaging $6. By deploying two versions of a lesson at the same time in a large number of classrooms, Bridge can determine which lesson is most effective and then distributes that lesson throughout the rest of its network.
- SABIS provides K-12 education in 15 countries including in Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa. It mines large data sets for more than 63,000 students, collecting more than 14 million data points on annual student academic performance that are used to shape instruction and achieve learning objectives.
- Knewton is an adaptive learning platform that partners with companies like Pearson, Cengage, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Wiley to personalize digital courses using predictive analytics.
These uses of big data analytics will improve learning in developing countries and the IFC should take pride in its leadership role in spreading these techniques around the globe.
Some are concerned that the new use of data for improved learning threatens student privacy. As a recent Wall Street article says:
“Perhaps the biggest stumbling block to using data in schools isn’t technological, though. Rather, it’s the fear that doing so will invade the privacy of students.”
The IFC recognizes the concern and urges policymakers to get out in front of the issue and to design privacy protections into big data projects from the ground up to make sure that the information is used appropriately to support learning:
“To realize those benefits – and to do so responsibly – we must ensure that data collection is neither excessive nor inappropriate, and that it supports learning. The private sector, governments, and institutions such as the World Bank Group need to formulate rules for how critical information on student performance is gathered, shared, and used. Parents and students deserve no less.”
SIIA agrees. As part of our effort to encourage privacy by design in the educational context, we recently published our recommended best practices for providers of educational services to schools, focusing on the need for an educational purpose, transparency, proper authorization and security in the use of student information.
The Administration’s review of privacy and big data is examining this issue in general and as it applies to student privacy. We look forward to working with them to make sure that the promise of better learning for the world’s students is fulfilled through the responsible use of big data analytics.
Mark MacCarthy, Vice President, Public Policy at SIIA, directs SIIA’s public policy initiatives in the areas of intellectual property enforcement, information privacy, cybersecurity, cloud computing and the promotion of educational technology. Follow Mark on Twitter at @Mark_MacCarthy