Teachers want plug pulled on glitchy computer system

The Yukon's Student Information System has irked teachers. Since the web-based data system was launched last year, teachers have spent much time monkeying with computers instead of teaching.

The Yukon’s Student Information System has irked teachers.

Since the web-based data system was launched last year, teachers have spent much time monkeying with computers instead of teaching.

It took FH Collins teacher Michael Reed 90 minutes to do his classroom attendance one morning because his computer kept freezing.

When late students straggle into class, Reed has to stop his lesson and log in to note the student’s attendance.

Every time he logs out, to protect student information privacy, the system locks him out for 20 minutes.

So, rather than lose classroom time, Reed now does attendance twice each day – once with pen and paper and then, at the end of the day, by computer.

The program demands teachers enter all grades and attendance electronically.

But the system, which is linked to the British Columbia Student Information System, is sluggish and prone to crashes.

This week, BC announced it’s scrapping the system, citing enormous technical difficulties.

Reed can’t wait until that happens here.

“If you’re a teacher and are already busy having to multitask and then you get tripped up by something like attendance, which is usually simple, your day becomes increasingly difficult,” said Reed, who attended a Yukon Teachers’ Association conference Thursday.

The association has criticized YSIS since day one.

They tried to stop the government from implementing the system two years ago, noting BC’s problems.

At that time, provincial schools were abandoning the BC system in droves.

Last year, the teachers’ association filed a policy grievance with the Education department, arguing the department failed to properly consult about the database.

“A lot of frontline educators, and even some in the Education department, were warning the department that this was a flawed system,” said Liberal candidate Kerry Huff, who retired as principal of Porter Creek School two years ago.

“Despite all our protests, the government decided to bring it in anyway.

“The last two years have been really stressful for (teachers). The system crashes, it’s very slow, it’s awkward to use and it’s not very user-friendly.”

Even so, the government is sticking by it.

“Yukon will continue using its current student information system for the years ahead. The time frame to implement any new system falls within the three- to seven-year range,” said department communications officer Chris Madden.

The transition may have gone more smoothly if the department had brought in experts to train teachers rather than relying on department people, said Porter Creek learning assistant Terry Berquist.

The system helps schools share information, he noted.

“The information is there, but the difficulty, however, is that it’s much slower than what it could be,” he said.

Teachers are also frustrated by the system’s privacy issues.

Sensitive health information and behavioural issues throughout a child’s school career are stored in the system.

So teachers must be careful to shut off screens while they’re busy elsewhere in the classroom, said Reed.

The system was adopted in response to an auditor general’s report criticizing the department for its poor record keeping.

In March 2010, the estimated cost of implementation was $63,000.

It could now be as high as $1 million, said Huff.

The Yukon’s Department of Education will not provide the cost of the system until after the election.

Contact Vivian Belik at

vivianb@yukon-news.com

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