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The last mile in school access: Mapping education deserts in developing countries

Resource type
Journal Article
The last mile in school access: Mapping education deserts in developing countries
With recent advances in high-resolution satellite imagery and machine vision algorithms, fine-grain geospatial data on population are now widely available: kilometer-by-kilometer, worldwide. In this paper, we showcase how researchers and policymakers in developing countries can leverage these novel data to precisely identify “education deserts” – localized areas where families lack physical access to education – at unprecedented scale, detail, and cost-effectiveness. We demonstrate how these analyses could valuably inform educational access initiatives like school construction and transportation investments, and outline a variety of analytic extensions to gain deeper insight into the state of school access across a given country. We conduct a proof-of-concept analysis in the context of Guatemala, which has historically struggled with educational access, as a demonstration of the utility, viability, and flexibility of our proposed approach. We find that the vast majority of Guatemalan population lives within 3 km of a public primary school, indicating a generally low incidence of distance as a barrier to education in that context. However, we still identify concentrated pockets of population for whom the distance to school remains prohibitive, revealing important geographic variation within the strong country-wide average. Finally, we show how even a small number of optimally-placed schools in these areas, using a simple algorithm we develop, could substantially reduce the incidence of education deserts in this context. We make our entire codebase available to the public – fully free, open-source, heavily documented, and designed for broad use – allowing analysts across contexts to easily replicate our proposed analyses for other countries, educational levels, and public goods more generally.
Development Engineering
Journal Abbr
Development Engineering
Short Title
The last mile in school access
28/10/2022, 15:40
Library Catalogue
Rodriguez-Segura, D., & Kim, B. H. (2021). The last mile in school access: Mapping education deserts in developing countries. Development Engineering, 6, 100064.