A Crowdsourced Geodata Project Is Aiding Education Efforts in Tanzania 

The following story, data, photos, and all other material featured in this article all originate from Crowd2Map, Tanzania Development Trust and their affiliates.


Ikondo is a village located in northwestern Tanzania, close to the banks of Lake Victoria. Being a rural and poverty-stricken area of Tanzania, many girls in the community never complete their primary school. According to The World Bank data analysis reports, in all of Tanzania, almost 30% of girls never complete their primary education and this increases to 65% by lower secondary level. Early school dropout is further associated with increased risk of child marriage, lifelong poverty, and premature death. In comparison, women who have finished compulsory education tend to live longer, healthier, and happier lives. This also contributes towards a significant positive inter-generational effect as children born to literate and educated women have a high probability of completing their own obligatory education. 

Identifying the Causes

There are several factors that contribute to this including that education is not considered as high a priority for women, and that from early-on many girls are required to help their families with household chores, babysitting, and farming, leaving little or no time for school and homework. What’s more, a lot of families struggle to pay school tuition fees, educational  equipment, and much more.

The Tanzanian education authorities together with the civil society actors (such as local and international non-governmental organizations) are trying to increase school enrollment and completion rates for girls. While we already know the key reasons for low completion,  there can lie additional causes that become apparent when observing their everyday life. For instance, girls might be intimidated to go to school due to period shaming and the lack of proper sanitary facilities.

Back in 2018, while identifying such possible reasons for school dropouts, the education stakeholders of Ikondo discovered that some students had up to four hours of daily commute to school. This long time spent on school journeys meant less time for homework and leisure, and thus had a negative impact on their grades and their overall motivation to study. Many girls also felt uncomfortable walking along the main roads where they could be subjected to verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. In the rainy season, some school routes were blocked by the flooded rivers leaving flimsy boats as the only option to cross the water.

A group of school girls wearing backpacks and green school uniforms boarding a small boat.
Fig. 1: Girls crossing a flooded river as part of their daily school commute (Source: Tanzania Development Trust)

Towards a data-driven solution

While personal encounters with students and teachers provided us with anecdotes about the challenges of getting to school we needed additional data to put the problem into context. This involved asking data-driven questions:

How long are the distances that we are talking about? 

Where are the dangerous legs, such as river crossings? 

How many students are affected by this problem? Are we talking about a couple of individuals or rather a significant amount? 

These questions could be easily answered by placing the students’ houses and school journeys on a map. But here came the problem: There was virtually no mapping data covering this region!

In other words, when looking at Google Maps, Bing Maps, OpenStreetMap or any other online map platform, there’s only empty space! However, when compared against satellite imagery, there was clearly human inhabitancy in the area. This gap was first encountered by Crowd2Map, a volunteer-run Tanzanian non-governmental organization specialized in crowdsourcing geodata, a process known as “crowdmapping.” This organization, established in 2015 by Janet Chapman and Egle Marija Ramanauskaite, aims to “make areas of Tanzania more accessible through mapping”.

To resolve this problem, Crowd2Map launched a crowdmapping campaign to map the village of Ikondo and its surroundings covering the broader school catchment area. Typically for a mapping project, the first part consists of a series of “mapathons” where remote Humanitarian OpenStreetMap volunteers trace satellite imagery to map the buildings and roads in the area of interest. These remote mappers can be located anywhere in the world and all they need is a computer, a mouse, and basic IT skills to contribute. The work of the remote volunteers is uploaded to OpenStreetMap (OSM), the world’s leading open-source mapping platform that anyone can browse, edit or use for data analysis or other purposes.

An aerial view of trees, roads and a few buildings.
Fig. 2: Mapping of buildings on OpenStreetMap with the help of Bing satellite imagery. The red square indicates that the building has been mapped. (Source: Image by the author)

Next, a group of local volunteers, recruited and trained by Crowd2Map validates and enriches the data with their own domain knowledge and expertise. They identify school buildings, health care facilities, religious institutions, and other “Places of Interest” (PoIs), and tag them with relevant attributes. For example, they mark water collection points and indicate whether the water is potable or not. For the Ikondo project, the local mapping and tagging process was carried out using Organic Maps, an easy-to-use OSM-based mobile application that does not require high level digital skills.

With the help of the remotely and locally sourced mapping data, the local education stakeholders could draw and calculate the daily school commute of each student (Fig. 3). These efforts resulted in maps which powerfully depicted tha, long school journeys were not an isolated issue but rather a community-wide problem. This evidence, based on data, indicated that in order to address the school drop-rates, then we needed to reduce the length of the daily commute.

