Question re: Student information system - April 17, 2013

Mr. Silver:    In 2009, the Auditor General of Canada issued a very critical report of the Yukon Party government’s handling of education.

In her report, it emphasized the need for a comprehensive student information system. The government took the report and bought a system from British Columbia and called it YSIS, or the Yukon student information system. At the time it was purchased, there were already problems with it in British Columbia. In 2011, B.C. scrapped it altogether. The Government of Yukon has now been forced to do the same thing.

Why did the Yukon Party government buy a system that was already being boycotted by teachers in British Columbia? Can the minister confirm that over $750,000 was spent on a program that never actually worked properly?

Hon. Mr. Kent:    The Yukon student information system, or YSIS, has been stable this year.

Teachers are more proficient and comfortable using the system. Many of the problems have come forth, particularly in rural Yukon, with respect to the connectivity aspects, and we’re working with the provider to address those as well.

When it comes to the replacement of that system, it has become necessary because the developer, Pearson School Systems, is going to be decommissioning YSIS. It will need to be replaced by early 2016. We’re working with the B.C. Ministry of Education. They’ve sent out an RFP, and the Yukon has been included with B.C. in that RFP. So we are taking proactive steps in looking to replace YSIS.

In my initial tours of community schools upon being named Minister of Education, that was one of the topics I addressed with staff in many of those schools. While there have been some problems with the system, I do believe it is meeting some of the requirements that were addressed by the Auditor General in providing us with good statistics and good information. Again, we look forward to the replacement system and look forward to engaging the education community in doing that.

Mr. Silver:    I’m glad that it’s finally stable, but the Yukon Party government has spent more than $750,000 on a student tracking system that was dead on arrival. Mentors of mine compare it to operating with a hammer. It was already failing in B.C. and the government was warned by the Yukon Teachers Association not to buy this product.

The government went ahead anyway, and they didn’t listen. The Yukon Party likes to brag about good fiscal management — the centrepiece of this year’s budget is the $27-million bailout for the Yukon Hospital Corporation. This bailout is necessary because the government allowed the corporation to borrow money that it could not pay back. Now, one of the biggest capital items on the Education budget, is an extra $750,000 to replace YSIS with a new program.

Does the government think that having to replace a $750,000 tracking system only two years after using it is good fiscal management?

Hon. Mr. Kent:    Perhaps the member opposite didn’t listen to my first response, where I said it has become necessary to replace the system because Pearson School Systems will be decommissioning YSIS, and it needs to be replaced by 2016. Again, during my early time as Minister of Education doing the community tours and talking to staff and school councils and students, particularly in rural Yukon, I was able to address and listen to concerns about the YSIS system. As mentioned, it is providing us with very valuable data. Some of the data I have referenced in the House with respect to student attendance has been derived from YSIS, and we’re getting more accurate information. Again, this spring, a committee of stakeholders will meet to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the current system and determine requirements for any new student information system.

The price of that new system will be dependent on whether or not we select the same system as B.C. or choose independently. We’re working hard to meet the requirements. Again, we aren’t decommissioning YSIS — it’s the system owner, Pearson School Systems. We’re looking forward to a replacement by early 2016, and that’s precisely what I want to do — concentrate on moving forward and providing a system for our teachers and our educators that is user-friendly, but gives us the data that we need.

Mr. Silver:    It’s a good thing that the company finally has given us an out to move away from this system, because it didn’t do those things that it was supposed to do. The Government of Yukon didn’t plan properly for the purchase of this new tracking system to begin with. In 2010, it bought something from B.C. that didn’t work properly and that was pretty archaic. They spent over $750,000 on it, and now Yukoners are paying again — another $750,000 for a new product to provide the same service. This is poor planning. This is poor fiscal management.

I can only hope that the government does a better job with the new system than it did with the old one, and I really hope that the minister is involving teachers, school councils and administrators and making sure that they are involved from the beginning before we select it.

Can the minister tell Yukoners when the new system will be up and running in our schools?

Hon. Mr. Kent:    To repeat for the member opposite answers that I gave in my previous two responses: Pearson School Systems will be decommissioning YSIS and it will need to be replaced by early 2016. That’s in response to when that system will be in place.

With respect to his question about involving stakeholders, as I mentioned earlier this spring, a committee of stakeholders will meet to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the current system and determine requirements for any new student information system. We are working with British Columbia right now, we’re part of their request for proposals, so many of the questions raised in the final supplementary are questions that I’ve already answered, but I’m always happy to repeat myself during Question Period for the benefit of the member opposite.