OpenStreetMap

Towards unified tagging of schools

Posted by Pieter Vander Vennet on 8 June 2022 in English (English). Last updated on 9 June 2022.

For my work at anyways.eu, I’ve been tasked to make sure that all schools are in OSM - especially with capacity.

No better way to do this by making it easy for contributors to add the correct data… So, I wanted to create a MapComplete theme for education. Normally, I would open up the wiki to see what tagging is needed, but for schools there is very little tagging available at the moment, which is a mess.

As it turns out, schools are diverse and this is reflected in the tagging.

This diary entry serves two goals:

  1. I want to organize my thoughts on how a tagging model could look like
  2. It is meant to stir up some discussion.

Hopefully, some tagging proposals will come forward from from this post.

So, what is a school (or educational institute) anyway?

This is already a hard question. The openstreetmap-wiki on ‘education features’ states:

Education features are map objects and object features which relate to educational activities

Well, thanks, captain obvious.

Let’s turn to the International Standard Classification of Education (from Unesco) instead:

As national education systems vary in terms of structure and curricular content, it can be difficult to benchmark performance over time or monitor progress.

So, in other words, it is difficult as this can be highly different amonst regions. The ISCED-document however does a good job to draw some lines and to give some definitions.

What does a standard school curriculum look like?

In most countries, the school trajectory for most people (according the the ISCED, page 21) looks more or less as following (but the precise ages can vary with a few years):

Before formal education starts, kids younger then about 4 or 5 go to preschool/kindergarten. This is optional in most countries, and some education takes place, often to prepare spelling and simple math. ISCED calls this level 0

Between 4-6 and around 12, kids learn to read an write, learn basic math skills and other skills. This is called primary education and corresponds with isced level 1

Between 12 and 14/15, kids get lower secondary eduction and learn more skills and competencies (isced level 2). Between 14/15 and 18; kids get higher secondary education (isced level 3). Note that the secondary levels have a split between education preparing for (a set of) trades versus a general training which prepares for tertiary education. These orientations are called vocational and general education.

At age of 18, someone who has obtained upper secondary education, could join the workforce, could follow non-tertiary education (see below) or could enroll in tertiary education.

The first cycle of tertiary education are often bachelors (often 3 years, but 2 years is pretty common too) and correspond with isced level 6, after which a master degree (often 2 years) which corresponds with isced level 7 can be obtained.

At last, a doctorate can be obtained which corresponds with isced level 8.

If, at age 18 someone does not want to enroll in tertiary education or isn’t ready yet for the labour market yet, they can also follow a post-secondary non-tertiary (ISCED level 4) education. This is an education which is not sufficiently complex to qualify as tertiary eduction and often has a vocational training, thus a training which prepares for direct labour market entry. Note that the ISCED does not state typical ages for this education form, as it is often taken by adults too.

At last, isced level 5, officially called short-cycle tertiary education provides education to prepare for following bachelor degree, e.g. if the skills obtained by a vocational secondary degree are not sufficient to enter a bachelors degree.

What if the education is non-standard?

A good tagging scheme doesn’t break under special cases. Lets have a look at some of them to test the waters.

While most of the people might follow a trajectory as outlined above, many don’t.

The ISCED-definition leaves wiggle room by more or less defining what skills one gains in a certain education level - not at what age someone typically obtains these skills. While the typical ages are stated in the ISCED, they are not the defining features.

Some examples of non-standard trajectories could be:

  • Someone who has never had the chance on learning how to read might enroll in primary education as an adult.
  • Someone with a learning disability might be obtaining the lower_secondary skill, even though people of their age age are in higher_secondary.
  • Someone in their forties might wish to reorient their career and follow a vocational course of the skill level of a vocational_upper_secondary.
  • Someone might follow a course in music, dancing, skiing or scuba diving as a hobby in an informal school during the evenings, while still working their job during the day.

This last example also touches upon specialized schools. How should these be handled? Examples of these schools are: - driving schools or flight school. - a secondary school which focuses on arts, but has enough general skills to be compatible with ISCED-level upper_secondary? And what if this school contains a college with a bachelor degree in music too, in the same buildings?

So, this implies that knowing the isced-level of a school is very useful and often does imply the age of the pupils, we still need a way to express whom is going to this school.

Who is the school for?

