Data-Driven Narrative –
‘Trends in Education’

Although new to the field of data visualisation my knowledge of spreadsheets and creating charts has empowered me to explore this area in more depth. Many terms are familiar but new ones are introduced and this enhances my skills in enhancing data from sources. Hesitant at first to try a multitude of different digital tools for data visualisation, I limited my experimentation to one tool in particular for this assignment. Some others were extremely interesting as a trial or limited capability and hopefully these can be utilised in the future.

My research interest is into the future of education so I used this as a starting place for my search for datasets which would be useable and relevant. It is necessary to examine existing data from the past and the present before the future can even be predicted, and it is not my intention in this assignment to complete such a goal, but it is immensely important to be able to compile and decipher values and statistics in order to understand the context in regard to the crucial role of education, and how it will develop and change over the next few decades.

Initially I was hoping to use comparisons across Europe and the rest of the world, and to some extent I was successful in finding useful data, but it seemed more appropriate to limit first attempts at data visualisation to a purely national, rather than international dataset. A wealth of data is available through various state and administrative websites in Ireland on many issues. The Central Statistics Office, for example, is the crucial hub for all national data and census information in the Republic of Ireland. The government also has an important archive of data on the website which utilises data from various sources. In the field of education there are the Higher Education Authority and the Department of Education and Skills, both of which have been invaluable for this assignment.

The future of education will be influenced by the children of today. The numbers of pupils in national schools will put demands on the future in a generation or two. Therefore, I felt it helpful to examine the figures for the total number of school-children in Ireland at the moment and establish where they are in the country. Locality is paramount when planning resources for certain geographical areas in the country.

Figure 1

Figure 1 represents the number of pupils by county within the country. The information and dataset are available from the statistical reports of the Department of Education and Skills and contains many insights into the situation with education in Ireland today. Archives also contain datasets from as far back as 1930. My simple visualisation however only attempts to show the number for the years 2017/18.

Figure 2

Figure 2 aims to show the number of national schools in Ireland at the last count in 2018 albeit in a limited way. A couple of attempts were made on the right type of chart to adapt for this dataset and it was determined a line chart would be suitable, although a column chart was another potential visualisation. It is hoped that the visualisation presents the data about the main types of schools including mainstream and special schools.

Figure 3

Figure 3 attempts to present an effective data visualisation of schools divided by local authority and grouping these by type seems to be a logical step in my opinion. Future planners in education are aware of the types and number of schools in each region, and future demographics will play a vital role in decision-making in this field.

Figure 4

Figure 4 compiles a dataset from the Central Statistics Office utilising the number of enrolments of full-time students in first, second, third and PLC courses over the past twenty years. Observing the numerical data from the original dataset there appeared nominal difference over this time period, but by presenting it as a data visualisation clearly shows there is an upward trend in the number of enrolments across all levels within the Irish education sector.

Figure 5

Figure 5 once again uses datasets from the CSO but from a different survey on participation in education among adults aged 25-64. The visualisation attempts to show the percentage levels within lifelong, informal and formal learning. The datasets contained much more information than this chart alone can show, and there would be a multitude of other possible data visualisations. This particular visualisation could have a different chart type, but it is felt that a simple line chart is most effective.

Figure 6

Figure 6 is mainly experimentation with a drop-down menu to ascertain the gender of students in various levels of education. This particularly seems effective for a basic yes-no, male-female, this-or-that type of dataset. After several attempts to replicate this particular data in a reasonable visualisation it was felt this was the best method for this data.

As previously mentioned, the data visualisations were limited to Ireland, but the potential would exist to incorporate data from other countries, especially in Europe, to act as a barometer for demand for education across the general population. One particular dataset that I attempted to visualise was a comparison between Ireland and some neighbouring countries, as shown in Figure 7. More columns could have been added but in this instance only nine countries with geographical proximity to Ireland were considered. I believe this visualisation shows that Ireland has some way to go if it hopes to compete with some Scandinavian countries.

Figure 7

Trends in education will be decided by many factors especially by forecasting from historical data. Naturally it is impossible to accurately predict the future, but forward planning is best served by examining trends from the past and present. In Figure 8, data from the Department of Education and Skills attempts to visualise the Projections of demand for full time Third-Level Education, 2018-2040.

Figure 8

One interesting outcome from this visualisation is the predictions for the next couple of decades. Although no data for the future exists it is strange how it is envisaged that the demand for education will peak in the year 2030 and then decline for some reason, which is not made apparent by the dataset.

Reflecting on the research into finding relevant and useful datasets, it has been both fruitful and frustrating. Many datasets which are available remain behind a paywall or require a premium subscription. One source of potential interest for research is the World Data Atlas at Knoema Corporation. Another is EuroStat created by the European Union – there are many useful datasets here but unfortunately, they are in Jzip format which is notorious for malware. Originally downloading the Jzip executable and scanning it for malware indicated it was infected with a PUP (Potentially Unwanted Program) called ‘Bandoo’. This surprised me coming from such a seemingly reliable provider such as the EU.

In contrast, one website extremely useful as a hub for information was where links to many of Ireland’s statistical data can be obtained not just in education but across a wide variety of fields. The website is maintained by the CSO but links into many other portals for survey information and statistics.

I have learnt that it is vital to understand the data before it can be used in a visualisation. It is usually necessary to clean up a dataset from errors that prevent digital tools like DataWrapper to work effectively. At times this can be frustrating, but on the other hand it is pleasing to produce a suitable and presentable visualisation. More practice is required on my part in this regard, as I certainly wish to understand the complexities of data visualisation. Although I considered using other digital tools like the Social Network Visualiser, Polinode, Onodo, and Histograph, I feel I need more practice with most of them. One resource I found useful was the Data Visualisation Catalogue, and I certainly never realised there were so many types of charts.

It is hoped my initial attempts at data visualisation are beneficial in expanding my knowledge of this fascinating digital tool. My research in the future will benefit from my exploration into data visualisations.


Datasets ~ xls/csv

Annual Statistical Report 2017-2018 Department of Education & Skills
Enrolments of Full-Time Students by Level of Education and Year
Adult Education Survey 2017 Central Statistics Office
Enrolments Full-time Part-time and Remote by Programme Type and Gender 2017-2018 Higher Education Authority
Education at a Glance – Adult Education Level OECD
Projections of Demand for Full-Time Third-Level Education 2018-2040 Department of Education & Skills


Useful Links


 Technology in Education: A Future Classroom