B.C. to replace troubled student tracking software

B.C.’s Education Ministry has selected a replacement for its troubled computer system that tracks student registration, attendance, grades and other records.

Fujitsu Consulting (Canada) Inc. will partner with Follett Corporation to use its Aspen student information system in B.C. schools, the ministry announced Wednesday.

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The system will replace the B.C. Enterprise Student Information System, also known as BCeSIS. The system cost more than $97 million and was widely criticized by teachers as unreliable and poorly designed.

The cost of the new system was not released.

“We’re in the same ballpark,” Education Minister Peter Fassbender told reporters at the B.C. legislature. “We’re just finalizing the contract now, so those details are still under negotiation.”

A final deal will be signed this fall with initial rollout to schools slated to begin in 2014.

“By 2015, it will be fully implemented throughout the province,” Fassbender said.

The minister expressed confidence that the new system would be a significant improvement on its predecessor.

“As a result of the learning that we had with BCeSIS, we consulted with parents, with teachers, administrators, and the new system is going to take it to the next level,” he said.

The government said the new system would track students’ records over their K-12 career, while allowing parents and students to monitor progress online and communicate privately with teachers.

“It’s going to be a fabulous system,” Fassbender said. “If they move, their information moves with them. It’s easily accessible.”

But NDP education critic Rob Fleming said the BCeSIS “boondoggle” has eroded public confidence in the Liberal government’s ability to manage high-tech projects.

“The government needs to move forward, but having mismanaged one IT project, it’s understandable boards of education don’t trust them to handle another one,” Fleming said.

“They’re about to sign a 12-year deal, and trustees around the province want to know who’s going to be on the hook if the system underperforms as the last one did.”

The Saanich school district is pushing ahead with its own replacement system in partnership with a number of other districts on Vancouver Island. The openStudent project began testing its core version in 22 schools in Saanich and the Comox Valley in May.

The project was launched in 2011 with the goal of using local expertise to design a system at a fraction of what it costs to buy and operate a commercial product.

By using freely available open-source tools, Saanich officials believe they can develop openStudent for under $5 million, with yearly maintenance pegged at less than $1 million.

“We’re not slowing down a bit,” said Gregg Ferrie, the district’s director of information technology. “If anything, we’re hiring two more people for development … So we’re really making progress.”

Districts are free to choose their own systems, Fassbender said, but he hopes they will give serious consideration to the government’s chosen replacement.

“I believe it will save them money and that has been the intent,” he said. “I’m quite confident this is going to meet their needs.”

He said 56 districts and 100 independent schools currently use the BCeSIS system.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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