Newspaper clipping – iol on line – 30 June 2008

SMS system helps schools, parents

Melanie Peters

Recent studies have painted a grim picture of South African schools. Many kids are involved in gangs or abuse alcohol and drugs and engage in unprotected sex. Truancy levels are high. And often, parents don’t know what their teenagers get up to at school.

But SMSweb offers a way for schools to notify parents of any relevant news, offering direct communication with each parent. About 250 schools across the country already use the service. In 2007 more than 4-million messages were sent to parents; in 2008, nearly 3-million have been sent already.

SMSweb managing director Salah Elbaba said the service was an early-warning system. In the past when a child misbehaved, the school would deal with it. If the situation warranted, a letter would be sent home to the parents. “Nine times out of ten the letter never got home and parents were blissfully unaware of what was happening. Our service – which sends an sms directly from the school to the parent’s cellphone – allows schools to easily and cost-effectively communicate every misdemeanour to parents so they can be involved in the discipline process straight away.”

The threat of telling the parents was often enough to get the child to behave. “A colleague recently signed his son’s school up to SMSweb and on telling his son that ‘daddy would now know when he was misbehaving in class,’ the boy was horrified.
We know of one school which, after introducing the system, sent a message to the parents of 40 pupils asking for them to call the school as their children had sat detention more than three times that month. The following month the figure dropped to 17 and the month thereafter to 10.
We have schools that have seen a drop in truancy of between 30 percent and 50 percent. Parents seem to think school is a place where their kids are safe from the outside world, but so often this perception is proven wrong. Parents need to have a more hands-on approach when it comes to their child’s school and the system we offer is one way that this can happen.
Parents need to work together with the teachers when it comes to discipline. If the teacher is able to send an SMS to a parent about a fight that may have involved their child, it is likely that the reinforced discipline through the parent supporting the teacher’s point of view will be effective,” said Elbaba.

Schools can use the service to communicate about issues other than discipline, so reducing phone bills and printing costs. When parents were better informed, more of them turned up for meetings. The SMSes had also improved the payment of schools fees as parents could be reminded to pay.