The journey of Saraswati Vidya Niketan school going fully digital

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About a year ago, in March 2020, all schools went under a lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At Saraswati Vidya Niketan (SVN), an online programme was immediately implemented to ensure that students’ needs were not neglected.

WhatsApp groups were created for every class and teachers were tasked with managing those groups and giving parents regular updates on the performance of their children.

Email addresses were collected from every student or their parent and schoolwork was sent to them on a weekly basis. Students were encouraged to complete the work in their books with the hope that it would be marked when they returned to school. For the exam students in Form 5 and CAPE, teachers resorted to Zoom classes in order to teach students since they had exams scheduled for May-June 2020.

After the lockdown was extended, the tech team at the school decided to explore options for online teaching. After much deliberation and training with the GSuite for Education Cloud software, all classes from Form 1 to CAPE went online via Google classroom in May 2020.

Teachers were able to post for their students and also teach them live.

Over time, teachers received more training along with parents and students being trained in the basics. SVN has put many rules and regulations in place and GSuite also has the capacity for monitoring students’ activities online. Both teachers and students are more adept with the software now.

In an effort to meet the demands of online teaching, SVN embarked on a number of initiatives. Those included:

Expansion of the internet bandwidth – to deliver the curriculum via Google Classroom, the school needed stable and reliable internet services with a larger bandwidth. Hence, it upgraded its internet services so now all teachers are in school conducting their online classes.

Need for computers – when SVN embarked on its online programme it discovered that many of its students did not have computers or access to them. It sought and received a donation from Chico Ramnarayan of Computer Resources of America who donated 24 computers to be distributed to students.

In the meantime, SVN teachers also worked tirelessly to repair neglected computers and make them available to students. They also repaired the students’ faulty computers free of charge. The school also tried to meet the need of those students who were prepared to buy their computers. Again, CRA stepped in and delivered 12 computers which will be sold to students at an affordable price or on a payment plan basis.

Transforming the main hall – since the exam students of Forms 4, 5 and CAPE were allowed to attend physical classes, many arrangements were put in place in order to accommodate the students while following all COVID protocols.

The main hall was transformed into one big classroom, with students seated 6 feet apart. The surround PA system was permanently installed with high-performance speakers mounted. Six ceiling fans and two air coolers were also added to make the students comfortable.

Prayers and assembly take place in the hall on a daily basis also. Students of Forms 1 to 3 join online, while the senior students are in physical attendance along with teachers.

The main hall can now be considered as a “smart classroom” with its capacity to have teachers at home and teach/interact with students at school. With the Vibe smartboards being in-transit to SVN, soon teacher-student interaction will further enhance multi-mode teaching and learning from all levels (7-12).

SVN acquires 5 vibe smartboards  

To further meet the demands of the ever-expanding LMS environment, SVN embarked on an extraordinary endeavour (might be the first school in Guyana) to acquire smartboards to further enhance teacher-student interaction and to facilitate initiative delivery of lessons.

Vibe’s all-in-one modern design transforms the virtual classroom into a flexible collaborative space. It is very similar to popular smartboards but without extravagant costs and periodic software subscriptions. The vibe smartboards will integrate seamlessly with the current LMS (Google Classrooms and Google Meet) without the need for additional equipment or training.

SVN is eagerly awaiting the arrival of the boards which were acquired at a discounted cost of $13,999.

SVN going fully digital

In addition to recently implementing full scale online/cloud-based Learning Management Systems (LMS) via Google Suite for Education, SVN is quickly becoming one of the few schools in the Caribbean to fully implement an Integrated School Management System using Rediker Software – a global leader in school management software for PK-12 public, private, catholic and charter schools.

Over the last decade the growing student population and the ever-expanding logistics of school management, the need for timely information and the demand for more collaboration with SVN and parents have seen SVN battling with a manual system using a combination of logs, registers and numerous spreadsheets.

Now that SVN has a strong digital backbone and proper range of equipment, Principal Swami Aksharananda has given the green light for the implementation of a SIS and SMS. After weeks of research and meeting with several software vendors, SVN is now implementing the Rediker Software AdminPlus School of Administrative Software with Web Gradebooks and Mobile-Ready Web Portals.

The process started mid-December 2020 and was finalized with the contract being signed on January 4, 2021.

The school is currently in the customisation phase which will be followed by training, testing and implementing the system. SVN is hoping to go live with the system by April 1, 2021.

This venture is as expensive as it is exciting with the bill for the next two years being close to US$16,000.