Imagine your child having to swim across a river just to get to school.

Getting an education should not be as dangerous and difficult as this, but it’s a sombre reality for many kids in parts of the Philippines, says Redempto S. Parafina, Project Manager of the Checkmyschool Initiative, a partnership with the Philippines Department of Education.

His nonprofit is helping to bridge the gap between school administrations and the government to solve issues on the ground. “We discussed options with the authorities to help these kids, and passed a resolution for the local government to provide them with boats,” he tells GovInsider.

Bringing data to schools

CheckMySchool is currently building an app that will allow schools to submit their complaints, advise them on which authority might be able to help them, and provide information on funding that may be available.

To put things into context, school information available from the Department of Education is “a little bit scattered”, Parafina says, and people “could hardly make sense of how things are done from the department down to the school level”.

There is also the issue of availability. These data may not be shared openly, even though they could be valuable to school employees and parents, he points out. Ensuring accuracy of such data is a challenge as well, he adds.

Furthermore, the education sector in the Philippines is “still highly centralised”. School repairs costing 10,000 pesos (US$195) and above need to be approved by the central government. “You may have an issue on the ground, but it may not necessarily be resolved by the school principal,” Parafina explains. “It has to go out to the judicial or central office, or local government, and comprehensively understood before the complete process is accomplished.”

All of these factors hamper efforts by schools to make evidence-based decisions and appeals to improve their facilities. “People see issues, they don’t see data,”he notes. “What’s relevant and meaningful to them is that I have this problem, how can I solve it? how can I bring it back to the authorities to address it?”

“People see issues, they don’t see data. What’s relevant and meaningful to them is that I have this problem, how can I solve it?”

Through the app, CheckMySchool hopes to promote transparency and social accountability in the education sector by tracking the provision of services in public schools, Parafina says. The main focus is on improving rates at which school complaints are resolved, as only 20% of them get resolved at the moment. These complaints or issues can range from a lack of textbooks to the need for disaster risk assessment, Parafina says.

To gain a wider reach across the Philippines, Parafina works closely with local community groups and volunteers. Back in 2014, volunteers were able to help Unisan Multi-Grade School in the island province of Guimaras to secure funding for the repair of a classroom that was damaged by Typhoon Yolanda.

Empowering students, teachers and parents

The impact of CheckMySchool is already evident, but in some cases, in a more intangible way. “We hear from people on the ground that say, we feel empowered. We have one mum who enhanced her confidence. We have one out-of-school youth who came back,” Parafina says. “Impact should be both in the physical aspect, as well as in people.”

Parafina has a PHP 21 million (US$410,000) budget for construction and repairs, which can include the most basic facilities any school should have – working toilets and a supply of electricity. With this amount, CheckMySchool has covered 893 schools so far – but these only make up 2% of the Philippines’ 48,000 schools.

There is a long way to go yet, but every little bit will contribute to brighter futures for Filipino children.

Image by Bro. Jeffrey Pioquinto, SJCC BY 2.0