Using data to improve education in humanitarian settings
Tracy Li’s path to becoming a data scientist has been an unusual one, from teaching voice and piano lessons in Canada to studying commerce at Queen’s University in Ontario to researching early childhood development in Kyrgyzstan and Ghana.
During the pandemic, Li worked as a researcher focused on early childhood education in Ghana, witnessing dropout rates in the country climb, teenage pregnancies spike, and learning losses magnify amid eight months of school closures. But she found little data to shed light on how to educate young children in humanitarian crisis environments.
“I think humanitarian contexts are often one of the most fragile to operate in, due to the fact that they’re quite unsafe, and political situations are always changing,” said Li, who joins the GSE’s master’s program in education data science this fall. “It makes it particularly difficult to consider the entire needs of a population.”
Earlier, in 2019, she was part of a team in Kyrgyzstan collecting data for the Aga Khan Foundation on kindergarten instruction for rural children in the country’s mountainous regions. There she discovered that there was no previous research to lean on or to compare their findings against.
“Both experiences left me with a similar question,” said Li, who is one of four 2023 Knight-Hennessy Scholars (KHS) at the GSE. “How can we provide the best educational experience for children in remote areas where there are few formally trained teachers and material infrastructure is scarce?”
This year, the KHS program includes 84 Stanford graduate students across disciplines being prepared for leadership in their fields and communities.
While participating in KHS, Li said she hopes to collaborate with other change makers at Stanford to discover how she can use data to create “impactful education solutions” in parts of the world where traditional education is not possible.
“My heart has always been in social impact and international development,” Li said. “I’m excited to reference my experiences and unlock new pieces of the puzzle.”