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Empowering Students Through Data: A Global Call to Action

Data Science 4 Everyone partnered with World's Largest Lesson to draw attention to the need for data literacy around the world.


Zarek Drozda with panelists (from top left to bottom right) Wesley E. Hedgepeth , Hollylynne Lee , Fatuma Faarah, and Mayuri Dhumal


In an era defined by data-driven decision-making and rapid technological advancements, data literacy and digital skills have never been more important for K-12 students, who are now vocally asking for these skills to be taught worldwide.


To address this need, Data Science 4 Everyone partnered with World’s Largest Lesson to host a webinar on January 24 to celebrate International Day of Education and discuss the global need for students to have equitable access to data literacy and data science education. World’s Largest Lesson, which is delivered in partnership with UNICEF and UNESCO, is committed to introducing children and young people everywhere to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs. World’s Largest Lesson creates resources for teachers to use with their students to engage them in these issues of sustainability and provides opportunities for students to take action in their own communities.


The resulting webinar event entitled “Passport to Potential: Exploring K-12 Data Literacy Worldwide”(which can be viewed here) brought together experts and educators from around the globe including Mayuri Dhumal, Data Values Advocate at Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data; Fatuma Faarah, Campaign Officer at Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data; Wesley E. Hedgepeth, President of the National Council for the Social Studies; and Hollylynne Lee, Distinguished University Professor of Mathematics and Statistics Education at North Carolina State University to discuss the need for data literacy education worldwide and consider questions of access and equity when data is collected, analyzed, and shared.


Transforming Education Report: Bridging the Gap in Data Literacy 


Alison Bellwood, Executive Director of World’s Largest Lesson, opened the webinar by discussing World’s Largest Lesson’s work aligning with the United Nations SDGs. Last year, the World’s Largest Lesson surveyed over 37,000 students from 150 countries about the changes they would like to see in education, which culminated in the Transforming Education Report. One of the most striking statistics revealed in this report: 55% of students surveyed noted they weren’t learning to analyze and use data during the course of their education. 


Data from the Transforming Education Report 


This was backed up by World’s Largest Lesson’s new report “Ready, Willing and Able?” which explored the competencies that young people need to take action for sustainability issues. This report highlighted data and information skills as two ‘red zones’ in current educational systems worldwide. We know data fuels progress, but understanding it is key. The SDGs aim for a better world by 2030, but data literacy is a critical missing piece.


Alison Bellwood, Executive Director of World’s Largest Lesson, and Zarek Drozda 


“For us, harnessing data sits centrally as one of the crucial competencies we need to start developing in young people as we look to them to address the sustainability issues of our time and into the future.” -Alison Bellwood, Executive Director of World’s Largest Lesson

Fostering Data Literacy on a Global Scale 


The panel kicked off with Fatuma Faarah, Campaign Officer at the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, who highlighted the importance of building data literacy to empower individuals and ensure ethical data practices. As a part of her work with Sustainable Development Data, Fatuma worked to create the Data Values Campaign, launched in 2022, which seeks to establish a common vision on data ethics, data rights and data governance, bringing together underrepresented voices and perspectives on issues surrounding data and power.


Over the past year, the movement has grown significantly, with over 600 participants from 100 countries joining in discussions and planning actions. Fatuma explained that by engaging with global leaders and hosting sessions at various events, including the UN, the campaign has emphasized the importance of incorporating Data Values into policymaking and institutional practices. By adhering to the principles outlined in the Data Values Manifesto, participants are driving meaningful changes in how data is collected, managed, and used to ensure equitable benefits for all.

“Building people’s ability to think critically about data, make well-informed decisions and increase daily use by individuals and organizations allows them to meaningfully participate and have a say in the way their data is being collected, managed and used.” -Fatuma Faraah, Campaign Officer at the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data

Mayuri Dhumal, Data Values Advocate with the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data and a gender activist in India, followed with a discussion of her own research, which centers on the water crisis in India, underscoring the transformative power of data literacy at the grassroots level. 


Mayuri shared that her research began with an investigation into why so many girls in India are often forced to drop out of school after the eighth grade. Her research uncovered that many of these girls no longer had time to attend school because they were forced to walk extremely long distances (on average 2,100 kilometers per year) from their homes to fetch water for their families. But when she began collecting data on the water crisis in India, Mayuri was surprised to find that according to official data, 89% of homes in India have access to sanitation facilities.


