Paperless Office, Paperless School, Paperless Future

The idea of going paperless is nothing new. In fact, BusinessWeek helped coin the term ‘Paperless Office’ way back in 1975. Despite major leaps in technology since then, we’re still largely living in a paper-fuelled world.

The problem doesn’t seem to be getting any better either. According to an OECD environmental report, global production in paper is expected to increase by 77% between 1995 and 2020. The office is one of the main offenders in its reliance on paper but schools have also traditionally been significant consumers. However, budget constraints and environment considerations have meant ever increasing numbers of schools are becoming active in the fight against paper usage.

Despite positive moves to eradicate paper waste in schools, Edutopia estimates that the average classroom uses 25,000 sheets of paper each year, which equates to 833 pieces of paper per student per year.

With so much of what we do and what students do being reliant on paper, going paperless seems a daunting task. However, ditching paper processes is an extremely effective way to streamline processes, and improve efficiency and productivity. Once we take the steps to reverse the processes we’ve put in place and try something new, the time we have saved will be worth the effort.

The issues most schools face in this area are not so much related to the paper used in classrooms. Finding alternative ways of learning can be as simple as replacing textbooks with eBooks, having greater access to computers and being more creative when it comes to educational activities. For most schools, no paper means no paper forms, yet putting a new and efficient system in place can seem like an expensive and impossible task, and filed away in the ‘too hard basket’.

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But with governments, businesses, health services and other industries aiming for a paperless future – and pages of articles being written about its benefits both financially and environmentally – it can only be a matter of time before schools follow suit.

In fact, this kind of change can help improve age-weary systems immeasurably. One big complaint from teachers in sending home permission slips is the response rate from parents confirming their child’s attendance is incredibly low; not because they don’t want their child to attend an excursion or field trip but because the forms often go missing.

Moving to an online system can save time, save cost and improve liability management for both schools and parents. Forms exchanged between schools and parents, online enrolment systems for new and prospective students and common internal forms such as professional development forms, incident forms, forms for casual relief teachers and much more can all be handed very effectively in a digital environment.

Other advantages come with streamlining the storage and access of emergency and medical details, and excursions and permissions forms, as well as implementing email and SMS notification systems.

While many have concerns over data security (see our post ‘The Private Lives of Students’), these services should always be held on secured servers – or in the cloud – using the latest and most advanced encryption methods.

The end result is a school that not only saves money by cutting down on the cost of paper but also saves money through increased productivity and efficiency, giving teachers more time to do what they do best: teach.

ParentPaperwork offers a 30-day free trial so schools can experience the benefits of transitioning to a paperless environment firsthand.

What Jack Black Teaches Us About Field Trips

In Jack Black’s 2003 comedy, School of Rock, the rotund funny man plays Dewey Finn, a washed-out rocker and perpetual loser who masquerades as a teacher to get himself out of financial trouble before (predictably) falling in love with the students and (his version) of the job.

As far-fetched as this movie premise might be – not to mention the numerous legalities ignored in the name of storytelling – there is a surprising truth at the heart of this tale.

Black’s unconventional teaching style and love of music sees him trying desperately to get his students out in the real world to experience concerts and music competitions, only to be thwarted at every turn with red tape by an over-cautious headmistress and over-worried parents. Although the film turns each group into extreme caricatures of their real-life equivalents (e.g. all of the parents drive Volvos), their concerns over the safety of the children, the liabilities of the school and the difficulties of organising an excursion or field trip really hits the nail on the head.

Our recent post, Poorly Communicated Student Information Threatens School Excursions, highlighted an upheaval in Israel where students went on strike over high school teachers banning school trips in an attempt to absolve staff of any criminal culpability for students who may get injured while on the excursion.

There is always going to be a risk in taking kids off campus but transparency by the school as to what the trip entails and any inherent dangers, along with informed consent by the parents, should be enough to allow the students an experience that cannot be matched in a classroom.

Field trips offer an educational experience that engages students like nothing else. Studies have shown the benefits that come with immersing students in hands-on learning, which includes greater retention of knowledge, as well as significant benefits beyond just education.

A recent study by professors at the University of Arkansas looked at the impact of school trips to the newly opened Crystal Bridges Museum of Modern Art.

“We found that students who attended a school tour at Crystal Bridges demonstrated stronger critical thinking skills, displayed higher levels of tolerance, had more historical empathy and developed a taste for being a cultural consumer in the future,” said Jay Greene, one of the researchers.

“We also found that these benefits were much larger, in general, for students from rural areas or high-poverty schools, as well as minority students.”

The central storyline of School of Rock has the headmistress citing safety issues and notifying parents as the two main problems in planning the trips at short notice with a new teacher at the helm. There is never any question about the validity or educational benefit in going on field trips. Instead, the focus remains on liability, and on the troubles associated with poor communication with parents; problems that many teachers face in real life.

