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1 May 2019

“Please use SMS in schools!”: A parent’s plea

Schools are using a mix of emails, apps, websites, apps and paper notices in the school bag to keep parents notified. At times it feels overwhelming and it’s hard to keep up.

So why aren’t more schools using SMS – a proven fast and reliable way to communicate particularly in urgent cases – to contact parents?

The challenge: Contacting working parents

Recently I collected my kids from after-school-care and was berated for not answering my phone or responding to voice messages that afternoon while at work. Apparently one of my kids hadn’t arrived by 4pm and staff were – understandably – concerned about his whereabouts. They hadn’t been able to contact me by calling and leaving a voice message. The school has a policy of using private numbers so even if I had glanced at my phone, I wouldn’t have known who was calling or leaving messages.

Unfortunately, our school does not send SMS messages, even though with SMS, I need only glance at my phone to see it’s a message from school to know that it’s important.

This made me wonder why schools were not using SMS more, so I asked around to see how other parents felt.

We don’t answer the phone anymore

I work in a modern office where there are no landlines, but although mobile phone is the best way to contact me, I can’t answer during meetings or if the timing is poor.

I’m not alone in failing to answer my phone. Millennials are leading the trend of not using phones for voice calls. Of the millennials surveyed here, 63 percent find texting is less disruptive than voice calling and 53 percent generally prefer texting to calling.

As these are the parents of the future, schools will need to adapt to their ways of communicating.

The survey also found that 19 percent of surveyed millennials admitted they never check voicemail! For me to listen to the message requires no less than seven taps, so small wonder I don’t listen to a message during a busy work day.

Another parent, Rohan Wood, appreciates that his school sends SMS messages on a regular basis, for example, when buses are running late or his child hasn’t arrived at school.

There’s an app for that (but we wish there wasn’t)

Many schools are investing in apps that often don’t deliver what they promise.

For example, my kids’ previous school used an app for all notices. As well as a clunky interface and poor user experience, notifications were so prolific that most parents switched them off.

Father of one, Rick Measham, shares my reservations about apps for school messages:

“Our school uses an app, which means we have to go and LOOK for any notices. Until I installed the actual app I had to log into their website to read anything. My problem with it as a communication platform is that it’s yet another app I have to install. And if I don’t have it installed there are absolutely no real-time messages.”

The statistics confirm our dwindling love affair with apps. More than half of consumers don’t download any apps in a month. We tend to use the same seven to 10 apps constantly, very quickly deleting those we don’t like (21 percent of users abandon an app after just one use).

SMS use cases in education

Confirmation of parent/teacher interviews times

Parent/teacher interviews must run like clockwork. With only 10 to 15 minutes per child over several hours, no-shows – and especially late arrivals – can really throw out the schedule. Integrate SMS with your scheduling system for automated reminders via SMS that improve timeliness and increase attendance.

Event or holiday reminders

Between fundraisers, sports events, themed days, Book Week, holidays and many other events, the school calendar is extremely busy. Help parents keep on top of these with bulk SMS that notifies the entire student population or target specific classes for a class event. Parents will thank you for any assistance you can provide in keeping on top of a hectic schedule!

Following up absentee students

Automatically notify parents when students are absent without notice.

Andre Bester explains how SMS messages from his daughter’s high school help him: “They send me a message if she is not at school which, for the parent of a challenging child, is gold. You can then do whatever you need to – whether that’s look for the child, try to call them, or text them. You can’t always answer the phone. You might be driving, in a meeting or something similar. A text message gives you the information immediately and you know exactly what it’s about. You can then make a judgement call whether it is something required to act on urgently, or if it can wait for later.”

Broadcast messages

Send bulk SMS messages to notify parents of information such as system outages or phone lines not working. In the case of practice emergency drills, send alerts to notify parents, especially those living locally, that this is purely a drill. (Or parents will arrive at the school – I know, I’ve seen it happen!)

“Our school uses SMS for wider notices, such as when phones or email are down: this is helpful,” says Julian Smith.

Emergencies

Send emergency notifications to thousands of parents with just a click of the mouse. In the case of school lockdowns, all parents can be notified immediately and informed of emergency procedures.

Brooke McGlashan says: “The school has sent SMS to warn of a nearby bushfire to the school and once of a school lockdown regarding a stranger in the grounds. I like SMS more as I never pay enough attention to the app. I have too many apps and often don’t notice that there is a notification, so SMS is better.”

Easy, one-tap payments

Many schools are still using cash in the envelope to pay for excursions or special days. I never have the right change, and this also creates work – often parent volunteers – to process payments and organise cash change.

SMS can be used to authorise these and other payments. Parents register once with their credit card details, and thereafter simply click ‘P’ in response to a text with the details of the amount due and the type of payment. Include a short trackable link to the school or other website for more information if necessary.

My kids’ current school uses one app for notifications, but a different app for payments! How much easier would it be to simply click ‘yes’ to an SMS to handle all school payments?

Our plea to schools: Please use SMS!

The good news is that my missing son was located, but busy parents like me are struggling with the volume of communication from their children’s school and, between the various communication channels used, it can be difficult to pinpoint the urgent messages.

So, my plea to the education industry on behalf of parents everywhere? Please use SMS as part of your communication strategy!

Find out how SMS can help the education sector.

 

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