In December 2018, the Auditor General of Ontario released its 2018 Annual Report. The Report contains 15 value-for-money audits.

One of the value-for-money audits focused on publicly funded school boards and their use of information technology systems and technology in the classroom. Its objective was to assess whether the Ministry of Education and school boards have effective systems and processes in place to ensure that: (i) critical IT assets and infrastructure are economically and effectively procured, managed and protected; (ii) legally protected personal information is safeguarded against emerging cyber threats and privacy breaches; (iii) IT support and services are provided on a timely and efficient basis; and (iv) relevant student information is efficiently and accurately reported in compliance with legislative requirements.

The audit was conducted between December 2017 and September 2018 at four of the 72 school boards in Ontario. The audit included a survey of all 72 school boards, 69 of which responded to the survey.

Concerns

Overall, the audit highlighted a number of concerns with the current state of technology in education in Ontario:

  • Students’ access to information technology and, consequently, students’ learning experiences, varied across schools;
  • The age of IT equipment used in classrooms differed among schools;
  • School boards are not taking all reasonable steps to prevent inappropriate access to student information;
  • Not all school boards provide formal security awareness training or have cybersecurity policies;
  • School boards are not managing cyberbullying effectively;
  • School boards are inconsistent in their ability to keep track of IT assets, such as laptops;
  • The majority of school boards do not have a formal IT business continuity and disaster recovery plan;
  • The Ministry and school boards are not always obtaining value for money on their IT purchases;
  • There is no single common centralized student information system at the provincial level, which could potentially provide cost savings; and
  • The Ministry’s system that boards and schools use to submit student data to the Ministry is inefficient.

Recommendations

The Auditor General offered a number of recommendations to school boards and the Ministry to help remedy these shortcomings. The report recommended that:

  • The Ministry, together with school boards, develop a strategic plan specifying minimum expectations for the use of IT in the classroom;
  • School boards perform an assessment to evaluate students’ needs with regard to classroom technology, develop and implement a classroom IT policy, and assess the benefits of private-sector donations to schools of lightly-used IT equipment;
  • School boards periodically review their lists of users with access to students’ personal information, deliver ongoing privacy training to staff who have access to personal data, and perform risk assessments regarding the use of non-approved websites and software;
  • School boards develop a policy that outlines roles and responsibilities in cybersecurity at both the board and school levels, and provide formal information security training, including cybersecurity awareness, to teachers and staff;
  • The Ministry and school boards track, measure, report and review cyberbullying incidents at schools;
  • School boards develop and implement an IT asset management system, including formal asset tracking and reporting procedures;
  • School boards ensure that teachers and staff receive necessary training in the use of technology already purchased and on all future purchases of technology on a timely basis;
  • The Ministry and school boards perform a cost-benefit analysis of the need for and use of equipment and software before purchase; and
  • The Ministry, in collaboration with school boards, investigate implementing a shared centrally managed student information system.

Ministry and School Boards’ Responses

Both the Ministry and the school boards were receptive to the Auditor General’s recommendations, acknowledging the need to work together on many of the above in order to restore public confidence and financial accountability to the province’s publicly funded education system. The Ministry noted that the recommendations complemented the feedback received to date from parents, students, educators, and other stakeholders in the community as part of Ontario’s ongoing consultation on education, and committed to embracing them in an effort to improve the system going forward.