Smart SchoolManagement systems revisited

Probably today’s posting is a bit academic, just for the sake of variation.

Once upon a time, the Ministry of Education with a huge cost, designed, developed, tested, installed and commissioned a school management system called Smart School Management System. Back in the late nineties and early 2000s, the term smart school was the buzz word, not unlike the “cluster schools” these days.  The information system was touted to be the one and only integrated school management system in the world at the time. the Ministry was brave enough to undertake such a huge undertaking in building an all encompassing system that suppose to computerise every aspect of a school management from determining the number of test tubes in labs to the number of beds in the hostel and to the number of courses a teacher attended and  a student’s score for a subject and the amount allocated for next year’s budget and an instant message to all teachers and the the functional list goes on and on covering nine school management functions.

Unfortunately such a huge and expansive system was not supported by equally expansive supporting teams (more on that later). Many people outside or even inside the project team dubbed the project as unsuccessful or at best mediocre. Looking back, we must define success in terms of contexts, as DeLone and McLean as well as Seddon et. al said,  measuring success of an information system is contextual. A project may deemed to be a failure to the users but it was successfully built and delivered –  a definite success to the developers.  Lucas outlined a few basic criteria that can be used to measure a success of a system. One, it must be delivered on time. Two it must meet the development and design specification duly agreed upon earlier. Three, it must meet the completion deadline and four it must be used by the intended users. Looking at the these basic success criteria, one can say the school management system provided by the MoE, met all the criteria. Well, the fourth one is debatable. I would add. This is due to the fact that they are so many level of users, and so many modules available.  Even if a portion of it being used, one can consider it as being used, yes?. But then to be realistic, we must qualify the last criteria. Davis pointed out that ease of use and perceived usefulness are an indication of a system acceptance by users.  But things get a bit complicated by then.  Ease of use vary over time. As one become used  and familiar,  a complicated system would be routinised. Another factor that will come into the picture is the issue of volition. Davis’ notion is quite applicable if users use the systems under one own volition. On the other hand, if usage is mandatory, ease of use become secondary. Users will use the system and quickly familiarised themselves with it. This is where I think, one of the many reasons the systems for the smart school failed to take off. The use was, for wanting of a better term –  semi volitional. There was really no compulsion for the users in schools to use the systems. They had a choice of reverting to manual or running a parallel processes. It maybe laborious, but it saved them from the heartache of learning the not so friendly systems. They even resorted to using other systems to fit results to the Smart school management systems – a classic case of escapism. But this is the view of the system provider and the mandarins in Bukit Kiara. If we turn our scanning probe to the views of the users, we would probably get these views:

i.  The systems was not friendly at all, it took many keystroke to input few simple data.

ii. The system was too complex and too integrated ( I tried hard to understand the meaning of being integrated and too integrated).

iii. The system was not technically stable – meaning it breaks down quite often and turnaround time is too long, sometime it never turn around at all- it simply hang indefinitely.

iv. Some processes are either incomplete or not in tune with the current official procedures.

v. Too many other systems are doing similar things and work duplication is inevitable which eventually leads to increase in workload.

vi. The systems is no longer fashionable. It took too long a time to be implemented. By the time the whole complete system is commissioned, many parts, technology used, and supporting hardwares and softwares were already obsolete.

(To be continued…)

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