Mapping roads in Madagascar to advance educational microplanning

30 November 2021


vladivlad /
Kids playing on the way home from school in Central Madagascar.

What if we asked the UNMappers’ community to support educational planning? This idea emerged during a collaboration with the Ministry of Education in Madagascar. IIEP-UNESCO was seeking to pilot a new tool to analyze catchment area around schools, but missing road data was compromising the project. Thanks to a mapathon and the commitment of almost 900 contributors, 9,845 kilometers of roads were mapped in a few weeks in the region of Vakinankaratra. Now, 97% of schools are connected to road network data, compared to just over half at the beginning. 

Using geospatial data to inform educational planning

How can planners identify the most suitable areas for building new schools in their country, or for improving access to existing ones? How can they allocate teachers and educational resources equitably? These questions are at the heart of the work of the IIEP team in charge of the development programme. In recent months, several innovative geospatial data analysis solutions have been developed with planning officers across different ministries of education, technical and academic partners. It was now time to introduce these new tools into a larger number of contexts.

Following an open call from IIEP in the spring of 2021, the planning department of Madagascar's Ministry of National Education volunteered to pilot the prototypes. The region of Vakinankaratra, in the centre of the country, was chosen as the pilot area.

"The applications developed by IIEP enable us to visualize a wide range of data on a map or a web platform, at all levels of the education system. These spatialization tools will help us to prepare for the next school year, in particular to prioritize the allocation and reallocation of resources and to organize school networks."

Jullino Serge Rasamison, Director of Planning, Ministry of Education of Madagascar and 2016 Alumnus of the IIEP-UNESCO Education Sector Planning course

Isochrones to improve catchment areas

Catchment areas are the small geographic areas that can be used by ministries of education to plan for educational demand, supply, and access. The tool tested in Madagascar calculates the distance and walking time of school-age children to school. With this methodology, catchment areas are no longer simple buffers drawn around schools, as it used to be. Isochrones now makes it possible to establish the actual walking time, taking into account the terrain or possible obstacles learners face. Visualized on a map, the catchment areas therefore take on very different forms.

"For this tool, we deliberately chose to use open data from the road network, because it is not necessarily about finding the shortest routes for students to get to school, but rather the safest routes," says Amélie A. Gagnon, IIEP's Development Manager.

What if data is missing?

From the beginning of the pilot phase in Vakinankaratra, the tool for catchment area analysis ran into a difficulty, because a large part of the road network data was missing in the database of OpenStreetMap, the “Wikipedia of maps”. As a result, 43% of the region's schools were not taken into account by the algorithm.

This was a huge amount, and the IIEP team and partners could have felt defeated. They quickly realized that since all the roads and unpaved paths were not yet on the map, and that OpenStreetMap is a collaborative platfirm, with the right partner they could call on volunteers fill the missing information. When contacted by IIEP, the colleagues of UNMappers agreed to come and support the efforts. 

UN Mappers is a community of mapping enthusiasts. It is part of the Unite Maps Initiative, led by the United Nations Global Service Center (UNGSC), providing geospatial and cartographic services to UN peacekeeping missions. Members of UN Mappers include UN staff as well as many volunteer citizens. Their role is to collect and validate open geospatial data in areas where the UN has field operations, through OpenStreetMap. Five missions are currently supported in their everyday operational activities in sub-Saharan Africa.

A mapathon kicks-off a collaborative mapping campaign for the Vakinankaratra region

A few weeks later, at the end of October 2021, a mapathon was organized by UN Mappers, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education of Madagascar, the Malagasy OpenStreetMap community, and IIEP. The event brought together 100 participants, including 50 active contributors. For three hours, they mapped the Vakinankaratra region on OpenStreetMap, tracing data from satellite imagery. At the close of the mapathon, they mapped around 1500 kilometers of roads. After this event, the mapping campaign continued, allowing the UN Mappers community to finish the mapping work and validation of the data. so far, nearly 10,000 kilometers of road has been mapped by 891 volunteers.

"This experience with IIEP-UNESCO is different from what UN Mappers generally do," says Michael Montani, Coordinator of UN Mappers, and Geographic Information Systems Consultant at UNGSC. "This is our first collaboration with another UN agency on an OpenStreetMap edition project with a different purpose than peacekeeping. I hope this one could be the first of a long series of cooperative activities between UN entities in the field of open mapping."

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Around 2650 schools now connected to the road network data

In the maps below, the blue dots correspond to the location of primary schools that are not connected to the road network. "After the mapping campaign, only 3% of them remain uncovered," says Özge Minel Özcan, a consultant for the IIEP's development programme.

The impact of the mapping campaign is also clearly visible on road connectivity around two schools in the Vakinankaratra region. Thanks to the campaign, the OpenStreetMap road network data retraces the real road network as shown in the Google Satellite image.

In Madagascar, there is a national standard that states that the distance between two schools must be more than two kilometers and the walking time between a village and the school must not exceed 30 minutes. "This tool allows us to locate schools on the map according to these criteria. This helps us to determine the location of future school openings in unprovided areas and to identify saturated schools," adds Jullino Serge Rasamison, Director of educational planning.

Impact beyond education

The same road network is also likely to be used for other purposes by the Ministry. "In addition to walking time and travel distance, the tool for catchment areas analysis can also inform the decisions on inspection circuits or delivery of school meals and materials," explains Özge Minel Özcan. But the impact of this mapathon goes even beyond these new perspectives offered in the field of educational planning. Based on open and free geographic database, the mapped road network of Vakinankaratra is now accessible by all and for all, as a global public good.

Learn more about the technical development of the catchment area analysis tool

IIEP-UNESCO’s development programme team has developed a specific methodology for analyzing isochrone-based catchment areas for educational planning, i.e. equal walking time to access a school, regardless of distance. On the basis of this methodology, a practical tool has been developed to visualize the data on a map and facilitate their management.

GISPO Finland acted as a technical partner in the development of this innovative application. In particular for the design of a plugin, allowing to connect the tool to QGIS, a geospatial data analysis software.

Based on open source software, map and code, this project reflects IIEP's intent to make its technical approaches accessible to all educational planners and managers, without having to purchase satellite imagery, invest in artificial intelligence processing, or acquire licenses.

Read more about the methodology

Two other tools using geospatial data are currently being tested by IIEP in the Vakinankaratra region.

  • The first one generates a natural hazard risk index ranging from 1 to 5 for each educational facilities, based on the school site’s potential exposure to cyclones, floods and drought.
  • The second can give an overview of the estimated school-age population density compared to the capacity of schools at the smallest administrative level of the country (“fokontany”). Based on Sprague's multiplier model, this tool makes it possible to observe potential demand for educational services.