A crude map showing the location of the school and the surrounding villages. By each village marker, the number of students and the distance to the school.
Fig. 3: The number of students per village and their walking distance to the secondary school. (Source: Crowd2Map)

From Data to Action

To solve this problem in Ikondo, the Tanzania Development Trust sponsored the construction of a student hostel located at the proximity of the school. Based on the map data depicting each student’s school journey, the decision-makers could prioritize those students with crucial need for an accommodation in the hostel. Consequently, the girls admitted to the hostel were then able to dedicate more time for education, hobbies, and small-scale, income-generating activities. Later, the hostel also commenced successful small-scale business activities, such as poultry farming and production of school uniforms. While generating income to the school and the hostel, these activities also provide employment and income for those students who were unable to fund their schooling.

Even today in the current age of technology, a large part of the population in Ikondo and elsewhere in rural Tanzania have never used a smartphone or a computer. For many, the Organic Map application was the first encounter with a smartphone, providing an early introduction to digitalization. Several students trained by Crowd2Map have now become “Digital Champions” who are introducing their peers at home and beyond to mapping and everyday uses of technology (Fig. 4).

Additionally, the locally generated data, whether individual or aggregated, further helped local development stakeholders pinpointing and address other problems in the community such as inadequate access to clean and safe drinking water around the hostel and the surrounding community. Being quick in their response, the Tanzania Development Trust approved an additional grant in 2021 for the hostel to be equipped with a new water tank and also improved latrines.

A group of students outside sitting around a table looking at smartphones.
Fig. 4: Students mapping their community using smartphones. (Source: Tanzania Development Trust)

More on Crowdmapping

Many other communities in rural Tanzania have followed this inspirational example of Ikondo, as we can see in Fig. 5 with the significantly increased mapping coverage of the country. In addition to education, mapping projects have helped to improve access to healthcare and rescuing girls facing the risk of female genital mutilation. Despite the progress, there is still a lot of mapping to do in Tanzania and even more so in the neighbouring countries such as Mozambique, Zambia, and particularly, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Overall, as many as one billion people around the world remain unmapped, the vast majority of whom live in fragile, underdeveloped countries and are often devastated by natural or man-made disasters. In such contexts, as depicted by Ikondo, getting your home and your community on a map is the starting point for further social and economic development.

First map in a series of three, showing just land with a few locations, and no markers for man-made buildings.
The second map in a series of three, showing a few areas in orange to indicate buildings.
Third map in the series of three showing significantly more areas in orange.
Fig. 5: The density of buildings on OpenStreetMap in the Ikondo region with zero buildings in 2016 (above), after the first Crowd2Map campaign in 2018-2019 with 7,678 buildings (middle) and finally, 15,163 buildings in 2023 (below). The deeper the colour, the higher the number of buildings in the square. (Source: Maps generated by OpenStreetMaps Analytics)

Inspired? Now it is your turn!

You can help to improve the current situation (as shown on Fig. 6 below) by becoming a humanitarian mapping volunteer. All you need is a computer with a mouse plus some extra time, as little as 15 minutes per month. A good way to start mapping is to have a look at Missing Maps, an alliance of non-profit organizations initiating humanitarian mapping projects. The events section provides a comprehensive list of both onsite and online mapathons taking place around the world. Alternatively, you can also browse and pitch in for the ongoing projects on Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Tasking Manager. Completely new to the process of mapping? Do not worry: Upon starting a mapping task the short tutorials will guide you through the process.

A map of Africa showing parts in green and parts in purple. Green indicates likely complete OSM data and purple indicates probable gap in OSM data.
Fig. 6: The OpenStreetMap Analytics GapDetection tool shows that many parts of Africa remain severely under mapped, marked in deep purple. (Source: Maps generated by OpenStreetMaps Analytics)

This story is a Data Experience Design Expert Group initiative. The Data Experience Design Expert Group within Accenture DACH Data & AI ASG drives the concept of overall Data Experience, enhancing data visualizations by incorporating possibilities for seamless user experience. Through its various initiatives this expert group supports and upskills users in creating meaningful & presentable dashboards thus elevating user journeys.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author only and based on their own research.

Elsa Richard
Elsa Richard

Elsa Richard is a Data Visualization and Geographic Information Systems expert currently working for Accenture Switzerland. Previously, she worked nearly ten years in the non-profit sector. With her multi-year experience in humanitarian information management, Elsa has helped to deliver multiple data-driven solutions for building a better world. She is especially passionate about data storytelling, as this is a way to make complex data understandable to the wider public, regardless of their social or educational background.