Of course, the film being fictional, Jack Black gets his way in the end (although through methods we wouldn’t necessarily recommend) and the children are able to grow, learn and have their parents witness their newfound maturity and talent.

Jack Black remains an unlikely teacher but someone to learn from nonetheless.

To see how ParentPaperwork can assist with making field trips easier to organise, click here.

Heavy Workload, Heavy Burden – Teachers Leaving Industry Over Unworkable Hours

The myth of the 9am to 3pm workday for teachers is finally being busted as more and more stats about what goes into an average school day come to light.

Our recent article on teacher workloads explored exactly what is taking up the lion’s share of a teacher’s time, while our follow-up on Australian teachers working harder than many around the world dug a little deeper. Now, let’s look at the end result – teacher attrition rates rising higher with each passing year and a system in crisis.

The Numbers

The consequences of extended work hours and unmanageable workloads are very real and very damaging, with recent reports from the UK that each month last year more than 4,000 teachers left the profession.

This 10-year high has been attributed to low pay, long hours and high workloads resulting in close to 50,000 teachers in the UK walking away from the profession, with almost 80% citing workload as the greatest issue. Compounding the problem is the fact that three out of four trainee and newly qualified teachers considered giving up before even entering the workforce.

These alarming statistics, however, are not unique to the UK. In Australia, it has been reported that close to 50% of those who graduate as teachers leave the profession in the first five years. Once again, many cited overwhelming workloads as the main reason for jumping ship. Growing class numbers and lack of support have lead teachers to be working 50-hour weeks across primary and secondary schools both public and private.

The USA is also starting to feel the pinch with similar numbers, showing teacher attrition has grown by 50% over the past 15 years, with the teacher dropout rate higher than student dropouts in some districts.

The end result is a global teacher shortage. The infographic below, put together by UNESCO, shows the gravity of the situation. An interactive version is available on their website.

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A Much-Needed Change

Teacher attrition rate is at its highest during the first five years in the classroom. Preparing graduates for the reality of teaching in a classroom environment, by connecting the dots between theory and practice, is an important step if we are to take teacher attrition seriously.

Already, in Australia and the US, there are many partnership programs taking aim at the problem and getting great results. However, preparation is only part of the solution. Employers need to be more readily involved in mentoring new teachers and welcoming them into the system. This will, of course, be a stretch for school leaders who are also overworked but putting in place new programs that can help reduce the number of resignations will have long-term benefits for the whole school.

Quashing the disillusionment that grows in graduates who have come fresh out of a supportive university environment into a sometimes unsupportive school environment will help reverse the cycle of overworked teachers. It will be a slow process but, for the future of the industry and the future of education, baby steps need to be taken.

Giving schools and teachers greater resources, including better pay and lower class sizes and putting in place systems that free up time, will set them and the system up for success.

The Private Lives of Students – Data Security and Privacy in Schools

How did you celebrate Data Privacy Day this year? Did you change all of your passwords? Or did you enact two-step verification on your login data?

Chances are you’re not even aware of what day it falls on (it’s 28th January for those playing along at home).

Despite being around for almost a decade, Data Privacy Day doesn’t get much news coverage. Like a lot of our personal data that we give out freely online, we don’t give it a lot of attention, even with fresh headlines each week of social media hacks, stolen personal images of the rich and famous, and whole corporations being held to ransom.

All of us would readily say we have concerns about what happens to our data and who has access to it. But very few of us, if any, will read a privacy policy before hitting the ‘Accept’ button and handing over our information to companies we know very little about.

Whether it’s convenience, laziness or lack of education, our willingness to trust companies to not mine our data is at its peak.

Recent experiments that have raised awareness of the dangers of using free Wi-Fi networks from unknown providers include:

These examples highlight the dangers inherent in systems we use every day, albeit, extreme ones. Luckily, the six people who signed over their firstborn were given a reprieve.

What about student data?

It has taken a while for us to realise the importance of protecting the data and privacy of students.

Schools have long kept records on their students that included personal information, health issues, grades, suspensions, absentee and truancy records, etc. But, as school administration systems have moved to digital, storing this information on databases and in the cloud, the issue of how secure this information is and what should actually be recorded and retained has become of greater concern.

It’s not just school records in the spotlight either. Teachers using apps to monitor behaviour, school cafeterias using palm scanning technology to purchase meals, and social media sites being used to trade information on classes and school sports are all causes for concern when it comes to privacy.

Alarmingly, a recent survey in the US by Common Sense Media showed that only 13% of respondents knew “a great deal” about how their schools collected, used, stored and destroyed student data. Their results can be seen in the infographic below.

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The backlash and response

The good news is that data security and privacy for students is an issue that is starting to garner more awareness in the media and with parents.

Recent cases around the world that have made the news include:

  • Concerns about a new primary school database that keeps students’ personal details, including religion and ethnicity, on file until their 30th birthday; and
  • A $100 million database used to store “test scores, learning disabilities, discipline records – even teacher assessments of a child’s character” being scrapped after an outcry from parents and civil liberties groups.

