Project Scope and Requirements
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Here I will briefly describe the scope of the CIEE Web Database project.
The CIEE is conducting a survey of government schools in the state of Karnataka, India. This survey is fairly comprehensive. It goes in-depth into the functioning of each school being surveyed, and also attempts to capture the socio-economic milieu in which the school is working.
For example, in addition to recording the number of students attending the school, it also records the economic condition of the surrounding villages, whether the children attending the school have access to transportation, whether drinking water is accessible, what the distribution of castes and communities in the neighborhood are and so on.
A soft-copy version of the survey form in PDF format is available (20 pages,917KB). This document is a bilingual document, in English and Kannada.
The actual collection of all this data is being done by interviewing:
the teachers and Headmaster of each school
the officials of the Gram Panchayat
parents sending their wards to each school
and so on ...
This information is verified with people in the community through a specially conducted meeting (a Shikshana Gram Sabha). In the process of discussing issues raised by information collected, people begin to see possibilities for initiating change at the local level. More information on the impact of the CIEE survey is available from CIEE.
Please see the section on contributing if you would like to volunteer to survey a school.
The kind of demographic data being collected by the CIEE project would be of use to many people. The primary user of the information collected is, of course, the local community. In addition:
Researchers in the fields of the social sciences would of course find it useful.
Officials in the state education department, would (we presume) welcome authentic data on the situation in the field.
Individuals wanting to make a difference would find the data a useful input in determining where to concentrate their efforts.
For all this to happen however, the data collected must first be made widely available, and that is where this project comes into the picture.
The WWW and the Internet seem like the ideal medium to make the collected survey data widely available to the general public. A database backed website seems like a near ideal solution. Such a web site would allow:
access to the data in the CIEE database to a very large population
interactive, user customizable views into the database
give users the ability to run custom queries on the database and view the results in an easy to understand way. For example:
"show me a map of Belgaum district with all villages where girl children are under-represented colored red"
give users the ability to annotate web pages devoted to a particular school. For example, someone passing by a village can drop in to see the school and later post a comment about what she saw.
give users a way to register "interest" in particular schools. The system will keep track of updates to the data on these schools automatically notifying the interested user whenever events of significance happen. This would allow people to keep track of events happening to their alma mater, for example.
hosting a moderated discussion forum for people interested in the field of education in India
be the base for building more features like linking schools and districts to specific fund-raising drives and the like
The aim here is to build a community of people interested in elementary education.
The project has thus to satisfy the following major requirements:
The data made available from the CIEE survey is to be made available to the general public for perusal over the web. This can be in the form of "standard" views (e.g. lists of schools with less than a given percentage of pass rates), or, later, we may want to allow users to run custom queries on the database.
The collected data in the database should be searchable.
Users should be able to annotate web pages pertaining to a school with their comments. These comments, after approval by a moderator, would be made visible to the general viewing public. The comments themselves should be searchable.
A stand-alone front end tool to assist in entering data into the database may need to be developed. In addition, we may need to allow entry of school survey data, securely, over the web. The rationale here is that in the near future, web access is likely to be available from most large towns in the state. The ability to go an Internet kiosk, login onto the CIEE website and enter/update school data could be a boon for the surveyors.
The project needs to be sustainable. This means that the whole system needs to be maintainable by people at MAYA since hiring a database or Web software professional to do the necessary maintenance is not an economical alternative for grass-roots organizations.
If at all any maintenance has to be done, it should be possible to be done using volunteers. (Gee, isn't this a tall order?)
From this requirement we can infer the following:
the system has to be well documented, making it easy to maintain. Further, the system should be implemented in a manner that encourages that the documentation is kept upto date with respect to the code. Literate programming techniques would probably be of help.
A "one-shot" project is not what we need to do.
the system needs to be open source. The source code being available for perusal is essential to keeping the project sustainable.
substantial training material will need to be developed, or borrowed, so that MAYA folks can themselves learn how the system works.
A major goal in implementing this project is to make the work available for other grass-roots level organizations interested in setting up similar web based communities.
This means that:
The project should run on commodity hardware and not require the services of "big iron".
The project should run on freely available software. Dependency on any software vendors proprietary products is dangerous as software companies go out of business and drop their product lines or force costly upgrades all the time. Consequently this requirement rules out using donated (i.e. gratis, but non-free) commercial software.