Most parents rely on smartphones and tablets to meet their everyday needs, whether to connect with family, friends and colleagues, do the banking, pay bills, exchange emails or schedule events.
‘I am married to my iPhone and increasingly use my iPad at work in place of paper,’ said Sophia, mother of three. ‘They are a huge part of my day-to-day life. I use my phone for banking and all transactions, shopping, etc.’
Parents expect interactions with schools to be no different. ‘The earlier schools incorporate the reality of what happens in the real world the better,’ said David, who has three children at Primary School.
‘It’s an immensely important part of our lives that we can use technology to communicate/manage our kids at school,’ said Chris, who has one child in High School and another in Primary. ‘I honestly don’t know how parents used to be able to keep up with what was going on at school before online technology.’
While some schools are beginning to adopt technology, it is clear that technology in schools varies considerably, which might be as little as an emailed newsletter or blog to extensive portals and online systems that cover things like attendance, fee payments, school assignments, uniform and canteen orders, alerts, calendar notifications, parent-teacher interview bookings, permission slips and emergency details. Some also offer mobile apps, but again these vary in functionality.
I honestly don’t know how parents used to be able to keep up with what was going on at school before online technology.
‘Schools need to be up to date otherwise students and parents get frustrated… I appreciate that change takes time, but our school has only just got a smartphone app and even that is very limited in its functionality,’ said Tessa, whose fourteen-year-old attends High School in Victoria
‘It drives me nuts when any of the extracurricular activities require either cash payments or receipts printed and presented to verify payment. So archaic and a nuisance,’ said Sophia.
The inconsistency of technology in schools can be particularly frustrating for parents who have children at multiple schools. While the high school Chris’s daughter attends uses an online system for newsletters, timetables, grades, teachers notes, school assignments, late/absent notes, permission forms and online payments, the primary school Chris’s son attends has only just introduced emailed newsletters. ‘We’d often have to go digging for newsletters in bags,’ he said.
It is a stark contrast to Chris’s experience of having an online system in place at the high school. ‘The poor communication is very frustrating. We are often informed of problems at parent-teacher night after reports have been written and we have no chance of addressing any issues,’ he said. Chris expressed annoyance with the lack of information and communication from the school, and the need to attend the school in person for things that parents could easily perform online with the right systems in place.
Schools can begin to meet parents’ needs by using online technology for their day-to-day interactions, such as newsletters, events, forms, ordering and making payments, managing permission slips and absentee notices. Mobile apps like School Stream can provide information on the go, for instance about the school bus or canteen. Parents can receive instant alerts, and provide permission slips and absentee notices without worrying about losing paper or having to telephone the school. Parents can save events directly to their online calendars, and if they do need to reach the school, contact information is only a finger touch away.
To be in line with how parents use technology every day, interacting with parents’ mobile devices isn’t just smart, it’s common sense.