A Corner Stone for Quality Education: Noor School Management
Ministry of Education
Saudi Arabia

The Problem

With over 5.5 million students, 33,000 schools, 500,000 Teachers, 48 School Directorates, and over 200 million annual records, the Ministry of Education faced a major problem with accessing accurate, up-to-date and “real-time data and records” that would enable accurate analysis and reporting that directly impacted the quality of public education development across the Kingdom.
This problem not only limited the ability to properly manage a huge education system, but made it impossible to expand and deepen the quality of education for everyone.
Although data was available, key capabilities were not unified and end-consumer of data—from parents to administrators had not been considered. This was on top of traditional challenges, such as: data redundancy, high probability of human error, inability to develop up to moment reports and analysis based on live data, need for timely feedback and results, and limited data integration and workflow between the Ministry and its various related departments, school districts, schools, and other stakeholders.
Also, the Ministry could not accurately provide its various beneficiaries including students, parents, teachers, administrators, planners and policy makers, etc. across the Kingdom with access to education related data. For example, provision of eServices could not be provided based on numbers of schools, teachers, supervisors, and students based on region and gender.
Serious problems could be seen from nearly every perspective in the way that education was being supported from a central administration point of view. For example, in 2007-2008 a major change of decentralization was introduced. Each school became responsible to prepare and grade the tests of its students and enter the results in the exam system which was installed in each school. The installation of the system introduced many challenges, such as the dynamics of the exam rules require the system to be updated to reflect changes in the rules. Such updates to the system may not be installed in all schools. This resulted in too many versions of the system being installed in schools.
Moreover, the collection of exam results in order to generate statistics and provide results to the universities electronically was very difficult due to the nature of the system which only allowed schools to enter the subject code due to different versions installed in the schools.
In the end, MoE concluded that installing and upgrading the system in more than 4800 schools would be a near impossible task. But beyond this it would not give us the forward looking capability to predict and improve the quality of education for Saudi girls and boys.
Based on the above, the initiative for a special project that would create a centralized database to better serve the complete education community was made a priority. Accordingly, the Education Management Information Solution (EMIS) initiative was created by the Ministry of Education (MoE). The initiative was later renamed “Noor” which is an Arabic word that means “Illumination”.

Solution and Key Benefits

 What is the initiative about? (the solution)
A solution needed to be developed which incorporated which would not only overcome the complicated problems outlined above, but would provide business intelligence on ways to prevent barriers to equal education through diversity in classrooms, recognize any possible biases in decision-making and effectively enable fair and improved quality for students, parents and administrators.

To do this a solution would be flexible enough to create new services or capabilities based on an evolving set of needs by all stakeholders. The MoE “Noor” Project was conceived and is now one of the Kingdom’s most strategic initiatives in education in public and private schools.

It aims at connecting the Ministry of Education, all schools, and school directorates within the Kingdom to a centralized information system and data base. The implemented solution is based on the latest education technologies. It provides features for all stakeholders involved in the educational processes. E-services with 2,700 functionalities are designed to serve the stakeholders including students, teachers, parents, as well as school districts and Ministry level administrators to enable sophisticated decision-making designed to bring equity, quality, and effectiveness to the Kingdom’s students and educational system. The solution aggregates all data from the various sources, provides real time accurate and comprehensive data reports that serve the complete education community, and facilitates planning, analysis and decision support across the country.

The solution is deployed centrally, serving the entire community of stakeholders via remote access through the Internet, thus providing real time access e, while special considerations are made to accommodate the few disconnected schools through a specialized offline application mode with clear procedures to ensure inclusion of data such as sending the student records and transcripts for input at a location that has Internet facilities without losing any of the data.

The number of beneficiaries from this initiative will reach around 10 million including 5.5 million students in over 33,000 schools in addition to their parents, teachers, and Ministry Administrators and staff, analysts, planners and policy makers.
The following are some of the key benefits served by the initiative:
• Forward looking predictive intelligence to off-set cultural and personal biases
• Ensure inclusion, transparency, and accountability;
• 20 e-services including Ministry, districts, schools, parents, students, public entities, Saudi universities and colleges, recruitment companies, and many others;
• 100% increase in efficiency;
• Improved quality of data due to elimination of data redundancy and reduced human error;
• Streamlined workflow between Ministry departments, school districts, schools, stakeholders and entities outside the realm of MoE;
• Improved public services achieving higher stakeholder satisfaction
• Ability to make better informed decisions and develop plans and policies based on proper, comprehensive, live data and statistics;
• Provision of real time educational data to the educational community as needed, along with timely feedback, reports and results;
• 50% reduction of operational costs