By default, we could assume that most schools are normal schools where pupils follow age-adequate courses.

This is not always the case. Some schools focus e.g. on secondary education for adults, other focus on people with disabilities.

To tag this, I propose to introduce a tag school:for, e.g. school:for=autism, school:for=adults, school:for=learning_disabilities, …

If this tag is missing, one can assume that the school is for normal-abled people whom follow courses typical for their age.

In some places, schools are separated by gender too. Some schools are boys/girls only, others teach both but they are separated. ~~This might fit this tag too, but not quite.~~ Update: As it turns out, this is already handled by school:gender

At last, a school might provide different levels that are often not grouped. E.g. a primary school might include a preschool. One can even conceive very special settings, e.g. a single university building which has an embedded kindergarten for the kids of the teachers!

What does a school teach?

The further in the education system, the more specialized education gets.

Where all primary education teaches more-or-less the same subjects, secondary education already starts to specialize.

And tertiary education is extremely specialized, with faculties teaching about just one field.

I propose to introduce a school:subject-tag, which indicates what subjects are taught at a school. This must be independent of the ISCED-level. For example: a school might focus on “teaching music”, which can range from evening school for adults, to a secondary school that qualifies as isced=upper_secondary to even a college in arts having doctorate students.

Giving an exhaustive list of possible values is impossible, but some common values could be:

  • arts, music, dance, painting, …
  • driving
  • flight
  • to disambiguate, a wikidata-entity could be linked

The tag school:subject would also remove the need for various extra amenities, such as amenity=dance_school, amenity=music_school, reducing complexity. Other details and assumptions (e.g. target audience and offered education level) can be clarified as explained above.

Schools which do teach skills without general education (e.g. a driving school) could thus be tagged with:

amenity=school school:subject=driving isced:2011:level=post_secondary

A college, tagged with amenity=college thus implies isced:2011:level=professional_bachelor. Whether or not a master-degree can be obtained at that college can not safely be assumed.

Schooling method

At last, there are multiple ways to teach students. Especially secondary education has a rich variety. In Flanders, we have Montessori schools, Freinet, Steiner, CLIL, … This could be worthy of a tag too, e.g. with educational_method oreducational_method:wikidata

Schooling language and taught languages

Schools might be operated in different languages - especially important in areas where multiple languages are spoken. As it turns out, school:language is already in use for this, but wasn’t documented in the wiki. Now it is!

Other tags

Of course, there are still other well-established tags important too, such as capacity, contact information, … I’m not covering them here, as these are already widely accepted.

Post-tertiary education

Some colleges offer master degrees for people who already obtained a master degree. How to tag those?

Other questions

What is a college in OSM exactly?

Conclusion

Schools are diverse in the subjects and the level of education they teach, how they teach and who they teach. This makes tagging difficult. This post describes a possible method of splitting these subjects into orthogonal tags which can be independently measured.

This blogpost attempts to give a first attempt, but of course, I’m only aware of my own environment. There must be other types of schools which I’ve never heard of before, so if you know of something that is considered an ‘educational feature’ which cannot be tagged with the tags described above, please let me know.

Comment from tordans on 9 June 2022 at 08:02

FYI, I looked into this topic recently (or part of it, just the classification of state schools (as in “no musik and horse riding schools”) in Germany). I was astonished how hard it is to improve the tagging even for one country: https://github.com/openstreetmap/id-tagging-schema/pull/331

At first I thought the isced:level would be a good fit, but I am not sure anymore since they change their system apparently (see “Versions of ISCED” https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/DE:Key:isced:level#Werte_f.C3.BCr_D-A-CH) and our tagging is not prepared for versioning external reference systems … — and it is also super abstract.

However, the alternative would be to come up with special values for each country … which would be a lot of work if even possible.

Comment from SimonPoole on 9 June 2022 at 08:55

There has just been an extensive discussion of school tagging on the tagging mailing list which you seem to have missed.

That said, detailed school mapping is difficult, there is not even agreement on what a, distinct identifiable, school is. Is a facility operated by the same organisation spread over two locations two schools or one? Are different grades different schools? Are schools using the same facility but different school administration separate or not? At which level of administration are schools the same and when do they become separate entities?

