What Should be Included in a School ICT Policy?

When I was a computer lab technician in some secondary school, my head of department always sent me on errands concerning day to day tasks in the ICT department. From purchasing antivirus licenses, spare parts to refilling toner cartridges and even new equipment.

With time, it became a norm and I would even without his knowledge fill in requisition forms on behalf of the department. Then a time came when I got a new head of department who chose what I would do and what I wouldn’t.

Trouble only came when one day, we didn’t have supplies to print out the learners’ report cards produced by the school management system. The head teacher called me to his office and his question was; Who is supposed to procure the supplies? I won’t tell you what my answer was. But the school was in a crisis because students were supposed to be seen off early the following day. It was already dark and hard to find a service provider at that time. This situation would have been saved, if there was a policy in place that clearly defined each person’s role in such circumstances.

Students in the computer lab of St. Peters SSS Nsambya where I worked

ICT is increasingly becoming more of a necessity than a facility in every aspect of our lives. Every day, innovative ways of using ICTs are being introduced in spheres of our life including but not limited to work, leisure, medicine, politics, name it.

In the field of education, the use of ICTs is becoming more and more relevant. The government of Uganda saw it necessary to introduce Computer Studies at O Level, with the first UNEB paper sat in 2004. A more drastic shift was then announced in 2011 when ICT was introduced at A Level. This initially met a lot of resistance from school owners who feared the high costs involved in setting up computer labs.

But the real test came in 2020 when the government introduced a new curriculum which forced ICT integration across all subjects. Now, ICT will not be looked at as a subject for a select few in a school community. All teachers and learners must either actively or passively use ICTs in all their day to day activities.

Away from the classroom, ICTs are gradually being integrated in more and more spheres of school life. More and more schools are getting onto the trend of electronically generating school report cards. School management systems like Magezi Harvest (Read more about it here) and Best Grade (An open source alternative) can now be found in many schools. Fees payment can now be done without going to the bank, thanks to systems like SchoolPay.

So, as the need and application of ICT continues to spread across all departments in a school, the need for a systemized policy on how to manage its use and acquisition becomes a must. A school that intends to build and use a robust ICT environment inevitably needs to develop a School ICT Policy to guide present and future stakeholders on how best to utilize and get the best out of it.

What must be in a school ICT Policy?

1.         The Introduction

However exhaustive your ICT policy is, it would do little or no good if the objectives for which it was made are not communicated to all stakeholders. The introduction therefore seeks to spell out the objectives of the policy and what inspired its contents.

It should be remembered that any policy will be updated regularly to meet demand and respond to situations that could have been avoided if the policy had a way of dealing with it.

2.         Definition of terms and acronyms

In any ICT policy, there will be technical terms that may not be easily understood by consumers of the policy. The policy will also have many acronyms which must be well described so that every beneficiary of the policy understands their meanings.

Acronyms like USB, LAN and more may be common to an IT practitioner but not to the ordinary user. It therefore becomes inevitable that such terms are clearly defined on a separate page, preferably at the before the main body of the document.

3.         Data and storage policy

In the normal day to day activities of a school, a lot of data and information is generated. From official correspondence, exams, official minutes, a proper way of archiving this data is important. This is so important since schools are a long term project with some schools having been in existence for more than 100 years.

Questions answered in this section could be whether data is stored online or offline, how many backup locations are needed and who has access to which data and so on.

A good ICT policy would guide present and future staff on how to store, manage and retrieve all school data therefore streamlining the activities of the institution even in the absence of some staff.  

4.         Equipment Maintenance policy

For the smooth running of ICT equipment, a proper maintenance plan should be put in place. Who does the maintenance of equipment at your school? How do you look for such services? How often do you do maintenance? Do you prefer a full time in-house technician or a contractor?

The writer servicing computers in the Computer Lab of Kitende Secondary School.

The maintenance section of your ICT policy answers those questions. Like I mentioned before, depending on experiences, everything within this section can still be revised to suit circumstances.

5.         Cybersecurity policy

As schools continuously rely on ICT, the emergence of threats to their systems becomes unavoidable. From inside threats to external and malicious to equipment and data, schools cannot afford to lose anything.

A cybersecurity policy based on insights and past experiences will help any institution thwart any kind of threat to its systems. Who has access to what, how equipment is secured, password management and threat management software all need to be given importance when preparing this section of your policy.

6.         Communications and information systems policy

In the digital world we live in, the use of ICT to communicate with all stakeholders including the outside world            is now common. More avenues come up every day for example the use of websites, social media and chat apps. How these platforms are used should be well spelt out in this section of your ICT policy.

For the information systems used in the school, like the School Report Management Software, Library Management Software and others, a proper policy to streamline their deployment, use and maintenance is paramount.

7.         Procurement and disposal policy

How is the procurement of equipment in your school done? Is it periodical? Is it random? Who buys what, when and where? When does a school get rid of derelict equipment?

In this section of your policy, you should clearly indicate how this process is done and ensure it is in line with standard legal procedures.

8.         Skills capacity building policy

To get the best out of ICT integration, a well-trained staff is a must. As new and better technologies and software emerge, so does the need to update your skills.

Teachers pose for a photograph after a training on Ed-Tech with the Edify Uganda Country Director.

A well planned policy to see that new and existing staff are at part with the technology in use in your school is a must. It even helps you reduce the risks that come with improper or subs standard use of software and equipment.

9.         Special needs policy

How inclusive is your ICT infrastructure? This section helps guide you on inclusion of special interest groups. It’s now a global standard that in the development of ICT, support for access to all users is extended. Such special users include the visually, motor and auditory impaired.

10.       Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy

Previously, owning a gadget by a student within school premises was contraband. But how fast things change! Schools now encourage students to bring their own devices and in a decade, it could turn into a school requirement.

While BYOD helps in decongesting school computer labs and other ICT resources, this section of your policy should guide on what kind of device is acceptable, times of usage and which services in a school can be accessed by the device.

11.         Software licensing & ownership policy

A school needs to have a proper licensing and ownership policy. Should the licenses be registered in the names of the institution, the maintenance contractor, head of department or otherwise?

A picture of what a windows license looks like.

Conclusion

A proper policy will serve the particular interests of the institution and can be adjusted as and when deemed necessary. It should serve all stakeholders while taking proper care of the needs.

While the aspects mentioned above constitute a reasonable policy, individual schools can add more aspects depending on the need.

Stephen Dumba - ICT Teachers Association of Uganda

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Stephen Dumba is the co-ordinator Central Region ICT Teachers Association of Uganda and Director E-zone School of Computing. Besides teaching, he is a veteran Computer Repair Technician, a Web Designer and a regular speaker at tech events and teachers’ workshops.
+256 772 111 223 / +256 752 111 223 / stephen.dumba@gmail.com
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