Mayuri soon began an investigation on the ground, speaking to the people living in the homes represented by this data, and discovered that many families didn’t have enough water to make these toilets functional. Though the data claimed that the toilets existed, it only implied that they were also functional. This was Mayuri’s first inkling that the data being presented by the Indian government and other entities might be a false representation of the living standards in these communities, which sparked her interest in empowering citizens with data literacy.


Mayuri explained she soon began speaking to individuals in these communities and collecting data right alongside them. Soon, she discovered and shared with community members that their data (including names and addresses) was being collected and misrepresented by local officials in order to to create the illusion that they were making strides in providing indoor plumbing in their communities. This knowledge empowered these same individuals to go to their local officials and demand their right to water. Mayuri emphasized that by empowering communities with the tools to understand and advocate for their rights through data, individuals can demand accountability and drive meaningful change. 

“We all say that data is the new fuel, but to use this fuel properly we need to spread the knowledge about this fuel first.” -Mayuri Dhumal, Data Values Advocate with the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data and a gender activist in India

Integrating Data Literacy Across Curriculum


The panel continued with Wesley E. Hedgepeth, President of the National Council for the Social Studies, who emphasized the role of data literacy in fostering critical thinking and informed citizenship in social studies classrooms. He discussed how incorporating data science across disciplines allows students to engage with real-world issues, evaluate evidence, and take informed action. 


Wesley also noted that teaching data literacy skills fits neatly into the social studies framework , which encourages students to develop questions and search for answers by evaluating sources of information, investigating evidence and communicating and critiquing conclusions that lead to informed action. In a government class, for instance, students might discuss how a census allows them to see demographic changes in society, a question that can only be answered with data. Students can then use this data to form their own conclusions and engage in civic action based on those conclusions.

“The use of data science and data literacy fits perfectly in the social studies classroom due to our reliance on documents.” -Wesley E. Hedgepeth, President of the National Council for the Social Studies

Hollylynne Lee, Distinguished University Professor of Mathematics and Statistics Education at North Carolina State University, followed with a discussion of her work researching and training teachers how to teach data science and data literacy skills. Through researching the best practices for teaching statistics and data science in the classroom, Hollylynne and her colleagues at Concord Consortium developed ESTEEM: Enhancing Data Science and Statistics Teacher Education with E-Modules.


ESTEEM aims to enhance undergraduate teacher preparation for teaching data science and statistics by investigating current systems, fostering a networked improvement community, and developing high-quality curriculum materials. Utilizing the CODAP web-based data tool, the project aims for widespread adoption and accessibility of technology for learning and practicing data science and statistics across various educational settings.

“We’re not going to achieve any of the goals we discussed today without the teachers who can help our students engage in these kinds of experiences.” -Hollylynne Lee, Distinguished University Professor of Mathematics and Statistics Education at North Carolina State University

Be A Fact-ivist Challenge 


At the close of the event, Alison Bellwood returned with one more exciting announcement: the launch of the Be A Fact-ivist challenge, inviting students to harness the power of data to drive change!


Students with their Fact-ivism posters


From International Day of Education on January 24 to Open Data Day on March 2, students submitted posters on SDG #4: Education, using real-world statistics to support their arguments and ignite meaningful conversations. 


Be A Fact-ivist! is a free online platform inviting students to research data on the SDGs (sustainable development goals as outlined by the UN here) and then share the posters they create based on a fact of their choice, because data is the first step to action!​ We know data fuels progress, but understanding it is key. The SDGs aim for a better world by 2030, but data literacy is a critical missing piece of that puzzle.


The Be A Fact-ivist challenge invited students to dive into data, and then bring it to life creatively to drive change. Students from across the world submitted posters focused on their thoughts about what should change in education supported by real-world data pulled from the data in the Transforming Education Survey. Students then shared their posters online on the Factivist website where they were added to the Fact-ivist Gallery for SDG #4: Quality Education


If you missed this challenge, don’t worry! The Fact-ivist platform is still online for your students to upload posters on any SDG they choose. And if you would like to watch the Passport to Potential: Exploring K-12 Data Literacy Worldwide panel, the recording can be found here


Poster submitted by Ronald, 18, Philippines


Poster submitted by Talal, 16, Lebanon


Poster submitted by Elspeth, 15, Ireland

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