The following reflects on what happened in this track.
Challenge: Where is West Africa now in terms of School Management Systems? How can African developers help? Start a project?
- 1 Team Members
- 2 Objectives
- 3 Underlying context
- 4 Beneficiaries
- 5 Tasks identified
- 6 Proposed Timeline
- 7 Summary
- Bob Jolliffe - Team Leader - Open Source Centre, Meraka Institute, CSIR, South Africa
- Christopher E. Edumadzie - Headmaster, Univ Practice School North Campus
- Gideon Nimako - Univ of Cape Coast, developer and lecturer
- Kwesi Smith - AITI-KACE, Developer
- Edwin Okugbo - Nigeria, Developer
- Lorenzo Danielsson - AITI-KACE, Developer
- James Williams - ICT Centre, UEW
- Adeyemo Yinka - Nigeria, Developer
- Edison Pajibo - UEW, Research fellow
There were a number of other contributors who we interacted with.
The first task we were confronted with was to define an objective for ourselves as a group. After much discussion the following emerged as the objective we would aim at:
- To identify or create a free software school management information system which is appropriate for the majority of Ghanaian public primary schools.
This is quite an ambitious undertaking which was not likely to be completed in the limited time that was available to us at the roadshow. Instead we concentrated our energy on discussions between teachers, developers, administrators etc and on creating sustainable processes to allow us to continue our efforts to achieve our objectives in a reasonable and defined time.
Given that Mr Edumadzie is a serving Head teacher at the University Practice School North Campus, Winneba, it was decided that this school would be used as a pilot in which to measure how well we have achieved our objectives.
Before looking at the software design problem we spent considerable time understanding the context in which such a system would be developed and deployed. The aspects of that context which were investigated included a look at existing systems (both FOSS and proprietary) which call themselves School Management Systems, an investigation into current conditions and systems in typical Basic Schools in the surrounding district and an evaluation of the existing human resources to support the project.
Existing free software school management systems (SMS)
There are a growing number of FOSS SMS applications which are available. We only looked at a small number in detail and there is a need to firm up this research. In particular we looked at SchoolTool, OpenAdmin, Claroline and OSMIS. We also looked at the system created by one of our team mates, Gideon Nimako of the University of Cape Coast. Our sense was that most of these systems made assumptions about the availability of technology in schools. Though some of them are either already very good, or show potential, the assumed context did not fit with the actual situation of the majority of the schools in Ghana. We felt it was important to understand the context thoroughly first, before creating or recommending particular computer programs.
Objective reality of current primary schools information requirements in Ewutu Efutu Senya district
Mr Edumadzie provided us with samples of the stationary from the government printers which forms the basis of the school record system. These include the admission register, the class register, the continuous assessment book, the cumulative record of the pupil and the pupil’s report card.
We also visited the District Education Office for the Ewutu Efutu Senya district where we met with the District Director (Ms Helena Arch) and five of the frontline Assistant Directors.
There are a number of common factors in all of the Basic schools in the district. In particular none of them currently have computers in the school and all of them are using the same paper based information system. It became clear that a relatively simple computer program which could automate some of the more error-prone and laborious parts of the administrative processes could have a very concrete and wide impact. It was not likely, or even necessarily desirable, that the entire paper system would be displaced by such a program. For example, given that the teachers are not taking register in the morning with a computer in their classroom, the paper class register will not be replaced any time soon. Careful thinking needs to go into designing a system which integrates the existing practices in a way which provides tangible benefits – egg. easy record retrieval, automatic computation of attendance averages, etc.
Everyone we spoke to agreed that the biggest problem currently faced in the schools related to the Cumulative Record (CR) of the pupil. The CR is a booklet which is opened for each pupil when he or she first joins the Basic school system in Ghana. Each pupil should complete 9 years of Basic Education after which they write a Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) and can proceed to do a further 3 years of Senior Secondary Education. The CR follows the pupil throughout his Basic education from Basic1 to Basic9. It is required when pupils are transferring schools and when they write their BEC examinations.
The problems with the CR which were identified are:
- The process of extracting information from continuous assessment book and transcribing to the CR is laborious and prone to errors
- There has been a history of supply problems with the CR booklets themselves. Sometimes they are not delivered to the schools on time or the quantities received are not sufficient. This situation has been exacerbated by the increase in enrollment due to the introduction of the capitation grant system last year, whereby pupils are no
longer paying school fees. This means that schools are frequently obliged to pay for photocopying of the CR in order to register pupils for the BECE.
Available pool of local, regional and continental developers
It was apparent that, even given the team which came together at the Roadshow, there exists within Ghana the human resources required to support the development and deployment of a pilot project. Whereas it is important that the Ghanaians take the leading development role, there is considerable benefit to be gained by using the open collaborative approach typical of Free Software development so as to involve other developers from, for example Nigeria and South Africa. With this in mind, we envisaged the following team: The Ghana Lead software developer team:
- Kwesi, Lorenzo + possibilities (AITI-KACE)
- Gideon (UCC)
- Key domain expert – Christopher
- Research support from UEW
- Edison (research fellow – educational policy)
Some discussion was had around initial frontline technical support and end user training for the pilot school. There was a suggestion that the UEW Linux User Group (WiLug) would be in a good position to take on this task.
