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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The administrative impact of computers on the British Columbia public school system Gibbens, Trevor P.


This case study analyzes and evaluates the administrative computer systems in the British Columbia public school organization. Historic and contemporary policy developments are scrutinized. Research sources include interviews with twenty-three educational administrators representing the Ministry of Education, six school districts and five schools. Respondents from educational agencies and the commercial sector were also interviewed. Research documents range from policy statements and correspondence to financial data and internal studies. Four closely related questions serve as the study's focus: 1.) What are the cost-benefits of computers? 2.) What is the impact of computers on managerial work? 3.) Is computerization associated with centralization in organizations? 4.) What is the relationship between organizational objectives and the design of computer systems? After a twenty-five year history involving relatively slow development, computing facilities are undergoing a rapid transition at all levels of the British Columbia public school system. The transition is driven by rapidly advancing technologies, manufacturers' strategies, and policies fostered by Cabinet, the public service, and the Ministry of Education. Between 1980 and 1984, a significant expansion in the administrative use of computers occurred throughout the school system. The new school district computerization policy, while designed to enhance Ministry control over district finances by supporting a Planning, Programing and Budgeting System (PPBS), is in its implementation, considerably less centralized than many other public service electronic data processing systems (EDP). The administrators experienced direct and indirect effects of computerization. Direct effects were noted at the lowest rank, where some vice-principals entered and retrieved data on microcomputers. At higher ranks, computer terminals were not observed in the personal offices of administrators. No educational managers senior to that of vice-principal operated a computer in their work. The largest indirect effect arose from increased central control. As the financial and educational performance of schools and school districts comes under increasing scrutiny with the assistance of large-scale computerized monitoring, administrative action at these levels becomes more constrained. Centralization is enhanced by computers. The educational organization's current centralization program has t resulted in a degree of control not exercised by the Ministry since the 1950's. The use of computers at all levels of the school system leads to increased control at each of those levels, but the largest increase in control is exerted by the Ministry. Highly computer dependent monitoring systems, in the form of PPBS, and provincial examinations and achievement tests, are the chief control vehicles. Optimal solutions to the design and implementation of a provincial distributed data processing system are not manifested in the British Columbia educational organization. Hardware and software incompatibility among districts, and between districts and Ministry encumber electronic communications. Full networking and cost-effective development of system components cannot be realized within the present provincial configuration. Some financial information is presented as a basis for indicating the system's operating and capital costs. Lack of a firm Ministry commitment to standardization resulted in redundancy, duplication of services, and an inability to exploit the potential of a large 1982-1985 investment. School district resistance to central direction in data processing spans almost two decades and has contributed to system fragmentation. Loss of Ministry of Education EDP professionals in the wake of the 1977 centralization of all government data processing facilities, and the 1983 imposition of financial restraint contributed to the Ministry's failure to take complete charge of the district computer project. Parallel to, but unconnected with this project, teacher and school trustee organizations also introduced new central office systems. As administrators within these different precincts strove to decrease operating costs, computerization was viewed as a significant means of reducing expenditures and increasing organizational control.

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