When the school term 1, started in February 2017, I wrote a Call for Proposals for the School Report Card System & posted it on three online forums.
Lira Town College has since 2013 used 3 Report Card systems (software). I must say is difficult getting the ultimate solution considering the small budget, poor computer skills among staff, low value attached to IT systems and administrative challenges.
In 2013, we piloted with BestGrade, a free Excel based system developed for help school computerized records management and process academic progress report cards. It worked well in A-level where we had relatively small numbers compared to the “universal” numbers in O-level
We abandoned it largely due to absence of a functional academic & report card committee.
Fast forward to 2015. We obtained the KSIS system from a young software developer based in Dar es Salaam, in Tanzania. KSIS was a web based system, and worked well for both O-level and A-level. However, it was not without challenges.
It was difficult for add students, assign subjects to students and computing took a lot of time. The other challenge was the difficulty in keeping the records after printing. Any small mess with the OS means vital data is lost. The KSIS system was handled by a team (headed by me) and we assigned each class to one person.
However, in 2015, UNEB changed the A-level grading from computing subject grade averages to what it calls “criterions referencing”. This meant that candidates were graded based on fixed criteria irrespective of high or low they perform. The point here is balance papers if you want good grades/points.
So, we abandoned it in A-level but still used it for processing O-level reports. For A-level, we opted to use Microsoft Word. It was a tedious thing to do but I remember I was able to process all reports cards on time.
We also again switch to Microsoft Excel to handle some cases in the O-level, especially where there is a problem. We discovered that in the KSIS system, any candidate that had only seven subjects was given 1st grade. So, all these cases where corrected using Excel.
After publishing our need for Report card system, I received many proposals a number of individuals and companies. In total, they were 17 proposals, all of them from Kampala.
I remember receiving so many emails and also length calls from these developers.
However, one guy who really impressed me is Ronald, from SchoolMaster. He called me and told me about the PSM (Package for School Management) that they had.
I remember him telling me that “talk is cheap” and wanted to schedule an appointment with me. We fixed a date in March (which I do not remember now).
On the appointed day (it was a Saturday), I received a call from Ronald telling me that they were at school, waiting to see me.
That meeting was very productive. They installed PSM on one of my office computers and took me through the process of using PSM. Just like the say, seeing is believing.
We had wanted to pilot it with processing Beginning of Term 1 exams, however, we had not constituted a team, and I was away in Gulu the week preceding Visitation day. You see in Lira, Visitation Days are fixed in the middle of the term and parents are presented with either Beginning of Term or Mid Term exams results. This is now tradition in most schools in Lira and northern Uganda.
In last March, we processed the payment (of course we bargained) and signed agreements. Ronald had given him profound belief that the system would work for us.
Finally, in April we used the system and it has given the best academic reports we have always wanted. We easily generated marksheets and gave them to the team to enter the marks. After that, we simply uploaded them back into the system. The only small challenge was adding new students who were not on the class list. However, after setting up a network work went on very well. Only four people accomplished the work of processing reports for 2,400 students in 3 days. Perfect, isn’t it?
I liked these about the PSM:
- The ease with which you assign subjects to classes & students.
- Easy and fresh user interface.
- Small results computing time.
- It is easy to set parameters and other settings such as grading, comments.
- The ability to deploy on a network and share data.
- Flexible payment scheduled and agreement we signed. The school administrator does not have to sweat to get a service.
- Top-notch customer care and support. I remember being given 3 people and still being to be get help at 11pm in the night.
- Being able to export report cards to PDF and save.
I am writing these for the good of the ICT industry. We should be able to share ideas, collaborate and do things that help mutually help ourselves. I want to point out some issues here.
Firstly, I was disappointed that no one from Lira, Gulu, Sooty, Mbale responded to our request. If a young programmer has contacted us from any of these districts, I would have surely given them the deal. Kampala is good, but we need to do things here as well.
Secondly, having a ready package helps, but customer care is supreme. There are people who completed rejected an offer in excess of 1 million event when we had not seen their system. A customer rarely buys what he/she has not seen.
Thirdly, I think it is time secondary schools started working closely with universities. Some of the ICT challenges in schools can be solved ably well by students at universities, or lecturers. By doing these, we offer these students valuable experience in working with real life systems & in the end, they appreciated how a small piece of code can impact lives positively.
As Head of ICT, I can objectively say that has ICT has transformed the way schools run and although it is most of our headteachers are reluctant to deploy ICT systems, the global wind of change is coming. I am hopeful that small by small, schools will transform and embrace technology. You ICT serves 3 purposes in a typical schools. ICT is a subject itself, used in administration and as an aid to learning.
Thank you Ronald for your saving us. I will continue engaging you and your team on our other projects. I am grateful that I met you and your team. As we always say in Lira, “apwoyo matek” (thank very much).