One of the most important decisions for parents is where to send their children to kindergarten. Parents research schools, scout locations, meet teachers and principals, and take on the challenge of preparing their child for school life. But this part of a parent’s job could be made easier with better access to data.
In Vilnius, Lithuania, there are too few places to serve all children. That makes finding a kindergarten slot competitive. Some parents have difficulty choosing kindergartens where their child is likely to get in. The city already gives preferences for children with higher need and has a lottery system to allocate places, but they needed to do more to help parents and their kindergartners out. Through a partnership with GovEx, What Works Cities, and local partners, the Mayor and city leadership figured out a way to give parents greater access to data on kindergarten availability and get more kids into kindergarten.
An App for Kindergarten
Parents in Vilnius were only indicating interest in a few kindergartens, usually near their homes. While this is logical, it created an imbalance as kindergartens near dense population centers had long waitlists while others in less populated areas had much shorter ones. Parents did not have enough information to find kindergartens with shorter waitlists.
So Vilnius released data about the location of all its kindergartens, what the waitlists look like, and the type of instruction offered. To make this even more useful for busy parents, the city built an app to help parents map kindergartens and navigate the selection process.
3 Steps to Build the App
- Open the data – Vilnius first released a responsive infographic with kindergarten information for parents to view and then released the raw descriptive data about kindergartens on a github page so it would be accessible to software developers.
- Map the process – The city examined its existing algorithm that determines kindergarten entry for students, mapped out each step, and quality checked it with GovEx to ensure the process was allocating students to schools according to parent priorities.
- Partner with local volunteers – Local software developers from the company Euromonitor used their social volunteering hours to build an online tool over a two day hackathon. The app uses the city’s open data and process to forecast kindergarten availability based on information inputted by parents.
How It Works
Vilnius’s kindergarten app is simple: it’s one page with only a few items for parents to enter, like basic characteristics of a child and family, and their home and work addresses. The city uses work locations to provide parents with options for kindergartens with shorter waitlists that are convenient to their daily commutes.
Once the information is entered, parents simply press a button and get a list of kindergartens sorted from shortest to longest waitlist. On the backend, the city’s algorithm forecasts availability of kindergarten places according to the characteristics input by parents.
The list parents see includes the number of kindergartners on the waitlist, distance to home and work, the language of instruction, and age of school building. Parents can sort by any of these items to find the school that best fits their needs.
While the app is relatively new (launched in February 2017), early results are promising. Over 4,000 unique users have already used the app to find kindergartens for the upcoming school year. In addition, the process of examining the algorithm with external partners allowed the city to identify unnecessary process steps that the city will be adjusting for next year’s lottery to help ensure that children with the highest priorities enter school first.
Vilnius is also using information collected from the app to inform other areas of its work including transit and building planning. The city is taking what it’s learning about where people work and commute and making better informed decisions about where to increase (or decrease) public transit, to estimate occupancy of commercial buildings, and determine locations for expansion of kindergarten slots.
Want to replicate?
If your city is interested in replicating this tool, let us know. You can also check out the links below to get started on getting more kids into kindergarten in your community.