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Jin-Yong Cai

How big data can help poor students

Published on Apr 25, 2014 3:39 PM

COUNTRIES need skilled and talented people to generate the innovations that underpin long-term economic growth. This is as true in developed as it is in developing economies. But it will not happen without investment in education and training. If we are to end poverty, reduce unemployment and stem rising economic inequality, we must find new, better and cheaper ways to teach - and on a vast scale.

This goal may seem to be beyond even wealthier countries' means; but the intelligent collection, analysis and use of educational data could make a big difference. And, fortunately, we live in an age in which information technology gives us the right tools to broaden access to high- quality, affordable education.

Big data - high-volume, complex data sets that businesses use to analyse and predict consumer behaviour - can provide teachers and companies with unprecedented amounts of information about student learning patterns, helping schools to personalise instruction in increasingly sophisticated ways.

The World Bank Group and its private-sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), are trying to harness this potential to support national education systems. A recently launched initiative, called the Systems Approach for Better Education Results (Saber), collects and shares comparative data on educational policies and institutions from countries around the world.

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Background story

These benefits do not come without risk. We are only beginning to grapple with how big data's tremendous potential for learning can be harnessed while protecting students' privacy.