The two developers from the region (Edwin and Adeyemo from Nigeria) as well as Bob Jolliffe from South Africa also expressed their willingness to be involved in the program development.
Part of the motivation for developers to be involved in such projects is for them to learn new skills. Depending on which decisions are taken regarding the technical implementation platform, it will be necessary to create opportunities for the necessary learning to take place. This would be necessary, for example, if we were to implement using the cross-platform FOSS Qt framework. We felt it is important to view such skills gaps as opportunities rather than barriers to progress.
We did spend some time reflecting on who the beneficiaries of the project might be. The following outlines our finding in this regard:
School teachers, administrators, learners, parents – the improvement in current practices should lead to an increase in accuracy, saving of time. Such improvement should specifically address the identified problems around the Cumulative Record. The placement of a Linux based computer in the school in order to run the school management system program would also provide some opportunity for users to interact with a wider range of office and educational programs. This will contribute to further skills development and FOSS advocacy.
Whereas the initial idea of the roadshow track was to focus on sub-regional solutions, we felt that there were compelling reasons to address the very particular problems identified with the Ghanaian Basic Schools. Being free software, there is nothing to prevent the program being adapted to meet the requirements of other countries, but it is probably more important that the processes used to develop the system are properly documented and evaluated. The lessons which can be drawn from this experience may prove be more transportable than the program itself.
We have already spoken above of the developers improving their skills, acquiring real project experience, and improving their competitiveness. Taking this as the primary motivating factor for their continued involvement and contribution, some effort should be made to reinforce these opportunities.
Research at UEW: a project like this contains rich research opportunities. There are many research questions which need to be answered. The proximity and special relationship which exists between the University and the pilot school should enable collaboration in this regard.
The first task is to study, understand and capture workflow and record keeping requirements of the Basic Schools. This is an ongoing process, but we have already made substantial progress in this regard:
- already captured SQL schema of student cumulative record
- captured user stories of current use of admission register, class register, continuous
assessment book etc.
We would recommend that the Ghana based development team should visit the pilot school soon after reopening of the first term to get a good orientation of the environment.
The required collaborative infrastructure for free software development (mailing list, source code repository) must be setup at the AITI-KACE.
A test implementation of the system needs to be created. The initial scope of this system is to be discussed on the mailing list.
There are a number of identifiable tasks associated with addressing possible skills gaps
- assuming that we choose to use the Qt framework the developers will go through a month of joint learning of the framework. This will be coordinated via the mailing list.
- Assuming that we do make use of the skills and enthusiasm WiLUG there may be a need for perhaps two of them to receive a 1 or 2 day training session at the AITI-KACE. This training will focus on installation, system maintenance and general support.
- The WiLUG volunteers should be able to provide the required end user training to use the system.
Task Five - Research questions
We have identified two research questions which would need to be answered.
- Does system meet its goals? It is very important that the effectiveness of the system is evaluated in the pilot school, but ongoing with the developers, but also more formally by researchers from UEW. The results of such evaluation to be used in the continued refinement of the program.
- The other more difficult question to answer is how to build entrepreneurial opportunities to support district-wide deployment of such a system. The technical support for the pilot can be organized on an ad-hoc, voluntary basis, but if such a system were to be deployed more widely in the district, a model needs to be found for its support.
Before engaging in such projects within schools it is necessary to inform and seek clearance from the Ministry of Education. The institutional support of UEW and AITI-KACE should be used in this regard.
|Written report||Bob/Gideon||Months 1 - 2|
|Set up mailing list||Lorenzo||Months 1 - 2|
|Source Repository||Kwesi||Month 3|
|Developer training/support||Bob||Month 3|
|Pilot Deployment||Chris||Month 7|
|Formal Evaluation||Edison||Month 10|
|Deployment in other schools in Districts||After 12 months|
Lorenzo is tasked with setting up the mailing list.
The plan which has emerged from our few days of interaction is ambitious in its scope, but we believe has the potential to make a significant impact on Basic Schools throughout Ghana. The use of Free Software in this way is central to the success of the project and we believe it to be a model of how Africa can maximally exploit the tremendous developmental potential of FOSS which we have all heard about (but seldom seen). The fact that FOSS provides such opportunities for Ghanaian developers to solve concrete problems in our schools is an exciting one. In the process, they will grow their own skills and stature as practitioners. This is not an incidental by-product, it is central to the way Free Software works.
We have deliberately not considered budgetary issues at this stage. We believe that the initial stage of the project can (and probably should) proceed on a “shoestring”. What is required is some basic infrastructural support from the AITI-KACE as indicated above. A computer and printer will also need to be found for deployment into the pilot school. Once the project has demonstrated its worth, consideration may be given for budgeting for wider deployment in the district.