The K-12 education sector has its fair share of challenges at the best of times. Ongoing concerns range from increasing student enrolment numbers, student wellbeing, attracting and retaining high-quality teaching staff, managing school finances, through to introducing new technology to assist with school management and administration.

The Educator’s 2020 Education Report says that 50% of the school heads from all states and territories rated introducing new IT as somewhat challenging, and almost 30% found it very challenging.

But does it have to be that way? Given the benefits new technology brings, why is adoption such a hurdle? And what’s the payoff from taking the leap?

First, what are (still) the most common IT challenges?

The technology challenges faced by many in the education sector have remained remarkably consistent over the years. The main three we’ve observed are:

  • 1. The dreaded silos
    With student, school and parent data dispersed wide and far on multiple systems, including spreadsheets saved to laptops, it’s small wonder that schools struggle to understand (and manage) the behaviours of their students, parents, and teachers.
  • 2. Tiresome manual processes
    Due to the disparate nature of the systems at schools, automating even simple processes like approvals can be difficult and expensive. Administrative tasks which should be easy, instead require manual input. And the same data is often input into multiple systems. There’s typically also a reliance on information captured on paper which needs to be copied elsewhere. All of which chews up time and effort from an already busy team.
  • 3. Forms, forms, and more forms
    A reliance on paper forms is a slippery slope for any modern organisation. Capturing data and permissions from students, parents and teachers using paper rather than digitalised forms is prone to errors and risk. Paper forms are not only easy to lose in transit between an overpacked school bag, the jaws of the family dog, and an administrator’s desk, but incorrectly filed for future reference and reporting!

So, why are these still hurdles in 2022?

We can answer that question in just three words:

  • Cost
    "...we can’t afford to replace our entire system/s and start again..."
  • Effort
    "...we don’t have the time to or know-how to manage new technology... "
  • Commitment
    "... we’ve already put all our efforts into our current system, we’re locked into it, and we don’t want to throw it away..."
School friends working together on a project.

In our experience, the majority of schools already have made significant, long-term investments in an existing student management system. And they are understandably reluctant to replace their legacy system with a new one to overcome specific functionality shortfalls. The significant issues of the cost and pain of change management involved in adopting a new ‘do everything’ SMS also come into play.

So, should the desire to improve outweigh the reluctance to change? And is there middle ground to be found?

Digital transformation doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing commitment. For many schools, the right journey is slow and steady, and well-considered.

However, regardless of pace, what is important is that the steps to transformation aren’t ones you have to double back on and repeat in the future. That the functionality added not only delivers the immediate outcomes required but can be carried forward to play their role as part of a larger, long-term objective – without the fear of failure, a loss of investment-to-date, or by introducing yet another bespoke and hard to manage piece of technology.

Think big: Act small. Adopting a no-pain approach to change

If your digital transformation technology objective is to realise an end-to-end cloud environment (which of course also supports Apple Macs) then you can adopt parts of their Dynamics 365 solution to enable specific functions, introduce Power Platform to provide self-service portals, and use Microsoft Teams to support remote learning.

Here are some real-life examples of how schools have driven significant improvements working with Fusion5, by uniting data, automating manual processes, and moving them away from a reliance on paper. And each one has been done at the school’s own pace.

Back view of elementary students raising their arms on a class.

Example: Customised communications for critical incident management

One school we work with relies on a legacy Student Management System (SMS). Which was serving them nicely until they were impacted by storms. With no power and only an email list, they needed to notify parents on multiple channels to keep their children home but lacked the functionality to do so with any degree of flexibility or personalisation.

We imported the contact information for parents from their SMS into Dynamics 365 Marketing and pushed out personalised messaging first by email, and if that wasn’t opened within 10 minutes, sent a repeat notification by text.

With Dynamics 365 Marketing, we can help the school manage complex family structures (for example, where one parent might live at a different address or have limited or no parental access, or the child resides with grandparents or other carers). So, if there is a flood at or near the school, the right person is notified to organise to collect the child, or in case of an excursion, to grant permission for the child to attend. This ensures that the right person sees the relevant information, and in turn protects the privacy of both child and parent.

Example: Parental portals, event approval processes and payment

Another school turned to us to help them manage events, from incursions like music classes in the assembly hall to excursions such as a school camp. Any extracurricular event requiring parental approval is managed through a portal Fusion5 built for them using Power Platform. Parents are notified that there is an upcoming event relevant to their child that they need to review and approve.

The portal enables secure processing of event fees when required (say, to a professional sports match or a theatre performance), removing the need for parents to login elsewhere to pay. Through integration with the school’s existing SMS, we enable event approval and payment to be captured against the child’s records. And the school can easily add new events, customised forms and functions, or design and execute approval processes themselves without needed external help. Something that their legacy SMS doesn’t allow.

Example: It's a ‘Teams’ effort

Over the course of the COVID lockdowns Fusion5 helped schools remotely schedule and deliver classroom content, share digital assets, and enable student and pupil collaboration on class and school projects. All with Microsoft Teams. We collected Teams attendance information and pushed it through to the schools’ SMS so students’ attendance records could be accurately maintained, even though they joined in online.

We also enabled schools to identify wellbeing issues, by sending out alerts when the collected data indicated that a child routinely missed all or some classes. This enabled the school to take pre-emptive action to address problems before they became habitual.

Other functionality to think on

We’re also using Microsoft Dynamics 365 Marketing to capture attendance data from existing roll call platforms, so schools know exactly how many children are in each classroom or even on a school bus. So if there is a localised incident, for example a bus gets a flat tyre and is delayed, parents of affected children are notified by real-time email or text.

The real challenge is deciding to change

New technology is an enabler. But it doesn’t need to be adopted at a breakneck pace.

Overcoming this year’s challenges once and for all, is not only possible, but can be pain-free, affordable, and progressive. So, if you’re surveyed for the next Education Report, make sure you’re in the 50% that said introducing new IT was a breeze. Because it is, if your project partner understands your world, your needs, and your constraints, and has experience creating great outcomes for K-12 education providers.

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