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23 October 2011 at 21:10 - Posted by Anonymous

SA Census still in the dark ages


JOHANNESBURG - Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) has decided to stick to a winning formula to collate data in the Census 2011. In its attempts to avoid technological glitches and the possibility of having inaccurate information, Stats SA says it’s decided to keep it’s questionnaires for the census in pen and paper format and not to use a technology solution.

“We first introduced scanning technology with our previous Census2001, but unfortunately this was not tested adequately and led to us facing some challenges in meeting our timelines,” said Census 2011 Project Director Calvin Molongoana.

Molongoana says that following the release of independent quality reports on the previous census, it was decided that Stats SA would stick to the technology that was “tried and tested”.

SA is not alone in this regard and countries such as United States have also stuck to the same method, using paper based questionnaires in their 2010 Census.

“Once we have managed to fine tune our systems, will we deploy the use of technological solutions in a survey of this magnitude,” added Molongoana. New technologies in collating survey results will first be tried out on smaller sample sizes.

Faced with the challenge of counting a projected 50 million people and 14 million known households, Stats SA has had to print out more than 25 million questionnaires, which will be physically filled out by citizens. Molongoana said the possibility of completing such questionnaires online or by using handheld devices is and has been considered for some time, but there are a few challenges obstructing such developments. “The funding of these solutions is one of them, as well as the security concerns around expensive data capturing devices that will be used by enumerators.”

Adding to the agency’s grief is the fact that not all of the 120 000 officials dressed in yellow bibs to document all citizens, have a full understanding on the use of technology. “A lot of our enumerators only have basic education, matric at most. (For example) for many of the enumerators the transferring of cash via an electronic platform (mobile and online) is a complex and uncomfortable process,” said Molongoana.

Finding the appropriate software or developing technologies to aid in the collection of data is another dilemma faced by Stats SA, as several governments IT solutions –such as Home Affairs’ “Who Am I Online” - have proved to be fruitless investments.

However, a lot of technological involvement becomes evident towards the end of the process, where the data is administered using optical character recognition scanning technology and goes through a number of quality checks to ensure consistency of information.

The cleaned data is then tabulated and prepared for analysis, which is expected in November 2012.

With the increase in broadband penetration and global move towards embracing digital solutions, Molongoana believes that the next Census will be a lot more “tech-savvy”.

This next survey might also require deep pockets to funds these technologies – this year’s Census has a budget of between R1.2 billion to R1.7 billion.

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