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Teacher Newsmagazine  Volume 21, Number 5, March 2009 

BCeSIS: $80 million and more of frustration

By Larry Kuehn

The promise of the software company that created BCeSIS is “Creating more time for teaching.” Unfortunately, the experience of most teachers forced to use the program is just the opposite.

BCeSIS is the centralized-data project initiated by the Ministry of Education to collect data on all the nearly 600,000 students in BC public and private schools. The software for BCeSIS was bought from AAL, an Ontario corporation whose main client base is in the US.

The US focus of its sales is indicated in its website promotion that eSIS is “designed to fully support the No Child Left Behind Act and data-driven decision-making.” (www.aalsolutions.com).

A recent survey of teachers in one BC school district about their experiences with BCeSIS produced reports of a litany of problems. Sometimes difficulties are acceptable—if they contribute to the quality of education and produce a richer experience for students. Unfortunately, according to the surveyed teachers, BCeSIS produces few positive returns.

While the survey was conducted in one school district only, the results seem to reflect the experiences of teachers around the province.

Kevin Ault is a Chilliwack teacher who decided to try to find out if colleagues in his district were facing the same frustrations he was with BCeSIS. He developed a survey as a university project.

If BCeSIS actually provided more time for teaching, most teachers would probably put up with some of the frustrations of learning the new program—clunky software and interminable waits watching the hourglass. They might think that $80 million in provincial expenditure and many millions more to come was worth it—if the program meant they had more time with students.

However, that is not the experience reported in the survey. When asked whether “Using BCeSIS gives me more time for my students,” 80% disagreed or strongly disagreed. Only 3% agreed and 1% strongly agreed that they had more time for their students.

Similarly, 74% disagreed that “BCeSIS has made a significant contribution to student education in BC.” Only 8% agreed.

The frustration of teachers was reflected in the answer to whether BCeSIS has increased work stress; 61% said it had increased stress moderately or significantly, only 14% said not at all.

One of the survey respondents described the impact of BCeSIS on teachers and students: “Teachers arrive at school with a certain number of kilojoules of energy. If they have to spend all this energy just trying to enter some marks or perform their responsibilities to this poorly performing software, this will directly subtract from the amount of energy they have for their students.”

Some users did find some positive elements to the program, particularly to what it was supposed to do. Having a single, provincial database should make it easier to transfer information when students change schools. Because it is web-based, it should be possible to access it from home as well as school.

For most, however, the common complaint is that the system is not user-friendly and is slow, slow, slow, especially when lots of people are using the system. This is particularly a problem during times of high demand, such as report-card time.

One respondent described providing such a bad program to teachers as “highly disrespectful of our profession as we are so pressed for time.” The teacher then said, “I think if this happened to our premier’s computer, he would soon upgrade the server.”

Program crashes are also a pain, often requiring re-entry of information.

One coping mechanism for some teachers has been to use another marks program to keep daily records, then just entering report-card marks in BCeSIS.

Kevin Ault carried out the survey to provide information to the BCTF and to the Ministry of Education. He hopes that the message will get through that BCeSIS is an impediment to education and that something has to be done to fix the problems.

Has spending $80 million on BCeSIS—and growing—a good way to use taxpayer money? Only 1% of those surveyed said, “I strongly agree.”

Do you have a story about BCeSIS that you think the BCTF should know about? If so, write to lkuehn@bctf.ca.

Larry Kuehn is director of the BCTF’s Research and Technology Division.