As schools gear up for Term 1, many are looking to the learnings from 2020 to chart a path forward that ensures their students and staff are not only ready for school year, but prepared to navigate the kinds of disruptions that brought the education sector to a standstill during the early half of last year.
In May 2020, a survey by researchers from James Cook University asked teachers how COVID-19 affected them and their students. A significant increase in their workload as well as a scramble to obtain technology access and the skills to use new apps and programs was noted.
Indeed, some experts have highlighted the need for principals to look inward, specifically to their IT teams, who possess the most knowledge and expertise when it comes to the technical side of remote learning. After all, a repeat of the widespread school closures seen in 2020 is not beyond the realms of possibility as some states see new outbreaks of COVID-19.
Iain Finlayson, managing director of libraries and education at Civica, said that if schools are to future-proof themselves from disruption, they must take proactive steps to shore up their IT systems.
“As lockdowns continued past a few weeks, as they did in some states, a lack of accessibility to back-office functions and systems for administration and finance became an internal issue for some schools, whereas those schools that had already made a change to cloud delivered administration systems often did not experience any,” Finlayson told The Educator.
“The schools that experienced a long and protracted closure will have an excellent view on what worked and what didn’t from a system view”.
Finlayson said that has Term 1 approaches, Civica is encouraging schools to share and use these experiences to create an action plan, so they are prepared for similar situations in 2021.
“With the accelerated uptake that came for learning management system tools in 2020, we’d encourage schools to be looking now at cloud delivered solutions for core systems,” he said.
“One way of achieving this is moving to a new cloud delivered platform which is a large change for any establishment”.
Finlayson said an alternative is to take the current system to the cloud so that it is accessible, and risk is minimalised.
“This will also mean individual components such as administration and finance can then be updated as and when needed with minimal disruption,” he said.
“Schools should look to providers who can support integration options with LMS and other systems”.
Another emerging risk Finlayson pointed to was schools not being able to conduct core administrative tasks due to inadequate learning management systems.
“Learning management systems and core administration systems are distinct. A strong administration system provides all information to a school and is the backbone that all other systems integrate with,” he said.
“If an administration system cannot integrate with an LMS, school staff are required to manually undertake integration between the two which can lead to errors, increased costs or prove too difficult and lead to systems that become disjointed”.
Finlayson said this can lead to issues with reporting, class assignment, which may go unnoticed, with pupils left behind in work without the efforts of teachers to maintain a close eye as they are left to chase up with IT.
“Confidence that systems can work together is paramount. Looking into the year ahead, one of the biggest concerns in the education sector when it comes to the ability to thrive online is equity”.
Finlayson said the last year has highlighted that even in 2021, where we may have assumed that a proliferation of personal devices would have closed this, the digital divide has in some ways grown.
“Those children who not just lacked access to suitable devices but also reliable internet in the home and a suitable place to work during lockdowns, were unable to connect reliably and be present in a class, and in some cases dropped off the radar, which will undoubtedly have affected the opportunities that these children have in the future”.