Digital Transformation in School Systems The Journey is Well Underway
By Raju Varanasi, Chief Information Officer, Catholic Education Office
Most organisations have some kind of digital transformation journey underway. The risk of not doing so is indeed very high. Schools and school systems, and the education sector in general are not far behind. While the education sector as a whole is not at the leading edge in terms of digital transformation, a lot is already happening and much more can happen. Education is an increasingly digitally enabled service industry, and services are now provided using several platforms that plug and play in a dynamic ecosystem.
School systems are a collective of schools, with common funding, governance and technology base. For example, a typical catholic school system may have 50-150 schools in its Diocese and they share a number of attributes. It’s somewhat similar to a franchise model or a corporation with several facilities across a geographic area.
Digital transformation in the context of education would have two major domains – the core role of teaching and learning, and the support role of enablement through administration, management and related services. While both domains are relevant for digital transformation efforts – the intent differs significantly. The core role of teaching and learning uses digital technologies for effectiveness (learning outcomes, student achievement and overall school effectiveness) while the support role focuses mainly on efficiency. The latter – support role - has much synergy with developments in other sectors and can be replicated to school systems more easily. The former one – teaching and learning – is much harder to execute and reap benefits from– as the human side of transformation effort is much greater due to sheer numbers of schools- school leaders, teachers and allied educational staff.
School Systems Are A Collective Of Schools, With Common Funding, Governance And Technology Base
School systems use a number of enterprise grade digital technology platforms to enable their business. Obviously, HR, Payroll and Finance systems across the school system removes any burden on individual schools to worry about such back office functions. This allows schools to focus on their core function – teaching and learning. An enterprise wide student management system is a significant boon for a school system – the rich data that can flow through to a data hub and to an analytics platform in real time for monitoring student and staff attendance, student learning, longitudinal analysis of standardised test results, patterns in school based assessments and learning interventions, geo spatial analysis, utilization of facilities and such others.
School systems rely on casual and contract teachers, as staff turnover and staff leave can severely impact on timetabling and scheduled classes. A digital workflow system using adaptive forms and correspondence management for contracting staff where an applicant can apply, provide evidence of qualifications and compliance checks as attachments, with digital signatures, tracking and approval milestones, contract generation dynamically using combinations of time, pay rates and position level.
Role based identity and access systems with due security and permissions regimes are already quite prevalent in most school systems. The infrastructure base of technology, connectivity, applications, and devices in any school system is quite substantial. Both private and hybrid clouds are making inroads as data centres take over and servers move out of the school premises. An enterprise service desk to support all major business units provides further impetus to the transformation journey. Add to this the survey management, social media and experience management platforms – one is well on way you are on the way to digital transformation.
Thus, the ecosystem of a typical school system comprises of over 100 plus applications, thousands of devices, high volume of data increasingly coming in at great velocity as we move towards real-time interventions, insights and decision making.
As with other industries, the combined potential impact of the three transformative technologies - cloud, social, and mobile – are behind the rich array of digital platforms transforming educational processes and service delivery. We already feel the transformative effect, and have started reaping the gains. The next question we ask is – what new models of schooling can we usher in soon?
Modular platforms, aided by appropriate platform architecture and design thinking can bring great transformation opportunities for transforming learning in schools.