Actors and Stakeholders

 Who proposed the solution, who implemented it and who were the stakeholders?
The initiative is a result of collaborative efforts between several entities within the Public and Private Sectors. The initiative was proposed and initiated by the Ministry of Education and is managed by it as well. Consulting services were provided by a team of academic experts from the Information and Science Department of King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals who performed analysis and needs assessment. The project is implemented by a private IT firm, Integrated Technology Group, who also provided the solution design. The overall program management is provided by another private firm, Deloitte.
The initiative is overseen by a steering committee and a supervising committee formed of representatives from the various Ministry departments and related entities.
Furthermore, the most significant national education initiative in the Kingdom, the Ministry energetically involved more of the public in the selection of the real need of eServices by conducting a huge survey study based on direct interviews and questionnaires with the direct and indirect stakeholders in the most important educational directorates and schools in order to ascertain what would be their maximum satisfaction in the educational processes. Moreover, the Ministry took advantages of sharing the decision of selecting the name and logo for the initiative. This selection was conducted through nomination and voting through the Ministry’s website and the name “Noor” won the vote.

(a) Strategies

 Describe how and when the initiative was implemented by answering these questions
 a.      What were the strategies used to implement the initiative? In no more than 500 words, provide a summary of the main objectives and strategies of the initiative, how they were established and by whom.
The objectives of this initiative are: the provision of a national education solution that can provide real time country-wide data for use in planning, policy making, and decision support through accurate data and with business intelligence capabilities enabling the Kingdom to increase the quality, equity and public responsiveness within its educational system.
Secondly, to provide the various stakeholders in the education committee including students, parents, teachers, administrators, planners and policy makers, etc. across the Kingdom with information and education services relevant to their needs.
Thus, the Ministry of Education implemented this initiative for the provision of a national centralized Education Management Information Solution that can help the Ministry achieve its strategic objectives in the most effective manner by providing enhanced quality of education in all schools of the country at the same level and time. The MOE discovered through the development and achievement of the Royal Vision the need to put in place and IT strategy that aligns with the developed business strategies for the period 2005-2015. The strategy of the solution is intended to enable the MOE to leverage technology and information to better organize, develop and accelerate the improvement of core educational processes.
As part of the project, a main operations center was created through which the key Ministry Administrators responsible for this project can monitor the operations and ensure that all aspects are sustained and under control.

There were several steps followed to implement the New Central System for High School Exams. These steps started by providing all high schools with internet connection, then establishing required hardware in the data center to admit the huge volume of data users (about 5000 schools, 400,000 students). During the usage of the system, the database server’s utilization did not exceed 40%.

In the next step, the internal network for the hardware was redesigned to assure more security and safety. To avoid any loss or damage of data, frequent full back ups and continuous delta backups were completed along with establishing a Disaster Recovery Center to be used in emergency cases.

Additionally, the process of training became paramount to the success of the project so a program was developed that trained more than 11,000 school staff in all 4802 schools to use the system with the support of a sophisticated 3 level help desk.

(b) Implementation

 b.      What were the key development and implementation steps and the chronology? No more than 500 words
Key implementation steps included the following:
1. The idea was developed based on identified need Based on a third party study who’s research included meeting the teachers, students, parents, adminstrators and decision makers in order to understand their daily business process needs.
2. Needs assessment reports were developed by understating the core business of each stakeholder separately.
3. A search was initiated to procure services of firms through public tender.
4. Firms were selected to implement and project implementation initiated.
5. Project implementation happened in 5 phases.
6. Awareness, training, and knowledge transfer was conducted parallel to project implementation.
7. Implementation was completed.
8. Operation and support of the system and refusal to deal with any old systems in the Ministry was addressed.

