Eastern Cape’s massive schools data loss

Education MEC Mandla Makupula
Education MEC Mandla Makupula

Nearly all data containing information about thousands of Eastern Cape schools, pupils and teachers were wiped out of a multimillion-rand digital filing system at the start of the year.

A report compiled by Sizwe IT Group, the company that installed and commissioned the Simplivity digital system that cost the provincial education department an estimated R20 million, found that between 20% and 30% of the data could not be recovered by the end of March.

Officials told City Press these data included information about schools, pupils and teachers.

This meant they would not be allocated resources this year, and that data collected last year could not be sent to the department of basic education in January, as required.

But provincial education spokesperson Loyiso Pulumani said pupils’ and teachers’ data were recovered from back-ups.

“No data that could affect service delivery was lost. It is true that some 2017 data could not be sent to the department in January, but this did not have any financial or service delivery impact,” he said.

Sources said senior officials spent R2 million on IT experts to try to recover the information, which could have been avoided if they had acted on warnings.

“The greatest risk to the department was the unprecedented growth in the volumes of data to be managed. IT experts inside and outside the department warned about the risks, and the department acted to address them,” he said.

Among the casualties was the department’s Education Management Information Systems, which holds information about schools and the SA School and Administration Management System used to avoid paying for fictitious pupils and teachers.

“After almost two months, we could recover between 70%-80% of data, including data previously thought to be irrecoverable,” the report stated, adding that the “incident could have been avoided with appropriate remedial actions proposed 12 months ago”.

These actions included that servers in East London and the department’s Zwelitsha headquarters be monitored for capacity and maintained by experienced engineers only.

They also recommended a disaster recovery site be established, and that an IT official in the department, who warned his bosses about the danger, be put in charge of the system.

In July last year, the department hired Sizwe IT Group and they found two servers were “physically switched off” in East London, which caused capacity problems.

Another IT company commissioned to investigate possible negligence, hacking or sabotage around the data loss found no evidence of “deliberate human actions”.

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