How UNICEF is using data to ensure global COVID-19 school closures don’t set kids back

COVID-19 is challenging nearly every community and every system in place across the world. For UNICEF, the UN’s organization focused on the rights and wellbeing of children everywhere, the pandemic poses a unique threat to children and families. On top of the economic instability that COVID-19 has brought to millions of families across the world, many of the systems in place that care for children and support their well-being have been impacted.

One of the most vital is education. Schools across the world have closed in response to the pandemic. Beyond the impact on kids’ learning, school closures are creating additional strain on parents and families, who may find themselves needing to provide childcare during hours when they might have been working or taking care of other needs.

UNICEF knew it was important to work quickly to understand the impacts of school closures on children, families, and communities, and what might be needed to mitigate them now and in the future. The organization has used Tableau for some time to work with data, and decided to create a dashboard that would thoroughly capture information on COVID-19 related school closures, as well as more in-depth data on educational outcomes in different countries. In the dashboard, called EduView, UNICEF makes it possible to dig into the data by gender and by different indicators, including attendance and completion rates. In a previous dashboard, UNICEF provided a complete overview of childrens’ vulnerabilities to COVID-19, and the EduView dashboard, according to the UNICEF team, is intended to dig deeper into global education in particular, and how COVID-19 stands to disrupt it.

Tableau spoke with UNICEF team members closely involved with EduView—Thierry Schlaudecker, Suguru Mizunoya, Karen Avanesyan, and Karoline Hassfurter—to learn more about the process of creating the EduView dashboard, and how the data in it can be analyzed and understood to inform policies as countries navigate COVID-19.

Tableau: As the team at UNICEF realized that COVID-19 would be a crisis, what data did you decide was crucial to have and analyze to understand the impact on children?

Understanding the impact of COVID-19 on children requires a wide range of data that characterize the current situation, ranging from the number of children affected by COVID-19, school closure policies, implementation status of remote learning policies, and reachability of such remote learning policies to children.

We needed data to demonstrate how national education systems formulated policy responses to the pandemic outbreak. We also incorporated data from UNESCO on school closures caused by COVID-19 and the number of affected students to indicate the scope and scale of COVID-19’s impact on education globally.

We’ve also had to work quickly to understand the data on the availability of household assets for remote learning technology, like internet, TV, and radio. Countries have different preferred methods for continuing childrens’ education through this—Mongolia is primarily using TV programming that UNICEF helped develop, and other countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo are using a mix of online learning and TV and radio. We have to know both what methods are being used and where there are gaps in tools to access them so we can ensure children aren’t being left out.

Finally, we also considered that providing information on the availability of sanitation and hygiene facilities at schools complements the data and could supplement discussions around school reopening and what needs to be in place.

Tableau: Did you have to source more data, beyond what you normally look at, to understand COVID-19’s impact on children?

Once we realized that the coronavirus would be a global threat, we worked quickly to design a survey we could send to country offices for data on educational system responses to COVID-19 to understand how different national governments are reacting to the outbreak. This survey contains everything from what response priorities countries are focusing on, to the types of alternative education tools in place, to efforts to reach especially marginalized students, to interventions to support child health and well-being, like sanitation and mental health programming.

We’ve already done multiple rounds of data collection. The data are available in the Resources section on the COVID-19 page under the file UNICEF Global Tracker of National Education Responses to COVID-19 and can be downloaded from the dashboard.

And in addition to that, we had to analyze other datasets to understand the distribution of household assets for remote learning, like internet access.

Tableau: Could you describe your process for designing the EduView dashboard? What was your goal in designing the dashboard?

EduView was designed to have a user-friendly interface and intuitive navigation. In order to accomplish that, our team worked with a UX consultant who helped us understand who would be using the dashboard, and how they would journey through it. This part of the process was key in refining the design choices—we wanted to avoid overwhelming people, but also connect them easily with the information they needed.

Tableau: Why was Tableau the tool you chose to create this dashboard?

We have been using Tableau and Tableau Prep for quite some time at UNICEF. So when COVID-19 began, we were able to work with the Tableau team early on to clean and visualize the data we needed. Both Tableau and Tableau Prep were perfectly tailored for what we wanted to accomplish with EduView. Given that a majority of our communication is external-facing, it was important that the dashboards be accessible and understandable to people outside the organization. And we wanted the dashboard to be sophisticated, but at the same time require limited technical and coding skills for maintenance. For us, there was really no other tool than Tableau that can offer this balance between complexity and ease of use.

Tableau: What insights have you arrived at through creating and using the dashboard?

Our major insight from the development processes EduView was actually a confirmation of our initial reason for creating the dashboard. It really is just impossible to utilize all of the different education data effectively in decision-making or policy programming without a tool like EduView. The dashboard accounts for around 1.5 million data points on more than 200 education-related indicators (69 of them relate to COVID-19). Collecting them all in a single dashboard enables decision-makers to quickly visualize and access the relevant information they need, and that is vital for responding to the pandemic.

Tableau: How do you hope this dashboard is used by leaders and policymakers to respond to both pre-existing educational needs for children and those created by the pandemic?

When we created EduView, we had three core goals in mind: promoting evidence-based policy discussions and advocacy; monitoring education outcomes in an efficient manner; and developing investment cases for resource mobilization.

We hope that the education data available in EduView will be used by policy-making organizations in the education space to find solutions for education challenges posed by the current pandemic and beyond.

The COVID-19 page provides the most recent and relevant education data related to COVID-19 policy discussions. The country and topic pages provide other key education data according to different thematic areas which are critical for understanding school reopening (e.g., school wash and hygiene), and other mid- or long-term policy planning.

National ministries of education, for example, needed to be able to see the share of children with access to internet, TV, or radio at home to design efficient and broadly accessible remote learning programs.

And as countries start to reopen schools, it will be important for them to be able to access data on the availability of WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) infrastructure in schools to make sure hygiene measures are able to be kept up. The data in the dashboard will keep updating as the situation evolves, so decision-makers will be able to understand changing circumstances and see where response programs are working well or could be improved.

Please see the explainer note for more information on the dashboard.

For more insights into how organizations are using data to inform responses to the coronavirus, visit Tableau’s COVID-19 Data Resource Hub.