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A note from your teachers

A report from the BCTF to the members
of the legislative assembly

March 20, 2007
Number 18

BCeSIS (British Columbia enterprise Student Information System)

High cost—Low performance

"BCeSIS is definitely a top-down system designed for the ministry to collect data rather than a system developed to meet the needs of students, staff, and school boards."

"A manual attendance routine, performed five times a day with paper, pencil, and a human brain takes me about four minutes for the whole day. A smooth day with BCeSIS requires sixteen minutes of time to perform same attendance routine for my five classes."

"The program is slow, badly designed for classroom use, unreliable, and does not seem to be improving even though we are now two months into using it."

These are quotes from teachers currently using BCeSIS. Unfortunately, they are experiences shared widely among BC teachers. BCeSIS, a centralized data system initiated by the Ministry of Education to collect and process data on all students, is sadly flagging. In its short life, BCeSIS has gained a reputation as sluggish and expensive.

Teaching is a complex human enterprise. Students are at its centre and classrooms are places of learning, magical moments, and hard work. Contrast this with the market-driven learning environment BCeSIS envisions for students: a teacher behind a computer screen recording student attendance, marks, and personal information. Teachers want to preserve a healthy educational environment and not sacrifice students to increased bureaucracy and social control.

Real costs to school districts

"All 60 districts…have recognized the system’s value and decided to participate." (BCeSIS Stakeholder Relations Plan, September 2006) Strong-armed would probably be a more accurate description of why all 60 school districts have jumped on board. Districts were told that if they did not join BCeSIS they would have to develop their own system and ensure it does the same thing and is compatible with BCeSIS.

Instead of the $10 a person per year originally announced, costs have skyrocketed to $140 a student per year according to one ministry official. Moreover, although this is a Ministry of Education initiative, most of the costs fall on school districts. Staff have been deployed to BCeSIS. Many school districts have had to purchase higher-end computers for each teacher. Consultants, trainers, technical support, and conference fees have all added to the costs. To implement BCeSIS, capital costs alone will set the Vancouver School Board back $1,723,902 between now and 2008, plus $500,000 student fees per year.

Estimated spending on BCeSIS is $80 million per year. Ironically, if we only had $84 million returned to school districts, we would be at the 2001–02 level of funding when significantly more resources went directly into the classroom. Precious resources have been taken from our students to fund this project.

Hidden costs—Loss of privacy

Recall the news last March—the government auctioned computer tapes holding the personal medical histories of approximately 77,000 British Columbians. Despite assurances that the data on BCeSIS is behind a secure firewall, we are all well aware that tenacious hackers have broken into much more complex systems. Data entered in BCeSIS sits on servers connected through the Ministry of Education PLNet high-speed network that connects all BC schools. When asked about security of their electronic data, a district manager in one large metropolitan school district in BC was quoted in The Province newspaper in April last year, "We’re under constant attack from the outside, and the inside for that matter."

Teacher and parent concerns around confidentiality will undoubtedly increase significantly when they learn that a private organization, not government, maintains the system. BC schools have entered the brave new world of surveillance adopted from our neighbours to the south.

Hidden costs—Misplaced priorities

BCeSIS will have the effect of limiting the way teachers think about their work, especially new teachers with little or no experience. For example, BCeSIS’s training manual refers to setting up a seating plan for your class with the teacher at the front of the room—a structure you’ll be hard put to find in many of the best classrooms in the province.

Report-card formats limit teacher comments to 80 characters, approximately 16 words, instead of expressing student learning in words that fit the individual child. Especially in the primary grades, student progress should be recorded in words not on a graph or with a number indicating a level. Participating in the BCeSIS experiment has resulted in precious time wasted and no educational benefits at the expense of time spent on instruction and assessment.

System overloaded

Notice on BCeSIS web site September 25, 2006:

"BCeSIS Production and Training Outage Alert"

BCeSIS shut down at a crucial time in September. It lacked the band-width and memory for peak demands and September is just one of those peak times.

Many teachers describe BCeSIS as a nightmare—painfully slow and frustrating, especially when it loses data. Teachers must create and remember new passwords every 90 days. They must ensure that the computer screen is not visible to the students at any time, difficult when response times are lengthy. And, the software does not allow them to transfer data from district programs into BCeSIS.

If BCeSIS must be used, only a minimum of information on students should be required and the full real costs of implementation and operation should be assumed by the province.