An innovative GIS project is helping to inform the evidence base for key funding decisions in Malawi on where and what kind of schools and colleges are needed.
Universal primary education is one of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In Malawi, one of the world’s poorest countries, the lack of access to schooling has been a concern for many years. Malawi is one of the world’s poorest economies, with 40 per cent of the population living on an income of less than $1 a day. Its government and a range of international partners have continually stressed the importance of education in supporting growth and development. The educational challenges are tough, particularly for women, who tend to work longer hours and earn less money than men, and suffer greater risk of domestic violence and HIV.
In recent years, Malawi has made considerable progress against its MDGs, include those set up regarding school provision, but recognises that much more needs to be done. Government statistics show that only one in four girls completes eight years of primary school and only 40 per cent then go on to secondary school. In both primary and second education, only 38 per cent of teachers are women. The literacy rate for women is 60 per cent compared to 80 per cent for men.
Operational Plan for Malawi
In its Operational Plan for Malawi1, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) sets out a series of targets timed to coincide with the 2015 global delivery date of MDGs. They include recruiting 1,000 new teachers, with woman teachers as role models, and funding bursaries for 15,000 girls to help them stay in secondary school.
Driven by the same MDG focus, the Malawian government is pursuing an active growth and development strategy which has educational improvement as a cornerstone. In late 2012, a nationwide data capture and GIS project was announced to help with the planning of schools across the land-locked African democracy’s 34 education districts.
The ten-month contract, awarded by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST), involves the linking of GIS resources with education data such as catchment areas, enrolments, learner-teacher ratios and classroom sizes.
In its project brief, the Ministry specifies a need to: consolidate information on the school network; capture and geographically locate all educational institutions; determine the catchment area of schools; and overlay social, economic, demographic and education data using thematic maps.
emapsite’s international consultancy division won the contract and began on-the-ground data capture from its Malawi office in November 2012 reporting to the Ministry’s Inspectorate of Planning.
The GIS link
A key element as the project progresses is to link Malawi’s existing education database to new GIS data as it is collected. The project team are also developing tools for network and investment planning. The emphasis at district level will be to map various kinds of need-based data including dropout ratios and gender parity.
The first task has been to review a previous school mapping exercise undertaken in 2002 along with other initiatives involving education data capture at national, regional or district level. Much data is contained in Malawi’s existing Education Management Information System (EMIS).
In line with their review of the EMIS database, the emapsite team will carry out a pilot survey of three districts in the capital Lilongwe. The districts have been carefully chosen to deliver a mix of urban, semi-urban and rural data. They are referred to in the project brief as Lilongwe Urban, Lilongwe Rural East and Lilongwe Rural West.
Learnings from the pilot are intended to be rolled out across the remaining 31 districts of the country with recommendations made on the most appropriate systems and software for ongoing school mapping at central and district levels.
The data capture will include around 6,000 state and privately run primary schools alongside a smaller number of rural and urban secondaries. As well as schools, the institutions to be analysed include teacher training colleges, other technical and vocational training centres, university buildings, staff houses, adult literacy centres and pre-primary facilities. Each one will be mapped and represented as a single point for inclusion in a comprehensive GIS database along with its latitude and longitude co-ordinates. The GIS data will be linked both to the EMIS and existing national geographic systems such as Malawi’s Geographical Survey.
District thematic maps will be produced to help visualise any existing constraints on education provision whether related to socio-economic, demographic, gender or other factors. Analysis of the collected data is seen as vital to determining the need for intervention and for prioritising budget and investment decisions on school infrastructure.
Going forward, emapsite will be making recommendations on the most appropriate demand-driven GIS system to adopt based on annual data collection. Key factors will include a user-friendly interface for ease of data entry, analysis and reporting.
The team will also train MoEST officials both at central and district level in data collection to ensure onward capacity and sustainability after the project is finished. The training will include qualitative analysis and data projection.
The project is part of a wider initiative called PIEQM (Project to Improve Education Quality in Malawi) which is funded through the Malawi government and a range of international partners. They include the World Bank, UNICEF, the World Food Programme and various foreign government bodies including DFID.
The contract is the latest win for emapsite’s international division which supports a branch company, Emapsite Middle East Llc, operating from offices in Riyadh and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The company handles consultancy, training and technical contracts with government and business clients.
As well as GIS, the division offers related geomatics tools and technologies, needs assessments, systems analysis and functional requirements for GIS applications. Services range from data collection and geocoding through to database integration and spatial analysis. Specialisms include environmental monitoring and urban and infrastructure planning.
Recent environmental work in the Middle East includes a substantial baseline survey and coastal mapping project of Red Sea habitats with the Saudi Arabian Presidency of Meteorology & Environment. Emapsite also delivered the GIS component of a major fisheries project with the country’s Ministry of Agriculture.
Previous consultancy experience in Africa includes satellite image mapping for forestry in Ghana and an airborne video survey for crop monitoring in Namibia. Consultants on the team have also provided GIS and remote sensing training in Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria and Sudan.
As well as Africa and the Middle East, team members have experience of GIS, remote sensing and digital mapping projects in countries such as Barbados, China, Paraguay, Nepal, Mongolia and India. Activities supported by their work include urban and rural planning, environmental database management, land use planning, land registration, water resource survey, crop area mapping and GPS.
Justin Saunders, co-founder and director of emapsite, holds an MSc in remote sensing and GIS from Cranfield University and has steered the international expansion of the business.