In response to growing fears of student data being sold to third parties, identity theft and personal information finding its way into the public domain, governments are finally taking action.

Last week in the US, President Barack Obama unveiled the Student Digital Privacy Act to ensure that data collected by schools is used solely for educational purposes and cannot be sold on. It’s legislation based on a recently introduced Californian law “prohibiting educational sites, apps and cloud services used by schools from selling or disclosing personal information about students from kindergarten through high school; from using the children’s data to market to them; and from compiling dossiers on them.”

Australia also updated its privacy laws last year to regulate the collection, storage, use and disclosure of personal information by independent schools.

What can parents do?

For anyone concerned about student privacy and data, there are a number of things you can do to help keep sensitive information safe.

  1. Educate and get educated

The number one thing parents can do is to learn about the data collection practices and student privacy issues at their child’s school. Find out what systems are currently used, and read up on the company’s services and policies.

Keep abreast of any new technologies or systems being used by the school.

You should find out what data is collected, for what purpose it is used and with whom it is shared. Look into your rights to access the information or to opt-out of such services and ask about what policies are in place if these systems are breached.

It is also important to teach your child about keeping their information safe and the dangers of sharing it with others.

  1. Know your rights

A quick search online will help you understand your rights when it comes to data collection and storage. Ensure the school and third party vendors are adhering to them. Schools should be transparent when it comes to your child’s information. If they’re not, question why. 

  1. Watch the news and be vocal

Follow any story about changes to laws and new legislations that may affect student privacy. Let your school know of any concerns you may have with new laws or with new and current systems being used. The closure of the aforementioned $100 million database shows the power that parents and lobby groups can wield.

It doesn’t have to be Data Privacy Day for us to keep the issues of data privacy and security in our sights. Being aware and raising awareness of the safety of you and your child’s personal information should be an everyday concern not only for you but also for your child’s school. Technology can make a teacher’s job much easier, giving them more time to spend with students.

It’s our responsibility collectively to ensure the products that make our lives easier are also safe for us to use.

ParentPaperwork takes privacy seriously. For more information on how we handle data, please read our privacy policy

Modern Parenting: it COSTS a village to raise a child

For our Australian clients, it’s that time of year when battling outgrown uniforms, cries for new stationery and lunchboxes, and the general everyday cloud of gloom descends over their children as they prepare to return to school for another year.

For some, the prospect of returning to a familiar routine is welcomed, no longer having to entertain the kids 24/7 or bribing other family members to take on that chore for them. But, for many, the new school year brings with it new costs for an already tight budget.

Modern parenting is fraught with social pitfalls and hidden expenses. Forget to tell your child’s friends that you won’t make their birthday party can mean being slapped with an invoice. Childhood is a serious (and costly) business.

A recent survey by UK charity organisation 4Children shows a rise in childcare costs of 30% in the last five years with many parents opting to reduce their work hours to look after their children themselves. This trend is shared across both the US and Australia where according to a report by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling, low income mothers returning to work can end up earning as little as AUD$3.45 per hour once the loss of government benefits, taxation and childcare costs are considered.

With some Australian childcare centres charging as much as AUD$170 a day, a jump of 150% since 2004, most parents will be happy to cart their child off to school when the time comes just to save a few dollars. Unfortunately, the cost of a child’s education only rises higher from the moment they enter the schoolyard.

According to Australian charity The Smith Family, parents can be spending upwards of AUD$700 before their child even reaches the school gate with education costs equalling around AUD$2000 a year per child. Even public schools are not without the sneaky, unexpected expenditures. Uniforms, books, excursions and field trips, voluntary contributions, not to mention computers and Internet connections, all add up to leaving poor parents – well – poor.

Not-for-profit education savings provider Australian Scholarships Group estimates the cost of a government primary and secondary school can be as high as AUD$65,829, which includes tuition and all ancillaries. If you choose a private education, that estimate rises to AUD$428,723 per child. Their infographics below show how that cost is set to grow for children born in 2015.

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Looking at these alarmingly high figures, we also have to take into account that most families choose to have more than one child, doubling or tripling the numbers. The old saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ might need to be amended to read ‘it costs a village to raise a child’.

The cause of this increasing rise in education costs is hard to pinpoint. There are a number of factors that compel schools to raise tuition costs. Usually, a price hike has nothing to do with profit. Most schools find themselves with more students than ever and a waiting list a mile long.

Bigger classrooms, overworked teachers (as we covered in our recent blog post Teachers Don’t Work Hard Enough? Think Again!), reduced funding and rising living costs all add weight to an already strained system.

For a school, reducing organisational stress through streamlined systems can help their bottom-line and ease the financial burden passed onto families. For modern parents juggling all the challenges that come with raising and educating a child, ensuring you’re adequately prepared for these costs ahead of time can also help make the transition back to school that little bit easier.