I recently relocated my family from Chisanau to The Hague, leading to the difficult experience of trying to find the best primary school for my son in a new city. This challenge – finding the right school – is probably one of the most important decisions in many parents’ lives. Parents are looking for answers to questions such as which schools are located in safe neighborhoods, which ones have the highest teacher – students’ ratio, which schools have the best funding, which schools have the best premises or which ones have the highest grades average.
It is rarely an easy decision, but is made doubly difficult in the case of migrants. People residing in the same location for a long time know, more or less, which are the best education institutions in their city, town or village. For migrants, the situation is absolutely the opposite. They have to spend extra time and resources in identifying relevant information about schools.
Open Government Data is an effective solution which can ease the problem of a lack of accessible information about existing schools in a particular country or location. By adopting the Open Government Data policy in the educational field, governments release data about grades, funding, student and teacher numbers, data generated throughout time by schools, colleges, universities and other educational settings.
Developers then use this data for creating applications which portray information in easy accessible formats. Three of the best apps which I have come across are highlighted below:
- Discover Your School, developed under the Province of British Columbia of Canada Open Data Initiative, is a platform for parents who are interested in finding a school for their kids, learning about the school districts or comparing schools in the same area. The application provides comprehensive information, such as the number of students enrolled in schools each year, class sizes, teaching language, disaster readiness, results of skills assessment, and student and parent satisfaction. Information and data can be viewed in interactive formats, including maps. On top of that, Discover Your School engages parents in policy making and initiatives such as Erase Bullying or British Columbia Education Plan.
- The School Portal, developed under the Moldova Open Data Initiative, uses data made public by the Ministry of Education of Moldova to offer comprehensive information about 1529 educational institutions in the Republic of Moldova. Users of the portal can access information about schools yearly budgets, budget implementation, expenditures, school rating, students’ grades, schools’ infrastructure and communications. The School Portal has a tool which allows visitors to compare schools based on different criteria – infrastructure, students’ performance or annual budgets. The additional value of the portal is the fact that it serves as a platform for private sector entities which sell school supplies to advertise their products. The School Portal also allows parents to virtually interact with the Ministry of Education of Moldova or with a psychologist in case they need additional information or have concerns regarding the education of their children.
- RomaScuola, developed under the umbrella of the Italian Open Data Initiative, allows visitors to obtain valuable information about all schools in the Rome region. Distinguishing it from the two listed above is the ability to compare schools depending on such facets as frequency of teacher absence, internet connectivity, use of IT equipment for teaching, frequency of students’ transfer to other schools and quality of education in accordance with the percentage of issued diplomas.
Open data on schools has great value not only for parents but also for the educational system in general. Each country has its own school market, if education is considered as a product in this market. Perfect information about products is one of the main characteristics of competitive markets. From this perspective, giving parents the opportunity to have access to information about schools characteristics will contribute to the increase in the competitiveness of the schools market. Educational institutions will have incentives to improve their performance in order to attract more students.
While adopting the Open Data Initiative policy in the education field has advantages for everybody – parents, schools and state authorities, it falls to governments to take the leading role in promoting Open Data. First of all, governments have to make sure that data on schools is being publicly released and regularly updated. Second, state institutions have to incentivize developers to create innovative apps. Third, governments have to increase demand for educational apps by raising awareness, lowering the costs for Open Data apps accessibility and decreasing the costs of accessing additional sources and information about schools.