School Management Application: Raising the bar in school reporting

Casper Strydom  |  10 May 2016

“The School Management Application is a pioneering mobile solution from Mezzanine that offers real-time interaction between schools and the education department,” says product owner Casper Strydom. “The best part of the School Management Application is that it makes the daily reporting needs for those who play such an important role in the lives of our youth so much easier,” he adds.

The correct starting point

As with other Mezzanine products, the School Management Application is based on the company’s vision to enhance the lives of those that use their products.

The first opportunity to develop the School Management Application came in May 2013 when the Gauteng Department of Education required a solution that would improve the visibility that their management has at the 2200 schools they support. Merely a month later in June 2013 the first version of this solution was ready to address the following challenges:

  • Non-visibility and unavailability of schools’ daily activities to key decision makers to allow them to make informed decisions.
  • A lack of real-time communication between school principals and management at the education department, especially for schools in remote locations.
  • The frustration that school principals and school administrators experience because they do not receive regular feedback from the departmental leaders due to a cumbersome communication system.

By implementing the comprehensive and easy to use web-based School Management Application shortly afterwards, the Gauteng Education Department was able to generate the daily reports that it needed for visibility at all their schools.

How it works

A school principal or school administrator uses a mobile Android application to report on learner and teacher attendance, school vacancies, maintenance work required, textbook deliveries and general school readiness. This data is available to the education department on a national, provincial, district, circuit and school cluster level through a web reporting interface.

A school incident module, furthermore, tracks incidents as they are reported and manages the incident status and timelines for resolution. School principals and the incident managers at the department are informed throughout the process with built-in system notifications.

Daily notifications remind school principals to capture data to ensure that the department receives their reports on school activities.

Key features

The School Management Application offers a host of features to various users of the product on different levels within the education department:

1. At school level with the customised mobile application
  • An easy to use and convenient mobile application with built-in features to validate the submitted data to prevent input errors that can be used for:
  • Keeping track of learner and teacher attendance at a school level.
  • Improving the way school incidents are reported and managed by responsible parties.
  • Reporting on the delivery and stock levels of textbooks.
  • Reporting on school infrastructure and learning resource readiness such as, amongst others, furniture and learning materials required.
  • Creating visibility on the learner registration statistics for the new school year.
  • Advising on teacher vacancies.
  • Presenting school governing board details.
  • Replying to ad hoc survey messages.
2. On higher levels through the web management portal
  • The ability to configure the system based on districts, circuits, clusters and schools. This may include elements relating to school details and linked grades, school principal details, learner and teacher support materials (LTSM) and furniture – all linked to individual schools.
  • The ability to invite users. These could include system administrators, heads of department, technicians and managers at district, circuit and cluster level.
  • Reporting functions which include a full view on aggregated data which allows for statistical analysis of all information submitted and graph reporting to show trends in statistics over time
  • An incident drill-down feature which allows responsible parties to address incidents in real time and provide feedback via the application to principals.
  • A function to send a simultaneous broadcast message to all registered principals.

For the technically minded

The mobile School Management Application is a native smartphone application which means that the application programme, as well as all the application logic and workflows, are stored on the device.

The fact that the application’s software resides on the mobile device, allows the school principal to capture information anywhere without having to be at a computer. Furthermore, a store and forward feature store the captured information if there is no network coverage, so that data can be transmitted as soon as coverage becomes available again.

The principals also don’t need to have any of their own airtime or data bundles to use the application. They can even upload reports when their airtime balance is zero. This is done through a zero-rated IP address which allows for reverse billing where the education department, which receives the reports, pays for the transmission, instead of the sender. This eliminates the excuse of senders having depleted their airtime and data bundle balance if reports haven’t been submitted.

Users higher up in the education department obtain access to the data by logging in via a web-based management portal that has been specifically designed to work in low-bandwidth areas.

The benefits

With School Management Solution school principals are now able to report daily and in real time on routine and exceptional activities to the department of education even if they do not have data available on their mobile devices.

Departmental decision makers are notified of incidents as they happen and can immediately provide feedback to the school. Reports are timeously available to school stakeholders on different levels, while statistical analysis and trend reporting of aggregated data over time offer a sound base for operational and strategic planning.

More to come

With three years’ field experience behind them, Mezzanine has recently gone through a review process to further improve the existing features, to introduce new developments and to align the product with the latest school reporting requirements. Some of the improvements include more feedback opportunities from higher departmental levels down to lower levels, user activity analysis and reminder notifications whenever the system detects non-activity by certain users.

Furthermore, ‘School Nutrition’ is being added as a key module for the future. This module will allow South Africa’s National Department of Basic Education to manage its National School Nutrition Programme via the School Management Application. This programme aims to, amongst others, enhance learning capacity through school feeding programmes and to promote and support food production and improve food security in school communities.

Always improving

“We are exceptionally proud about what we’ve achieved with and through the School Management Application,” says Strydom. “Not only did we again prove Mezzanine’s capacity to in record time develop and deploy an all-inclusive and functional solution for an intricate requirement, but we were also able to demonstrate our ability to maintain and improve on the solution with our hands-on approach and understanding of the customer’s needs.

“Above all, we are gratified when we see the positive upshots that the School Management Application has for the education department and the users of the product,” Strydom adds.

These positive upshots are demonstrated by the fact that the Gauteng Department of Education has recently renewed their contract with Mezzanine for the School Management Application to continue. More so, with current negotiations with the Mozambique Ministry of Education and with interest shown by the Kaduna State in Nigeria to also deploy the solution there, one realises that this is only the beginning. The growing demand for the School Management Application and the potential and flexibility that it offers, certainly demonstrate the capacity of the product, especially in remote regions with limited infrastructure.

And the delight that Strydom takes in his work and the reflection of Mezzanine’s culture of caring for the users of the product that he is the owner of, confirms the fact that Mezzanine is more than yet another software development house. It is indeed a visionary, solutions-driven company with its feet on the ground and a drive to partner with other role players who want to make things better for those that they serve.