DELIVER THE FUTURE OF EDUCATION NOW.… WITH SCHOOLTREE
Shocking statistics on South Africa’s education reveal that;
- 80% of Grade 4 pupils cannot read with comprehension.
- After five years of school about half of learners in South Africa cannot work out that 24 divided by three is eight.
- The 2019 Teaching and Learning International Survey (TAUS) found that South African teachers spend only 66% of their time teaching while the international average is 78%.
Educating the next generation is a collective responsibility and RAiN Chartered Accountants Inc., a professional services company known for its broad-spectrum, organic solutions which address specific business and operational challenges, is behind an initiative called SchoolTree that is set to revolutionise educational operations in South Africa.
The 4th Revolution, with its far-reaching developments in the AI arena, has opened up new ways of planning an integrated digital solution that brings together teachers, students and parents with a single goal in mind – connecting teachers and resources so they work together more efficiently, freeing up teachers to spend more time in the classroom focusing on learners.
Ian Pierce, Director at RAiN, troubled by the challenges in the current schooling system in South Africa where little planning was taking place and the domino effect of poor schooling and inadequate resources was causing the pool of talent coming into the auditing profession to dry up, started researching what was taking place in education around the world.
He found that, as far back as twenty years ago, a university lecturer at Massey University in New Zealand had written a very basic school information system (sms) in response to a need he identified in the schools. “When the student teachers left college to take up their teaching positions, they were spending too much time with administrative work. This was a simple program written in DOS. It worked off a floppy disk and assisted teachers with some of the data gathering on their students, such as name, address, age, parents’ details, grade, prior learning report cards, etc. What made it attractive was that as the class moved up a grade the teacher just copied the floppy disk and gave it to the next grade teacher. Very basic, but effective and it formed the foundation to a highly successful software system called Edge now widely used in the Education field and the inspiration for South Africa’s own SchoolTree operational system.”
With the development of the cloud and smartphones, this brought a whole new game into play because this meant that the parents, teachers, and students could be in constant communication. The New Zealand model not only encouraged parent, teacher-student communication but also enabled the Ministry to plan their allocation of resources much better. Each child in New Zealand is allocated a unique student number when they are born, which they use throughout their school career. This enables the Ministry to trace or monitor that individual. As they move to different addresses, that is updated at school level and fed through to the Ministry. As the students develop in school the Ministry has that updated detail, be it attendance records, academic performance or even extra curriculum activities such as star rugby players or brilliant choir singers allowing government and the private sector to monitor and track the career resources needed for socio-economic growth.
The Local Scene
“Finding the right software solutions to match the needs of the education systems in South Africa was the first challenge in setting up SchoolTree” says Pierce. “No one was viewing this as an opportunity to start addressing the Education crisis in a more holistic manner. Each school looked at solving its individual needs, and if that happened to be just management of their alumni database, then that was their focus. For others, it was more about the sports team, and worst of all some would not even consider the change.”
In March 2018, RAiN approached the Western Cape Education Department to see if there was any interest in considering giving us access to some of their schools to run a pilot. “It took about ten meetings and demonstrations to various decision-makers in the Department to convince them that it was possible. I think that it was the foresight of Dr. Beets in the department and the willingness of the team in the IT department who ultimately got us the approval to approach schools that were willing to be part of the pilot project.”
To assist in deciding how to select the 10 schools that were going to be part of this pilot, the Woolworths MySchools Program and The Ackerman School Foundation were approached to nominate schools to be part of this groundbreaking project. Ten schools were proposed by each of the two Foundations in the Mitchell’s Plain School District who have now agreed to be part of the program and have started the training with Edsby.
Whilst using international partners such as Edsby as the LMS provider, Twine as the SMS and Xero for financial reporting, the integrated solution needed a distinctly local flavour and therefore was born the brand SchoolTree. “The partners are all world-class solution providers in the education sector and have been working together for almost twenty years. Their solutions are currently running in several different schools, both public and private sectors around the world. Edsby was awarded the 2019 Microsoft Education Partner of the year recently, so we are working with the best of the best” says Pierce.
The pilot program today
Following an initial introduction session with the ten participating schools, EDSBY are currently in the phase of uploading the curriculum and lesson plans for the primary schools into their platform. Twine is doing a similar exercise on the student, parent, and teacher information. The intention is to have this phase completed by the end of August 2019.
SchoolTree will be sending a team to Canada to receive training and to get firsthand experience in school administration. In September, the Twine team will be in Mitchell Plain to give individual training to teachers on the use of the solution. The plan is that they will then be able to run their classes on SchoolTree in the fourth term of 2019. During which time, as the local partner, RAiN will help resolve any hiccups with additional training and support. The intention then is to have SchoolTree go live in the 2020 school year. We will monitor the impact and how it is assisting the teachers. The goal is to get the teachers to focus and spend time with the learners as opposed to doing administrative work. It is also the intention to see what impact SchoolTree will have in facilitating better communication between the Department of Education and the schools. The final phase will be getting the parent and student community involved in the communication network.
According to Ian Pierce, SchoolTree is in the early planning phase of discussing with two other provinces to commence similar pilot projects in their schools. “But that will only begin once we have the current ten schools up and running. We want to build in all our learning from these schools into our formula for project implementations. A word of appreciation must go out to the two Foundations who have been a tremendous support and real visionaries by putting Education of the learners first in their support of SchoolTree. Without their assistance, we could not have achieved what we have to date. There is still a very long way to go to meet what we have set out to do, but with support like this, it makes it much easier to get through the challenges.”
Anyone who needs further details, please contact Ian Pierce firstname.lastname@example.org or 011 – 243 5030.