Rites of passage for information systems in schools

I met an old friend recently and he insisted that I share something about my working experience  instead of rambling about anything under the sun. But I am sick and tired of writing about information systems in schools and I want to write about something else in my blog. To those who may not be familiar, in my previous life, I was using the good ole’ Blogspot.com space.  And somebody had the gall to ask me to migrate to this WordPress. God bless her soul. In fact this is my first experience using it. I’ll reserve my comments till later.

For the sake of my friend, I’ll amble along. IS in our schools are in the doldrums. I do not think the situation has improved over the past few years. Last report that I gather, the list of IS in schools can fill up two pages of A4 paper. I shan’t name them here. Most of them are isolated programmes designed and built to satisfy the various authorities’ quest for information.  Only a few were built with with the schools as the main beneficiary. It is not rocket science to see that many of these systems are overlapping interms of functionalities and data. Thus violating the basic foundation of  data base management- there should not be multiple databases for the same data. God help the poor data teachers who had to enter, re-enter, re-enter, re-enter, repopulate, repopulate the same data over and over again in the various systems year in and year out. Lesson learnt so far.

1. Coordination at the highest level is almost non existence.

When a division in the ministry of education wants some data from the school for their own planning or for carrying out their duties more efficiently they need data from the schools. The data maybe on the number of male and female students, parents income, number of labs, schools with proper padang, number of students who go to school without breakfast, or teachers who are still single/divorced/with multiple wives, IT training that have been conducted, PTA with politicians as presidents, etc, the sort of infos needed are endless. Since they are about 10,000 schools in the country and almost 5 million students, it is impossible to gather the information manually. It’ll take years to complete. So, the smart alec in the authority would propose some form of information system with the functional requirement meeting their needs. The methodology to build and implement the system is quite well documented. Stage wise – Needs analysis, design, build, in house test, improve, pilot test, improve, implement and hey presto, the system is up and running. With a big stick hanging over their heads, schools would populate and prime the system to run. A bit of training is thrown in to the select few to familiarise themselves with the system.  Never mind that there maybe other systems in the school already having half of the data set, never mind that the school may not be using the data for their own improvement, never mind about the organisational upheaval that maybe needed to optimise the system, never mind about the change management, never mind about the technology infrastructure and site readiness of the schools, never mind about a champion needed to shore up users, never mind about the individual preferences…and little wonder that a researcher in Holland  wrote that, information system in schools did not live up to their promise of reducing menial work but instead piling up more work to the already overworked teachers. And we are talking of only one agency’s requirement. what about other agencies, state departments, district departments, departments within the school, principals’ idiosyncrasies, PTAs pressures…So where is the coordination and cooperation?  Watch your boundary my dear, do not encroach into mine. The only consolation is, it is a global phenomenon. Only the time frame is different. It is like a rites of passage for the development of information systems in schools. What is happening here has happened in the States, Europe and Australia in the nineties. Unfortunately our system planners and strategisers (ashamedly yours truly included) never bother to check the researches that have been done on similar situations around the world. Our advisers from the industries and academia had little experience (if any) in building and implementing IS for schools. Or they maybe just interested in the size 11 to be made. To my dear friend Liew, I’m too tired to think already, I’ll continue in my next posting.

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