Innofactor on a good cause for the society
On behalf of Innofactor, I had the amazing opportunity to be part of an interesting 3-week hackathon, Maankoodauskurssi, kicked off by the Finnish Minister of Education, the Finnish National Agency for Education and Technology Industries of Finland. The project objective was to provide a concept, prototype or working IT solution for the prevention of dropout and social exclusion for students on the upper secondary level. As the product manager for Innofactor Skilli, a self-assessment tool for schools, I was more than happy to get involved.
A team, which members were handpicked from five IT companies (Accenture, CGI, Claned, IBM and Innofactor) rolled up their sleeves to develop a practical application to indicate which students are likely to drop out of vocational school. The group consisted of professionals with a diverse set of know-how; data analysts, developers as well as specialists with substance knowledge. On behalf of the organizers, we had experts presenting valuable insight from the education world.
Working for a social cause, the company borders crumbled fast and we quickly formed a well working team. The first days were introductory days to help us understand the vocational education world and the data landscape associated with it. It quickly became clear that interventions during the vocational education itself in many cases come too late. To make a real impact, guidance and corrective actions need to be made already during primary and secondary school.
A lot of data is generated for students in school. These are e.g. grades, textual assessments, behavioral assessments, markings of absences and unfinished school work. Some data can as well be derived from other data, e.g. interaction between student’s guardians and the school using information on how often the guardians log into the school’s portal. During our 3-week project, we had the opportunity to examine some past school events for a small group of people and compare this to the outcome of their education in vocational school. The set of data was too small to be able to deliver any real insight, however, the main purpose was to go through the process and to demonstrate how it could be done. The concrete outcome of our 3 weeks was an algorithm that could be used to estimate vocational school dropout based on some key indicators and a prototype UI demo to showcase how the data from the algorithm could be presented differently for school personnel, city decision makers and political leaders.
So why not take this application straight into use in every school across country and solve the political hot potato? We concluded that there are still many obstacles in the way of comprehensively assessing the reasons behind school dropouts. Students have a life outside school as well and dropping out of school can be the outcome of several reasons. To fully understand the reasons for students dropping out of school, we should analyze the students more comprehensively. To do this, analysis on dropouts should in addition to school data include data from health and social security institutions as well. The data is currently scattered across various IT-systems in silos in each institution due to both technical and legislative reasons. The data needs to be more centralized to effectively allow reacting to early indicators that can lead to early corrective actions. To enable this, both technical and legislative changes are required.
One valuable source of data is students’ self-assessments. Innofactor’s Skilli is a tool that provides reports of students’ self-assessments. The tool itself can be used in schools for detecting early indicators based on the self-assessments, however, the data it generates is a great addition to the hard data currently stored in e.g. school information systems.
It is great to see that the possibilities of data analysis are being recognized for solving social issues. As the public attention and understanding increases, maybe we will see changes in the operating environment that starts with legislative changes. Both Skilli and Maankoodauskurssi are contributing to this change and aim to reduce school dropouts.