How effective is your school management system in achieving optimal student outcomes?

Author: Rajesh
Date: 16 May, 2020

Most of us are associated with a brick and mortar school almost entirely throughout our life. As a student, parent, teacher, staff, manager, school bus driver, or even as an entrepreneur, many of us will have multiple long-term trysts with schools in our life.

One of the marked differences between schooling a few decades back to what it is now is the use of the so-called school management systems by most institutions. It is interesting to note that the capabilities of these systems vary drastically. Some are just glorified SMS clients — one whose functionality starts and ends with being able to send a message. While on the other end we also have over-engineered software systems engaging all buzz words in the technology attempting to bring sanity on how schools are run.

How would you choose the right one for your school if you are the decision-maker? Different schools need different levels of sophistication. There is no one size fits all possible here. Where would you do we draw the line?

Irrespective of what type of school yours is, the most important thing might be to take a few steps back and answer the question — Who is the primary entity here?

In most cases, the answer would directly or indirectly point to the fact that student is the primal factor and nuclei of an educational institution. The end goal invariably is to optimize student outcome.

So the solution you choose must treat students as the principal entity — not just another entity. The system must help them in every aspect, before it diverges to solve other use cases involving other entities in a school.

For example, it is not the job of a school management system to worry about how end to end financial accounting is done in the school. As a person evaluating the system, you must not expect it to do that either. There are a lot of elegant, time tested, affordable accounting software solutions out there whose basic features may throw any sophisticated school management system out of the competition when it comes to accounting. Also if you look at how software products evolve these days, you just cannot have one software that is a panacea for all your problems.

Understanding above is rule #1. Pick something that revolves around the student and optimizes everything around them. Even while you are tempted to ask the question — What about fee payments?, ask this question first— How does the software help the student?.

What’s next? Data. Without data, any system is useless. Data is like fuel for the system.

So what does it take to get data? Usability and simplicity. Unless the system is user friendly and simple to use, your staff and other stakeholders will stop using the system in the long run. Period. Without active users, there wont be any meaningful data. Your investments will soon have the fate of many gym equipments at homes. That was rule #2.

Throughout my life as a software developer and then as an entrepreneur, I have seen countless systems fail not because they were technologically inferior — it failed because they were not just not usable.

Have the vendor provide references from other schools similar to yours that use this same software and ensure that they are able to use it meaningfully. Make sure you actually talk to them.

The 3rd important thing a software which calls itself a student management system should be capable is to facilitate active collaboration. Collaboration need not be limited between teachers and parents or any subset thereof. It could be between teachers themselves in the form of sharing lesson notes or assignments for example. It brings so much synergy into the system that no other single feature can beat. Collaboration should be possible not just using text — but also using visuals, audio, video, screen sharing to name a few.

Obviously there are other aspects like support, reliability, costs, and other due diligence that need to be done before you finally nail the right one for your school. However, they cannot supersede the primal factors which we discussed.

Prifact — my own venture into school management systems — was founded in 2016, and in retrospect today, we owe a big part of our success in being able to identify and adapt to the above factors right from infancy.