Lee Drury, data manager at the British International School (BIS) Riyadh, talks about his school’s quest to become more eco-friendly and outlines some of the unexpected and very welcome benefits of the initiative.
If I were to describe our school as ‘nearly paperless’, you might not be terribly impressed at first. But launching a successful campaign to become a greener school is quite an achievement in Saudi Arabia, where my school is located.
It is fair to say that for the majority of our parents, boosting the school’s green credentials was not a priority. But having seen the benefits of the move away from paper to electronic school communications, few parents would want to go back to the days of searching their child’s school bag for paper letters that could be weeks old.
Keeping parents updated
Riyadh is a place of great wonder – from the many modern shopping malls of the city to the stillness and serenity of the Rub al Khali, the largest sand desert in the world. With 55 nationalities attending the school, we strive to instil personal ethical behaviour and an appreciation of diversity in every child. Previously, the annual student report was one of the most important documents we produced for parents. These were delivered by student mail every June and gave families a snapshot of their child’s academic performance and behaviour at that point in time.
But we wanted to give families more timely information that would help them to get more involved in their child’s education. We introduced an online parent portal from SIMS Independent as part of this. Through the portal, parents can log on and see real-time information, such as their child’s latest test scores as well as details of their achievement and behaviour points.
This immediacy of information means parents are much more aware if their child’s behaviour is having an impact on their learning, for example, or which subjects they are doing well in. As a result, we find they will often contact us if they have any concerns or they want to know how to better support their child from home. But the benefits don’t stop there.
For the digital generation, it is completely natural to expect information to be available at the touch of a screen. So our quest to become paperless was an instant hit with our students.
As part of the initiative, we are introducing online homework tasks for students rather than handing out paper sheets and this will really help them to get engaged in the project. Parents can see what assignments have been set and what resources are needed to complete them too.
In addition to this, we now record house points the children have earned electronically, which has motivated our younger students in particular. Not only do they love seeing their rewards build up on the system, they are keen to encourage their parents to log on at home and share the good news.
Older students see the benefits of electronic communication on exam results day too. As an international community, our students can be anywhere in the world when the GCSE and A-level results arrive. But at BIS Riyadh, they can receive their results electronically wherever they are. Previously, they would have had to come into school to pick up their results, or if they are abroad, ask someone to collect them on their behalf or pay for them to be delivered by a courier, which can be expensive.
So how did we do it?
The key to embracing our nearly paperless status was to involve staff in the entire process. Right from the start, we encouraged both teaching and non-teaching staff to let us know what they think and we took their ideas and feedback on board.
A new system has to mean a better system, and so I regularly challenge all teachers and administrative staff to show me a task that couldn’t be completed better electronically than on paper. We have yet to find one.
I am pleased to say that the school has managed to avoid printing a single piece of paper communication for the last 18 months, saving a considerable amount of money previously spent on printing and copying.
But what I am most proud of is the way that, by embracing technology, our whole school community has become stronger than ever. As we continue to move from being ‘nearly’ to ‘completely paperless’, our parents, students and staff have come to understand and appreciate the true benefits of becoming a greener school.