With another school year at an end, some Sooke School District teachers, counsellors and support staff – and many across the province – remain frustrated with their mandated student information software system.
“We’re stuck with this thing to use that’s so complicated … most people can’t deal with it,” said Paul Waterlander, a social studies teacher at Royal Bay secondary in Colwood. “We’re just floundering.”
Waterlander was recently completing report cards, painstakingly crafting unique comments for each of his students instead of using standardized form comments. As he hit the button to save all of that work, a glitch in the system caused everything to disappear into cyber-space.
“It was supposed to be something that made my job easier and it hasn’t,” he said. The previous system, BCeSIS, “was a failure and so is this one,” he added, calling it the latest version of this nightmare.
Teachers across the province predominantly use MyEducation BC to track attendance and for report cards. Counsellors use it in a number of ways, including building students’ timetables, while other staff use it to track general student information. The majority of schools in B.C. started using the system back in September and since then, many educators have given the software a failing grade, citing performance issues, especially during high-volume usage times.
In November 2013, the Ministry of Education entered into a contract with Fujitsu Consulting (Canada) Inc. to deliver a new hosted student information service to replace the old BCeSIS system. The cost for MyEducation BC is said to be roughly $100 million.
According to the Ministry’s website, all schools were converted to the new system by December 2015 and the old system was decommissioned in March of this year.
Asked to comment on the latest problems, Fujitsu declined. Last fall the company sent a letter to all school districts in the province, after the addition of 900 schools caused the system to be offline for an extended period. Fujitsu apologized for performance issues that saw users experience frustration, inconvenience and lost time.
The letter acknowledged that more effort on the company’s part would be required to meet the standards of their contractual commitments and to provide users with a better experience.
A Ministry spokesperson said “we are continuing to make improvements to the MyEducation BC service, based on feedback from our users.”
Ian Johnson, Sooke Teachers’ Association president, confirmed Waterlander is one of many educators that have expressed frustration and concerns with the system. In fact, Johnson said he is receiving more complaints now than when the district first made the switch.
The Sooke School District was one of the first in the province to make the transition, starting with high schools in December 2014, followed by middle and finally elementary. When asked if some of the problems could be chalked up to growing pains, Waterlander said that’s not the case and the software is as troublesome as ever.
Johnson said counsellors, especially, are taking a hit as they struggle to complete timetables for fall. He expects they will be working into the summer to complete them. “It’s so cumbersome; our counsellors are at their wits end,” he said. “It’s not a learning curve, it just doesn’t work.”
The Ministry spokesperson noted they are working with counsellors to improve the system.
Waterlander has also encountered a number of glitches in the system. Sometimes, he said, the system logs students as absent even though he’s entered them as present. That glitch has resulted in a few phone calls from parents.
“When you take official attendance, that’s a legal document … If we can’t trust that it’s not going to take attendance properly, then what can we do?” As for a response to complaints or fixes for some of these glitches, Waterlander said, “as far as I know it’s all on deaf ears … I’m not seeing that on the ground.”
Graham Arts, SD62 district principal for information technology, noted “our ability to fix any of those glitches at the district level is very limited” as complaints must be sent to a provincewide support system. If the problems are impacting multiple districts, he said, a response or a solution usually comes in a more timely fashion. However, he added, “sometimes it’s quick and sometimes it takes a while to get a response … We are clients of the system.”
Teachers and staff across the province also have to put up with regular outages.
Waterlander said those “shutdowns happen at key, crucial times like (during) report cards.” He noted during the first semester of this past school year, the system was shut down for almost a week while teachers were supposed to be working on report cards.
Arts said some of these outages are expected, noting that the system does have to do regular maintenance. While notification is usually given for scheduled shutdowns, it still causes disruptions for staff and teachers.
Sometimes, he said, “there are emergency outages,” which don’t come with any advanced warning, any indication of when the system will be online again or what the cause was.
One recent such outage disrupted teachers trying to complete this semester’s report cards, which caused a number of delays. If reasons were given for why the system was pulled offline, Arts said, at least they would know if it was justified.
Johnson has another theory for outages occurring during inopportune times. “Nobody in their right mind is going to authorize routine maintenance at that time,” he said. “It’s already a stressful time of year.”
He believes the system simply has a hard time coping with large volumes of use – such as at report card times – and crashes, resulting in the system being down.
As for Waterlander, he said, “we’re used to being ignored.”
In this Friday’s issue, we look at how MyEducation BC may be affecting students who need specialized learning plans.