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Teachers' union has concerns with new student info system

The BC Teachers' Federation has a few concerns about the new student information system, ConnectEdBC, announced yesterday by the Ministry of Education -- not the least of which is government signed a 12-year contract with Fujitsu Consulting (Canada) Inc. to host and service the program, the same company that serviced and hosted the current student data system BCeSIS.

"We know that there were issues with the support given with BCeSIS, and now they're going to be giving the support for this," said Jim Iker, president of the union.

Some of those issues included slow service and program crashes, with delayed response to service calls and complaints from teachers. Iker said with the new system providing access for nearly 600,000 students, over 40,000 teachers, and more than a million parents in B.C., he worries ConnectEdBC won't be able to handle the traffic.

BCeSIS is a voluntary student data collection system, with 56 of 60 school districts signing on, as well as 100 independent schools and 20 First Nations' schools. It's unclear if ConnectEdBC will also be voluntary, another concern for Iker who says districts should have the choice of using different systems better suited to their own districts if they choose.

"There's a system coming out of Saanich that they're also developing," said Iker, "so what will it mean for that system?"

The Saanich School District hosts openStudent, an open-source student information system the district says is "made by B.C. for B.C. schools." Not-for-profit, the system's website says it costs significantly less than the $10 per student per year BCeSIS costs, and is easier to customize for particular districts than commercial software.

In an article published in the B.C. teachers' union newsmagazine last March, Larry Kuehn, the union's director of research and technology, highlighted several concerns with ministry's request for proposals for a new student information system, including the fact that student data would be kept for students' entire stay in the provincial education system. Currently BCeSIS deletes all of its student information at the end of the school year.

Iker shares those concerns: "If other school districts are using [students' information], how are they getting the information? And are there going to be links to other government agencies? I know people in general have a concern about their own private information, and here we're talking about private information of our students. How is that going to be used elsewhere? And than does that get used once they become adults?"

Implementation of ConnectEdBC starts next year and is expected to complete in 2016. Iker hopes that is enough time to ensure teachers are sufficiently educated in using the system.

"Any system needs to be easy to use rather than being cumbersome, which BCeSIS was," he told The Tyee.

"It should be able to help within the work that we do with students. It should complement the [teaching] process, as opposed to detracting from the process. It shouldn't be some additional burden placed on top of teachers that takes away from the important task of teaching."

Katie Hyslop reports on education and youth issues for The Tyee Solutions Society. Follow her on Twitter.

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