Monday, 24 May 2021

Automation is making inroads at Egypt’s international schools

How Egypt’s int’l schools are embracing automation in school processes: Though global education has long been termed automation-resistant, automated processes are becoming key to operations. In Egypt, educational process automation is now essential for private schools to manage basic admin, sources tell Enterprise. Education management software also integrates automation into more sophisticated activities, like data tracking and communication.

Egypt’s top schools match regional and international peers in using this kind of automation, school leaders believe. Some prefer using ready-made programs, while others have designed their own software, tailored to need. But while all agree that automation makes processes more efficient, most struggle to quantify its value in terms of time and money saved.

What software are they using? AIS uses PowerSchool, a prominent US K-12 education management system, says Director Kapono Ciotti. All the schools managed by education management company Eduhive — the three branches of BCCIS, Regent British School, El Gouna International School and Saxony International School — use Engage, says Eduhive CEO Karim Mostafa. AIS spends some USD 5-7k a year on PowerSchool, says Ciotti. Eduhive spends some GBP 15-20k per school per year on Engage, says Mostafa.

Some are going in-house for their tech: El Alsson has invested roughly EGP 1 mn in creating its system, estimates Rogers. Malvern College Egypt has designed its own system, says CEO Azza ElSherbiny, and so has El Alsson, says Executive Director Karim Rogers.

What are they using these programs for? Most automate admin processes and even some communication and data analysis. Education management programs automate admissions, registration, and admin reminders. Automation is also an increasingly important part of data analysis and some internal and external communication, say school leaders. We break down what these processes are here:

Data analysis: Organizing and presenting student data — particularly on performance — is currently seen by the schools we spoke to as the most valuable service offered by automation software. “The big element for schools is tracking data,” says Regent British School Principal Claire Rowland. Engage allows real time tracking, and presents data on past performance. Power BI, which AIS uses for data visualization, doesn’t collect data but automatically extracts and presents it, says Ciotti. “It automates pulling multi-source data into one dashboard, and creating analytics, graphics and comparisons.”

Communication: Automating some communication with parents increases efficiency and parent engagement, says Rowland. This includes reminders about school trips and official holidays, and consent forms for using student images on social media. Non-automated, digitized communication about student progress or discipline is integrated into the same system, and helpful because it’s immediate and secure, she says. It works internally too: if a student visits the school doctor and is sent home, the doctor can inform teachers through an automated messaging system.

Admissions: AIS’ admissions system is digitized, so parents don’t need physical copies of documents, and it reduces the school’s manual entry, says Ciotti. Information is automatically fed into the student database, where it can be accessed when needed, he adds. Application through Malvern’s website registration page triggers an automated email to set up booking and payment for an admissions assessment, says ElSherbiny. Families receive automated reminders of the assessment date, and a bar code for entry. Malvern can then track everything from physical entry on assessment day to student application status.

Attendance: El Alsson has a semi-automated registration process for students, says Rogers. Teachers take roll-call twice daily, with information automatically syncing up with the management system, so senior management knows immediately if anyone is missing. “We tried a fully-automated system where students tap in with wrist bands, but they kept losing them.” AIS is testing a fully-automated system next academic year, automatically registering students when they pass through the school gates, says Ciotti. “We’ve installed everything, and it just mass scans people, which will definitely save time.” But they won’t try this at the classroom level yet. “We want to try it out at the school attendance level first, before we start monitoring where people are digitally to that extent.”

General and financial admin: When the BCCIS submits regular reports to the British Columbia Education Ministry, Engage uses plug-in data to automatically fill in information on the ministry’s website, eliminating any need for double entry, says Mostafa. Malvern sends automated fee payment reminder emails to parents, says ElSherbiny. Automated fee payments could be made in installments, says Rogers, but few parents do this. “It’s sometimes done by petroleum or telecom companies that pay on behalf of their employees, as part of a benefits system.”

Does automation increase efficiency? Absolutely, says Mostafa. “At certain key points in the year — when I’m writing report cards, for instance, or I need any kind of data analysis — automation software can cut down my workload considerably,” Rowland agrees. It undoubtedly saves time by reducing the need for humans to undertake certain repetitive tasks, with some jobs that would have existed ten years ago — like pure data-entry — now eliminated, says ElSherbiny. Ciotti believes that in particular, it saves parents time and money. And over 12 months, AIS might save half the salary of an employee thanks to automation, he adds.

But is this all it’s good for? The vast majority of schools we’ve polled appear to be automating processes that schools use, but does that mean we cannot automate education itself? Not for some, who have begun adopting new tech to shape how students learn in the classroom. We dive deeper into these programs next week.

Your top education stories for the week:

  • Egypt is ranked 30th worldwide for scientific research output by Spain’s SCImago Journal
  • Mandarin for middle schoolers: The Education Ministry is looking to give middle school students the option of studying Mandarin as a foreign language as of the next academic year.
  • Open Sky International’s first Egypt school: Paris-based education group Open Sky International is opening the doors to its first school in Cairo this September, with plans to set up another 10 schools in Egypt by 2025.
  • Vaccines for proctors + students: Thanaweya Amma and university exam proctors will begin receiving covid-19 vaccines, with exams set to be held in July and August, Health Minister Hala Zayed said.

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