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Gauteng's admissions site flat-lines on debut

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MEC Panyaza Lesufi told parents no school in the province will accept paper applications for children going to grade one and eight in 2017.
MEC Panyaza Lesufi told parents no school in the province will accept paper applications for children going to grade one and eight in 2017.

Selecting a few parents to beta test the Gauteng province's online learner application Web site should have been one of the actions taken by the department before making the site live.

This is the word from Moira De Roche, MD of e-learning company Aligned4Learning, who says the province's new online registration system is a very good idea as it aims to streamline the registration process for both parents and administration.

However, a test of the system before it was properly rolled-out needed to be done, she states.

"Ensure the service provider can deal with the demand. I really question the competence of the service provider and/or in-house team who developed this important system. If the department made sure anyone who works on such a critical system is a professional member, then competence and skills should not be an issue."

Paperless future

To encourage tech-savvy school registration as well as minimise long queues during the registration period, Gauteng's provincial education department announced the launch of an online learner admissions site.

As part of this mandate, the department advised all parents whose children will be doing grade one and eight in 2017 to apply online for their school admissions.

Over the past two weeks, the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) has been weathering criticism from parents, governing bodies and the public, over the technical glitches experienced by its online registration site, gdeadmissions.gov.za, which at times seemed to live up to its unfortunate domain name (dead missions).

Last week, the department had to deal with disgruntled parents after phase one of the online application process, allowing parents to register, verify their details and apply for space for the 2017 academic year, was disrupted when the site crashed.

The GDE temporarily suspended the online registration site, after it experienced "unforeseen technical challenges", it said in a statement.

According to the department, the system crashed after receiving over 600 applications per second.

Yesterday, the department was dealt a further blow when parents could not submit their children's school admission applications despite issuing a notice that parents would be able to use the site from 8am.

The GDE released a statement noting the start of online admissions on the site would be delayed from 8am to 10am after "a technical glitch". At one point, MEC Panyaza Lesufi, providing regular updates via Twitter, asked his following to "pray for me".

Parents were only able to access the department's Web site after 2:30pm yesterday afternoon.

Where it went wrong

According to a statement issued by the department, the delay was caused by technical difficulties with GPS coordinates that generated wrong school data.

"The system had to be shut down, re-programmed and tested as it could not incorporate and reconcile GPS coordinates. The process took longer than anticipated, hence the delay in going online.

"Now parents living in informal settlements can choose the school directly rather than the system picking it up automatically based on GPS coordinates," according to the statement.

The GDE further explained that during the first second of going live, the system experienced over 18 000 logins. Within the first 10 minutes, the system had successfully processed over 5 000 applicants.

"We anticipate the system to handle a large quantity of traffic as capacity has been increased to 20 000 logins per second."

Up in arms

Despite the site being functional late yesterday, some parents expressed concern over a few errors found on the site.

One parent told ITWeb while doing the online application he would receive intermittent error messages that read: "An error occurred while processing your request."

To prevent such anxiety, especially for parents of children going to grade one, the site must be user-friendly and should be mobile responsive, advises De Roche.

"I am sure that if a parent or guardian understands that this will save them time and money, they will find someone to help them. The message should be 'ask someone'.

"And it goes without saying the system must work - if inexperienced users encounter difficulties, they often think it is because they are doing something wrong even when it is a system error, and then are reluctant to try again," she explains.

The department's online leaner application period is open from 19 April until 1 June. The placement of learners will commence from 24 June until 25 July.

De Roche notes these deadlines may be a bit tight. "I understand that the parent needs to confirm within seven days that the school is acceptable. This seems a bit short to me, especially if the parent needs help to respond."

Bring it on

Today, The Star newspaper reported the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (Fedsas), a voluntary association of governing bodies of public schools, has threatened legal action against Lesufi and the GDE.

According to Fedsas, the use of the department's new online school registration system is an abuse of power not authorised by law, reports the newspaper.

"Not only does the e-platform not comply with regulations, but it is also dysfunctional. The fact that there is no concurrent paper-based system means there is no way to verify information," Fedsas chief executive Paul Colditz told The Star.

However, Lesufi brushed aside any potential court action that may be brought against him, saying he is confident parents will see the value of the online system in the long run.

"I am quite aware there are people who want to take me to court purely because the system is not functional and that their privilege will be compromised. My message is simple: Bring it on. I am ready for you," the newspaper quoted Lesufi.

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