Donatella Solda, Head of the Ministry Cabinet, explains the aims of the program
Big Data represent a rich source of information, worth studying and exploiting. This shouldn’t be done only by private companies but also by the public system, which is going to have an impact on the market because it holds an invaluable amount of open data. For this purpose, the Miur (Ministry of Education, Universities and Research) built a working team at the beginning of the year to promote a shared and strategic study of big data.
«The aim is to develop new approaches to the exploitation of big data belonging to Miur in order to take decisions of specific scientific, administrative and political significance», explains to Linc Donatella Solda, Head of Cabinet for the Ministry lead by Stefania Giannini. The sector pertaining to education, university, research and artistic and musical higher education, in fact, contributes to building up big data. Thus, in the Ministry plan, there are three main areas involved: Miur data, university and school.
A mine ready to be exploited
The Ministry has a huge amount of data at disposal, coming from administrative and managing procedures, in addition to specific statistical figures based on the assessments and auto assessment given to teaching and research. «Today, the collected information is generally used to address policies and to assess the school, university and research system», explains Solda. «The data are partly available to the individual institutions for their managing issues and partly accessible to the open public and exploited by the National Statistic System».
Despite this, the data belonging to Miur are currently undervalued and are not fully available in the suitable ways. «However – carries on Solda – the Miur has the capacity to develop a strategy of systematic data exploitation and can aim at playing a best practice role among the central administrations». This huge amount of information often comes from different administrative procedures, to which different managing responsibilities and different information technologies are related.
«So, it is essential to undertake an action of data organization in order to guarantee the interoperability of different data bases, independently from the administrative processes they originate from, the administrations they relate to, and the adopted managing systems», underlines Solda. What does this mean? «It means to guarantee that any single data collected from a specific administrative procedure is accurately documented and consistently codified within the overall integrated information system».
The starting point
The team will start working from the census of the Miur data base, which should include the current information softwares aimed at implementing archives and their access, their updating and recording. This first-level analysis is going to address preliminary revision and quality control actions. Which are the goals? «First of all, to guarantee that any data base is memorized by an appropriate technical software and is provided with a well documented project», explains Solda.
«Then, to identify the primary entities of the different information systems (students, schools, and others) and to guarantee that these are consistently codified in order to establish a link among the different archives. Furthermore, to implement constant updating processes where the data appear unsuitable as regards timing and consistency of updates». The expected benefits of the Miur plan are to increase the overall quality of data, especially in terms of timing of updates, to make them more accessible to the Ministry itself, and to allow the development of some predictive analysis that could really and promptly support public policies, and the release of linked open data.
The role of universities
University education represents the ideal level for the introduction of technologies pertaining to big data analysis. The Italian universities have started to develop specific programs addressing this issue. «It is essential to introduce data science modules in all curricular studies, starting from the three-years degrees, in order to expose the students to this paradigm shift which is effecting all disciplines», says Solda. At this point, the most important issue is the recruitment of specific professional figures. The background of a data science teacher should include computer science, physics, statistics and mathematics.
«The Ministry should launch a specific recruiting program – explains Solda – in order to overcome the foreseeable shortage of adequately qualified professionals inside the current university staff. The ideal level to start training data scientists is the “Laurea Magistrale” degree». The Master courses are also important and should aim at continuing education and promote collaboration between universities and organizations.
At the moment, the master courses
are poorly structured
in the Italian educational system
The Miur – carries on Solda – should consider a focused action to support these curricular studies in order to guarantee quality and suitable organization».
The digital school
In the process of digital literacy to be undertaken at school, especially at the secondary school level, the new training targets should include big data «as a qualifying technology to develop new cross discipline skills», explains Solda. «The aim of the National Plan for Digital School foresees the development of training courses made available to the overall school system, paying specific attention to understanding and managing data creation, analysis, visualization and re-use technologies».
What happens abroad
In Europe, the United Kingdom is by far the most active country as regards big data study, offering widespread degree courses within the most important universities such as Oxford and Cambridge. Another positive example is that of Germany, which provides various courses at different levels. «In the United States, concludes Solda, the organized curricular offer is not particularly extensive apart from a few exceptions, such as the Michigan data science initiative, for which a funding of 100 million dollars and the recruitment of 35 professors and researchers is expected in five years».
(translation by Cecilia Braghin)