The Crack. Why Children in Kyrgyzstan Study in Extreme Conditions.

Country/area: Kyrgyzstan

Organisation: AUCA, Azattyk.org, Kloop.kg, Opendemocracy.net, 24.kg, pk.kg, Kaktus.media, Kyrgyzmedia.kg, Govori.tv, T-media.kg

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 03/09/2021

Credit: Anastasia Valeeva, Valentina Galich, Diana Svetlichnaya, Taalaibek Talantbek uulu, Yekaterina Afanasieva, Sezim Digerbaeva, Zhuzumkan Askhatbekova, Aleksandr Bogachev, Dmitry Motinov, Gulshat Yuldasheva, Tom Rowley, Mihail Shestakov, Aleksandra Titova


This is a project initiated at the ‘Data Storytelling’ course at the Master Program in Journalism at the American University of Central Asia and performed by the students of the course together with the course professor, Anastasia Valeeva. The financial support came from the research grant secured by Anastasia. 

It started at the beginning of Spring Semester 2021, and included all the steps of a data project: ideation, data collection, data cleaning and analysis, reporting and interviews, working on graphics, text and multimedia pieces. For publication, the team reached out to Kyrgyz media and OpenDemocracy.net. 

Project description:

‘The Crack’ is a multimedia data-driven project that draws a comprehensive picture of the poor state of school infrastructure in Kyrgyzstan. For the first time in the country, journalists have collected, combined and cleaned all the data available on the topic.

The result is shocking: between a quarter and a third of schools in the country are in deplorable condition. At least 300,000 children study in these schools every day. The project is a longread data story, an open database, series of reports and a data-driven game. These were cross-published by 9 media outlets in 3 languages. 

Impact reached:

To maximize the impact, the story was cross-published in the first week of September by 8 biggest news outlets in the country both in Russian and Kyrgyz languages. It was named among the investigations of the month in Russian language by the Global Investigations Journalism Network. Later in December, it was published by OpenDemocracy.net in English. 

Four media, Kloop.kg, Kaktus.media, 24.kg and Govori.tv, have also published a series of reports from various schools of Kyrgyzstan that were linking to the main story. By the end of the year, a data game based on real events was published by Kloop.kg. In the game, one had to play for a principal trying to save the school from collapsing. 

Altogether, this series of reports cross-published by several media across the country have pushed the topic into a public discussion. 

Officials (President’s office) reacted to the story by reaching out to journalists and asking about the methods of data collection and the structure of the database. 

Authors of the story presented their data findings at several professional gatherings of researchers and analysts (Social Innovation Lab Kyrgyzstan and KG Analytics) which followed with their own research of the topic. 

The local chapter of OCDS has reached out to the authors of the story and together they have organized a webinar on the topic of investigation school procurement, attended by the local journalists. 

Relevant NGOs (‘Foundation for Education Initiatives Support’ and ‘Child rights defenders’ league public foundation) supported the story and are now preparing a roundtable with the government to discuss the topic and find solutions.

Techniques/technologies used:

To manage the team work, we used Google Suite (shared folders and collaborative documents) and Zoom. 

We performed data cleaning and data analysis mostly in Google Sheets. Additionally, we used Python to scrape some data that was used for performing regression analysis but it was not included in the final version. 

We traveled to each of the regions of the country for reporting purposes using classic journalist tools: phone, dictophone and a camera. 

For data visualization we used Flourish, d3 (scrollama library). 

For the layout, we used Tilda and Github.

For the data game, we used Google Sheets, Figma and Javascript. 

What was the hardest part of this project?

There were several challenges for the team. 

Conceptually, it was a project implemented by students during the course, so they had to perform a story of publishable quality as they learn. For the professor, the challenge was to manage the whole process and fit the timing to the semester length, as well as to check all the bits of data cleaning and data analysis delivered by the students. Most of the work, including data collection, data analysis and reporting was ready by the end of semester. Final text and graphics was in development during summer months, with the publicaiton date due early September, as the school year begins. The text and graphics was done by the professor of the course. Additional work, such as translation, illustrations and the layout was delivered by paid professionals. 

In terms of data, it was the bad quality of open data that was the biggest challenge. But at the same time, it turned into the biggest contribution of the project to the topic. So far, it is the most up-to-date and clean database on the topic of school infrastructure available in Kyrgyzstan. It is published as open data along with the story, and the other researchers, journalists and government can make use of it. 

In terms of publication, it was a challenge to communicate with all the different newsrooms and to make the project fit for different CMS systems. Luckily, the media have been supportive as the topic is crucial to children’s rights. 

What can others learn from this project?

Other journalists can use the database published along with the story for their own further research, looking into the procurement of school infrastructure, influence of infrastructure and other factors on school performance, exploring  other related topics such as school security, nutrition, quality of education etc. 

Overall, this is a unique example of Data Series being published for the first time in Kyrgyzstan. It is combining traditional reporting with innovative tools such as interactive graphics and games for the single purpose of bringing attention to the topic. This can serve as an inspiration for others to use data storytelling for social good; combine research and multimedia production; be more proactive regarding the publication strategy. 

Project links: