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geoData’s GEO Project gathers educational data for over 500,000 schools, seeks to make information more publicly accessible

Education has always been an important issue to Ali Reynolds ’21, and now as the director of the Global Education Observatory (GEO) project, she combines her interest to make education more equitable with her work at the William & Mary geoLab. 

As a project under the geoData team, the GEO team collects international, educational data on a school-specific level. The data ranges from each school’s demographics, population, starting times, to even sometimes how many computers and resources each school has; though each country has different variables and information available. The GEO team then analyzes and uploads all this information into a dataset. 

“We're still in the beginning stage of this,” Reynolds said. “So far, we’ve collected data from about 20 countries. Most of them, we have school level data for, but not all of them. So that's 500,000 or possibly a million schools that we're looking at and that we have these big data sets downloaded to. And then, we have started to build those into the database itself, so that it can be searchable and available for everyone.”

The GEO project began last Spring with geoLab alumnus Heather Baier ’20, who had completed similar work with a Filipino nonprofit organization. The nonprofit looked to gather educational data regarding schools in the Philippines in order to help parents decide which school was best for their children. Inspired by her work, Baier decided to create the GEO project, which looked at schools on a global scale. 

The GEO team was originally a small group of three geoData members, but since Reynolds became the director after Baier graduated, the team has expanded. Now, seven members—five geoData members and two geoDev consultants—are working to collect, analyze, and sort the data. 

“Right now, we've been working a lot in Latin American countries, looking at South America and Central America, collecting all their data,” Reynolds said. “We've also been getting some Singapore data, some Philippines, some Indian data, as well. And so we collect the data we're currently working on, inputting it into a database, and hosting it on a website.”

In addition to collecting the mass amount of information, the GEO project is currently undertaking their largest initiative yet: building a website to upload their data on. The team began working on the website over winter break and hopes to finish their first prototype by the end of the semester. Reynolds said the website is being modeled after geoBoundaries’ site. 

“A lot of this data isn't actually currently publicly available,” Reynolds said. “Families are sending these students to the schools without knowing anything about the schools, without knowing what their demographics are, what kind of equipment they have, and things like that. So it's important for families to be able to know what their schools are like... So to have that publicly available for everyone, without everyone having to go down this long trail of emails and things like that, make it a lot easier to study how the education systems work in these countries and how we can improve them.” 

The website hopes to make this educational date more accessible to families, researchers, educators and any other groups. Reynolds believes doing so will help impact students into having more equitable access to education. 

“If we can have an equitable access to education, then you know, everyone has the opportunity to start learning, to start building their skills and to one day start leading,” Reynolds said. “One of the factors that certain countries look at is the availability of materials for certain schools. Lots of rural schools, in particular, don't have the same materials available that other countries and more richer countries do and more urban schools do. It's really important to not only have good education available, but also have good materials available for everyone as well.”

For the upcoming semester, the GEO team hopes to gather more information in El Salvador and Mexico, as well as finishing the website. Though Reynolds will graduate this Spring, she already has ideas on how to elevate the new site and GEO’s work. 

“I want to start a reports section of the website, where the analysts on our team will pick a country and analyze the education system, and publish little reports on it that people can look at; the information about the schools could then be used for other education research,” Reynolds said. 

Outside of their work, Reynolds holds small seminars for the team, where she discusses topics ranging from finding internships to machine learning. 

“I really want the best for them after I leave,” Reynolds said. “But it's really great. You know, we are not all geoData people, we have two geoDev consultants, but everyone's gotten used to really working together and talking to each other… So it's really exciting to see them build the team themselves.”

geoLab students who have contributed to GEO: Heather Baier, Ali Reynolds, Elias Wolman, John Hennin, Jane Siwek, Kerry Wang, Tina (Jiaying) Chen, and Jermey Swack.