By Matt Crittenden ’21
Summer Fellow Cohort 2019
CheckMySchool, Manila, Philippines
Seventy-five days later and I can confidently navigate four connecting flights and 30+ hours of travel from Manila to Chesapeake, VA. I can develop data analytics dashboards in R Shiny and supplement them with automated web scraping using RSelenium. I can present my research to crowds of professionals several times a week without breaking a sweat. I can climb near-vertical mountain cliffs and kayak the open sea for hours. And I can look in the mirror and appreciate my multiethnic identity. These statements may seem unrelated, but they are all examples of growth during my time as a GRI Summer Fellow.
Visa run to Bangkok, Thailand. Visiting the beautiful and tourist-full Grand Palace.
From May 15 to July 29, I was placed as a joint Freeman-GRI Summer Fellow with the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability – East Asia Pacific (ANSA-EAP) as the data scientist for their CheckMySchool (CMS) project. My job was to develop a platform which would host, analyze, and visualize data from their new mobile app and support their goal to institutionalize the app at the national level. The app allows users (e.g. principals, teachers, DepEd officials, parents, students, and other stakeholders) to submit feedback on school needs to the Department of Education and share stories of positive improvement. In institutionalization, they want usage of the CMS app to be mandated in government policy and enthusiastically carried out by local stakeholders. The goal is to promote transparency on DepEd’s activities and support the development of strong civil society. As you can imagine, garnering such support for the app from the government and local stakeholders means trying to please many groups with sometimes opposing interests. Here, my dual studies in International Relations and Data Science felt especially relevant as I was well-equipped to thoughtfully and responsibly design a platform which does not concede too much to any one group but pleases everyone enough. After all, how we choose to present data – the calculations and visualizations we select over others – can have very real, political consequences.
But I did more than just code this summer. I visited schools, met with and presented to public and private sector professionals, taught R tutorials to my coworkers, and more. And outside of work, I grew significantly as an individual. For the first time in 13 years, I was back in Asia. It was also the longest time I have spent outside of the U.S. since I was 2 years old and the only time I have lived truly independently. On weekends, I visited temples in Bangkok, hung out with monkeys in Bali, hiked mountains in Rizal, kayaked to beaches in El Nido, practiced Zen meditation in Quezon City, spent time with friends in Makati City and Bonifacio Global City, and of course explored as much of Metro Manila that I could.
I presented the prototype of the data analytics dashboard to a crowd at a Freedom of Information conference hosted by the Commission on Higher Education.
Leading a session on predictive analytics a the Department of Education with the School of Effectiveness Division.
Though, even with all my planned activities and expectations, I believe it was the unexpected that shaped my summer most. Being in an environment where I did not look so different from most people – where my American accent was noticed before differences in my appearance – was partly unexpected and surprisingly refreshing. I saw people like me in advertisements, leadership roles, positions of power, places where Asians are hard to find in the U.S. At the gym five times a week I saw weightlifters with similar body types to mine. Even though I’m half-Japanese, half-Northwestern European, fully an American citizen by birth, I felt more represented and accepted in the Philippines – where I have no ties – than I ever have in the U.S. Being a multiethnic American with immigrant parents means a lifetime of rarely fitting in but this summer felt close at times and that was incredibly therapeutic.
Zen meditation studio on the top floor of a media broadcasting building in Quezon City
In short, these past seventy-five days have been fulfilling in ways I expected and not. I had the opportunity to explore my interests in policy and data and found creative ways to synthesize the two in my work. I collaborated with many and strived to help bridge the gap in data-driven decision-making in the Philippines’ education policy sector. I explored all over Metro Manila, some nearby provinces, and even traveled to other countries in Southeast Asia. And I was privileged to be welcomed in a foreign country and learn aspects of their culture. I am very thankful to the Freeman Foundation and GRI Summer Fellows Program for allowing me this opportunity and I will cherish it for the rest of my life.