2020-06-17 04:51:10

Schools can bloom in a paperless future

Social impact
By David Eedle
As Co-Founder and CTO of EdSmart, David draws from over 20 years’ experience as a technology leader, investor, entrepreneur and contractor to global Internet and technology businesses. Prior to his focus on technology, he worked in arts and entertainment management. He was also Co-Founder of ArtsHub, the leading online home for arts and cultural workers in Australia, New Zealand and the UK and, consequently, was featured in the book 50 Great eBusinesses and the Minds Behind Them (Random House 2007).

The global pandemic has made it blatantly obvious why schools should be transitioning to digital where possible but, if that wasn't enough, we discuss further reasons for schools to follow the lead of many other industries around the world and 'go paperless'.

This article was commissioned and originally published by School Governance.

As the proliferation of technology continues, the expectations and attitudes of consumers and stakeholders has forced businesses of all sizes – as well as, of course, governments and community groups and services – to shift many of their most important processes to the online realm. We now shop, bank, communicate with each other, manage our superannuation, register pets, arrange medical appointments, sign up for sporting or recreational pursuits and collaborate professionally utilising the latest in online and digital technology.

Our daily habits have changed to the extent that there are now countless instances in which many of our most important tasks are executed without a single sheet of paper being used.

This is also the way in which a number of schools now manage key processes – enrolments, student report distribution, fees, excursion permission or consent ‘slips’, and a wide range of administrative and staff professional development applications. Digital technology has facilitated the ability of schools to simplify their administrative processes, demonstrate a commitment to the preparation of students for the challenges of the 21st century and beyond, and enable registrars to focus on the more important parts of their jobs. 

The safe storage and security of data and information is a significant objection raised by those with concerns about ‘going digital’ and transitioning to a paperless school, with one of the most common objections many in the school community have being about privacy concerns. As the demand for more streamlined and efficient online interactions has risen, however, so too has the ability of an organisation to utilise the technology that’s available to meet its statutory, legal and compliance obligations.

Many of the transactions that we all carry out online require us to read and accept a set of terms and conditions as part of entering into them. These terms of use carry the full weight of law and protect both parties in the event of a dispute (see also The European Union’s Directive 2009/136/EC, which has come to be known as the Cookie Law).

Although there is a significant difference between accessing the iTunes store to upgrade your smartphone’s operating system and enrolling your children in a school, enrolment of a child at a school is a salient example of how digital technology allows us to adhere to a range of legislative obligations (privacy, consumer protections, liabilities and warranties) without also needing to store, and maintain, mountains of paperwork.

Likewise, the need for data security from an organisational perspective – the protection of the information and data about us obtained by the people we conduct our online business with – is serious business. An International Data Corporation (IDC) report dated March 2019 estimated that global spending on “security hardware, software and services will top $US103 billion in 2019.” Of this, they estimate that banks and ‘central’ governments will spend more than $US30 billion combined, and that state and local government spending on cyber-security will increase by around 11 percent per year over the next decade.     

The proliferation of online services that can be procured to improve productivity and the sophistication of cyber security products available mean that it’s possible for your school to transition to a paperless environment – and enjoy the productivity benefits that transition affords – without compromising the security of the information you need to record and store to meet your statutory, legal and compliance obligations.

It’s just something you need to bear in mind and incorporate into your due diligence when making decisions about implementing edtech products.

daisy flowers and summer blue sky

Going Paperless and Sustainability

One of the most pressing issues in today’s global society is the protection of our environment, and improving the sustainable use of resources in order to improve the quality of life for future generations. Going paperless is an obvious step forward in not just improving your school’s contribution to sustainability but in also demonstrating to the current and prospective school community that you’re aligned to their values in a tangible way.

Studies undertaken by organisations, like Zero Waste Sonoma, estimate that schools produce between 20 to 40 kilograms of waste per student over the course of an academic year. Students, in conjunction with their teachers at Ashford Secondary School in the United Kingdom, conducted a waste audit at their school. From the findings of the audit, the students and teachers developed a recycling program, which saw the school reduce its CO2 emissions by nine tonnes.

As part of being officially recognised as Australia’s first carbon neutral kindergarten, digital technology played a significant role in the attempts by Melbourne’s Albert Park Preschool to attain certification. As well as using solar panels, composting and other initiatives, the school’s Administration Director Jenny Whelan embraced digital technology to facilitate Albert Park Preschool’s transition to a paperless school.

“The staff are overworked,” she told media at the carbon-neutral announcement. “And any time saving that can be made is crucial.”

Sustainability extends to people, as well as our environment. Staff dissatisfaction and turnover has significant impacts on a school. A 2014 study by Katherine Weare from the Universities of Exeter and Southampton found that stress in teaching “gives rise to poor performance, difficulties in recruitment, and to high and expensive rates of attrition.”

Studies have shown, however, that the adoption of digital technology in schools – both in the delivery of the syllabus and streamlining of administrative functions – reduces stress and enables everyone to focus on their core responsibilities.

Conclusion

The opportunities for schools to transition to a paperless environment are much greater than in the past. As online services become de rigueur within the wider community, there’s an increasing demand and expectation among parents and teachers that schools will also adopt technologies that facilitate a more efficient, customer-focused experience.

As these online services increase in popularity, so too does the sophistication and resources available to safeguard the information that schools collect and protect the privacy of their communities, ensuring that a school meets its ever-increasing statutory, legal and compliance obligations.

Shifting to a paperless school also addresses increasing concern within much of society at the state of our environment, and the desire to establish more sustainable communities – not to mention freeing staff from time pressures that take them away from more important responsibilities, such as teaching.

Embracing edtech and reducing our reliance on paper is a tangible demonstration of a commitment to staff and existing and prospective student families that your school is steadfast in reflecting values that align with the world around you.

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