#Admissions2017 #inevitable #leaderinacrisis

Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi demonstrated leadership in crisis during the online learner admissions debacle.

Read time 4min 20sec

Maybe this isn't the greatest way of informing my bosses that rather than diligently doing what I'm supposed to for the past few days I've been furiously F5ing the same site in both Chrome and Internet Explorer.

The Gauteng Department of Education's (GDE's) online admissions Web site has been the subject of much parental rage since late last week, and as a parent with a child yet to enter the state education system, I, like many thousands of other Gauteng residents, have experienced this frustrating process first-hand.

I'm not going to give you all the boring intricacies of the application process, but basically you're first required to register a user account (that was supposed to be opened last week), then, from Tuesday 19 April, through your logged-in account, the application for your offspring to attend school in 2017 could be made.

At stage one of the process - user registration - the system crashed. The reported stats you'll see are that there were 600 requests per second to the site - a legitimate DDoS attack by an army of Gauteng's parents and guardians. This was the first chance for Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi to don his proverbial tin hat and venture out from the trenches.

When I first heard Lesufi on Thursday last week speaking to 702's Xolani Gwala I was impressed. He demonstrated leadership in a crisis - something that seems to have been lacking of late on our political stage.

Lesufi recognised there were problems, he talked through the plans being put in place to resolve them (increased capacity to handle up to 3 000 requests per second) and explained the benefits of moving to the new online system - he was talking the same language as those in the IT sector who preach about digitising the public service.

I've just finished putting Brainstorm magazine's annual Public Sector Priorities supplement to print so I've been steeped in the realities of the services offered by government through digital channels, and the 'this is where we should be headed' conversations.

Thanks to this new system, said the MEC, the department would have the ability to better plan educational resources, such as teachers and textbooks. It would allow the department to identify longer-term trends around where more schools are needed to be built - and as a province that's growing as quickly as Gauteng it's definitely an issue.

The third major advantage is that it removes the "human error and favour for friends", as Lesufi termed it. With this fairer way of allocating places based on criteria, rather than getting paperwork in first, it would mean parents didn't need to queue outside schools overnight like fanbois waiting for the new iPhone to drop.

Lesufi was talking the same language as those in the IT sector who preach about digitising the public service.

However, as parents our mindsets are still about making sure our camp chair is at the front of the line. Even though applications are open until June, this instant gratification is probably the key factor that's causing so many problems and drowning the service.

On the opposite side of that point is the system itself, which seems to have been built internally at GDE (although it has since been moved to Vodacom for hosting). It doesn't appear to have been built or tested to cope with the massive demands placed on it. The highest amount of traffic received on Tuesday, 19 April was 37 800 hits per second. I can only imagine this far exceeds the initial expectations of demand on the service. After a couple of stuttering starts on 19 April, the site enabled more than 188 000 parents to successfully register their children in under 24 hours. These are impressive stats. But tell that to my F5 button and my bosses.

The key takeaways then:

1) As parents and guardians, the move to a digital world means that sleeping outside the school is hopefully a thing of the past; we have to learn patience.
2) Parts of government are trying to modernise, and should be congratulated for doing so.
3) Leadership in a crisis, as demonstrated by the MEC, really does exist in government (check out Lesufi's timeline on Twitter; he's also been busy doing media interviews).
4) More expertise, possibly private sector if the skills don't exist in government, should be drafted in at the planning phase to prevent such crises.

My call to Mr Lesufi: please don't follow Bernie Ecclestone and reverse your decision. The aims and attempts have been noble; the online application system is the way forward.

It's ironic this foray into citizen engagement and digital service delivery centres around the education department, as it's clear there are still lessons to learn.

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