Comment from Pieter Vander Vennet on 9 June 2022 at 09:21

@SimonPoole: Do you mean this thread? https://lists.openstreetmap.org/pipermail/tagging/2022-April/064315.html

That one is mainly about the ISCED:2011-proposal and the main concern were the numerical codes instead of human-readable values, which has been fixed in the updated proposal which is more or less followed in the above text.

Comment from Kovoschiz on 9 June 2022 at 13:16

You have not discussed amenity=training + training=. Expanding amenity=school isn’t a good idea, which might be why all the amenity=*_school appeared in the first place.

I’m not sure any driving course would be considered post-secondary. Despite the many meanings of “college”, a bachelor offering institution is likely a =university.

ISCED has Fields, aside from Programme (and Attainment). Furthermore, The reason why “Programme” is suggested over “Level” is exactly because additional categories such as “Professional Bachelor” isn’t a “Level”. Only “Bachelor equivalent” is a level. There is also issue with mixing different categories.

Comment from Pieter Vander Vennet on 9 June 2022 at 14:45

@Kovoschiz: indeed, I didn’t discuss training. First of all, most mappers will search for ‘school’, e.g. ‘driving school’. IMHO this is why ‘training’ didn’t really pick up.

As an example: many music schools in my environment are tagged as amenity=school or even amenity=university. Why? Because in many languages, these are called schools.

I’m pretty fond of the idea of a general scheme such as training; but IMHO is training setup as a leftover.

Comment from Pieter Vander Vennet on 9 June 2022 at 16:11

@Kovoshiz: I also removed the distinction between professional and academic higher tertiary education.

Comment from Minh Nguyen on 9 June 2022 at 16:30

That one is mainly about the ISCED:2011-proposal and the main concern were the numerical codes instead of human-readable values, which has been fixed in the updated proposal which is more or less followed in the above text.

Some of the other criticisms of the previous ISCED proposal could be applied just as well to the current one, if not moreso. To be clear, these criticisms arise because of the use of ISCED levels in classifying school facilities, but there are possibly other niche uses of the scheme.

Schools might be operated in different languages - especially important in areas where multiple languages are spoken. As it turns out, school:language is already in use for this, but wasn’t documented in the wiki. Now it is!

The medium of instruction is more commonly tagged as language:xy=yes. This key is most common among language schools but can be applied to any school and, indeed, any point of interest.

Comment from Pieter Vander Vennet on 10 June 2022 at 02:01

@Minh_Nguyen: I do understand the concerns with ISCED-tagging, but they seem to be mostly US-centric issues and ISCED seems to be the most workable right now. I’ve written my thoughts on the wiki page.

About language: `language:xy’ on a language_school does become pretty confusing. If someone speaks “ab” and wants to learn “xy”, you’ll probably want to go to a school where the teachers and the administration speak “ab” and give the grammer rules in “ab”. To be consistent, we’d need to move the subject of teaching to some other key

Comment from Minh Nguyen on 10 June 2022 at 02:53

I do understand the concerns with ISCED-tagging, but they seem to be mostly US-centric issues and ISCED seems to be the most workable right now. I’ve written my thoughts on the wiki page.

How do we know that ISCED is a fitting school classification system in most countries besides the U.S.? Its authors are pretty clear that it isn’t designed for this purpose. The official mappings only go in one direction, from a national classification to ISCED, so mappers have come up with unofficial mappings in the other direction. But even the official mappings use national terminology very loosely, because the goal isn’t really to preserve local distinctions.

If ISCED happens to line up well to national classification systems for the countries of interest to you, have you considered replacing the isced:2011:level key with school:XY using similar non-numeric values? That would pair more naturally with the other keys you’ve mentioned, like school:for and school:language. I don’t think this scheme is undermined by the presence of less rigorous school values.

About language: `language:xy’ on a language_school does become pretty confusing. If someone speaks “ab” and wants to learn “xy”, you’ll probably want to go to a school where the teachers and the administration speak “ab” and give the grammer rules in “ab”. To be consistent, we’d need to move the subject of teaching to some other key

That’s a fair point: as far as I can tell, language on a school is understood to be the medium of instruction, but language on a language school is understood to be the language taught. A couple years ago, there was a proposal to distinguish language purposes. But a simpler solution would be to use values other than yes, like language:en=spoken language:fr=taught for a French-language school serving English speakers. This approach isn’t possible with school:language, which is a single key taking language codes as values.


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