(c) Overcoming Obstacles

 c.      What were the main obstacles encountered? How were they overcome? No more than 500 words
The main obstacle faced is ensuring the consistent and continuous population of the system was critically important to its success. This required commitment from the various stakeholders, especially the teachers and administrators responsible for the population and operation of the system.
As is the norm in such national large scale projects, there were certain challenges. The Ministry created some visual products, like video clips describing the benefit of the system, in order to reduce the resistance from the various stakeholders by demonstrating the ease of the system to them. However, through continuous monitoring and follow-up by the management and operations team at the Ministry through the state-of-the-art operations center that was especially created for this purpose, and through scheduled awareness and training sessions conducted to bring the stakeholders up to speed and get their buy-in, an overall average of 98.5% participation from the fields has been achieved. This is considered a high success rate.

(d) Use of Resources

 d.      What resources were used for the initiative and what were its key benefits? In no more than 500 words, specify what were the financial, technical and human resources’ costs associated with this initiative. Describe how resources were mobilized
The main resources used for this initiative was training the concerned stakeholders. Then development process was started by the IT department and was followed by the role of supervision by the Exam department. Of course the IT department provided and maintained support by producing additional visual products to demonstrate the ease of use of the system.

Sustainability and Transferability

  Is the initiative sustainable and transferable?
Being a common concern for all students and other stakeholders in the national and international levels, we clearly believe that this initiative is sustainable and transferable to all as it helps the country to accelerate its quest for knowledge economy.
Being a national initiative, this project was planned for and budgeted under the Saudi Arabia government’s budgets. The many positive effect of such a project and its various impacts described further below, make this initiative favorable and encourage the creation of other similar initiatives across the various sectors in the Kingdom, thus expanding its impact.
This initiative requires the expansion of the system and will increase the number of trained teachers who will be in charge of dealing with the New Central System for High School Exams.
At the end of this project we are planning to perform a survey study to measure the satisfaction of this initiative among the school teachers and administrators.

Lessons Learned

 What are the impact of your initiative and the lessons learned?
Improved Efficiency, Time/Cost Impact:
Time saving due to a much faster cycle of data entry, cleansing, migration, to approvals and publishing. For instance, the announcement of final results for High School students used to take 3-5 weeks but now it can be achieved in less than one week. The installation of installing a new version to the existing system at each school takes less than one hour.
Managing technical support questions used to take 3-4 days but now answers are given within a 24 hour time frame.
Currently, 25,000 data verifiers can access the system, improved over the previous number of 2000.
More than 11,700 employees have been successfully trained in the new system:
• Cost reduction due to the decrease of staff hours spent on system support, and the improved utilization of the teachers. Cost savings through decreased usage of paper and elimination of system support visits to individual schools as the new system renders in person visits unnecessary.
• Improved performance and increased productivity due to full automation of procedures and improved work distribution among staff, which in turn improves overall productivity and efficiency.
• One example of the sub-systems results where the duration required for the Ministry to process and publish the national exam results for all students was 3-5 weeks whereas today it takes 6 days
• Another example is where the average time needed for installation of upgrades on the previous system was 20,000 hours, in comparison to the current situation where installing upgrades requires less than one hour.
Environmental Impact:
• Initiative encourages decrease in use of paper and aims to reach a paperless system.
• Centralized deployment at data center eliminates the requirement for high-end servers at schools, and reduces the need for technical support staff to physically travel to school sites for technical support and maintenance issues. Prior to this initiative, utilizing the decentralized older solution previously deployed required an average distance of 200 Kilometers to be crossed by a support team member per trip to perform support tasks, or install system upgrades, etc. The new solution allows for remote support activities without the need for school visits. This in turn saves travel expenses and is more environmental friendly.
Impact on Other Entities:
• The integration of systems provided within this initiative positively affects other processes related to entities outside the MoE realm. As an example, the provision of students’ results electronically provides all universities and higher education institutes in the Kingdom with the required data, and, expedites the students’ admission and registration processes.
Equal Access, and Access Anytime/Anywhere:
• Solution is fully accessed remotely through the Internet, and thus provides access anytime/anywhere.
• The full automation of all systems and procedures and the application of standard procedures create transparency, unification of rules, and overall equality among all users and schools in the various areas and regions.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Ministry of Education
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Cottup Saleh
Title:   DR.  
Telephone/ Fax:   +96614046666/+96614050477
Institution's / Project's Website:   https://noor.moe.sa/EduWave/login.aspx
E-mail:   cottup@moe.gov.sa  
Address:   Riyadh King Abdulaziz Road
Postal Code:   11148
City:   Riyadh
State/Province:   Riyadh
Country:   Saudi Arabia

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