For years, it’s been common for schools to utilise text messaging/SMS as their primary communication channel for parents. Whether for a school closure or an upcoming sports day, many educational establishments have relied on SMS messaging to get a quick, succinct message out to parents or guardians of the entire pupil base.
And until now, it’s been a pretty solid solution to what seems a simple problem. However, a new age is dawning.
Before we get into the school communication revolution - let’s recap with a bit of history.
Short message service (SMS) text messaging can be traced back to 1984 - when the concept was developed Friedhelm Hillebrand and Bernard Ghillebaert as part of the Franco-German GSM cooperation. It was here that they first identified the need to limit messages to 160 characters - so that messages could fit into existing signalling formats.
The very first SMS message was sent on the 3rd December, 1992 by Neil Papworth, a test engineer for Sema Group in the UK. Finnish network Radiolinja became the first to offer a commercial SMS service in 1994, and although the technology experienced slow growth to begin with, by 2007, it was the most widely used mobile data service, frequently used by 74% of mobile phone users worldwide. Despite the obvious social impact of text messaging, SMS has also been employed for a variety of uses, from emergency services to reporting security concerns. In a number of ways, SMS is an incredibly convenient, quick and easy way to communicate with someone. You don’t need to be “free” at the same time, as you do with phone calls, and with the advent of software allowing to send automated, mass messages to a large group of people, it’s a lot less time consuming for the person trying to communicate the message too.
The benefits of SMS being clear, we have to ask ourselves - why are schools still relying on technology which was invented before the World Wide Web? With schools across the globe embracing the full gamut of innovative technology - from tablets to virtual reality - how is it they’re still limited to 160 characters?
There is another way - the way of the app. How can an app unlock better parental communication you ask? Let’s take a look at the benefits.
Technology has moved on quite a lot since the first SMS text was sent in 1992. 2008 saw the rise of the mobile app and brought with it a flurry of dedicated messaging apps, including WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. As of 2015, 30 billion messages were being sent over WhatsApp per day, a staggering 50% increase on the approximately 20 billion text messages sent. Those numbers are hard to argue with, and in the context of your school, it’s undeniable - parents are using apps more and more often. They’re likely more accustomed to using messaging apps than they are to using SMS. Some of them may not actually use text messaging at all. Leveraging app-based parental communication within your school can help you reach higher levels of parent engagement by harnessing an environment they’re used to.
As I mentioned earlier in the article, back in ‘84 SMS was developed to slot neatly in to existing telephony and use existing signals. That meant limiting it to 160 characters. This can be challenging enough on a personal level, but if you want to get a meaningful and informative message out to parents, what are you to do? Not only that, but SMS can cost a school up to 6p per message, so sending multiple messages out to the entire parent base isn’t always an option. With app-based messaging, these character limitations are removed, and you’re free to send as long a message as you like. Depending on the platform being used, you can also attach multimedia - images, videos or or interactive features like forms and polls.
Typically, SMS communication from schools to parents is very much one-way, broadcast style - either as a limitation of the technology or due it to being a cost to the parent to respond. On a similar note, many school text messaging tools also use randomly generated numbers to send the message each time as a cost-saving strategy, meaning even if two-way communication is possible, you can’t keep it all in the same message thread. In-app messaging removes this barrier, making it much easier to foster a two-way conversation where the parent can easily and instantly engage with the message they have received, as well as being able to see all previous communication in one thread. From the school’s perspective, this also makes it easier to track and monitor the performance of parental engagement activities.
By bringing your messaging services into an app, you also get the opportunity to consolidate and integrate all of your communication with parents, including forms, announcements and updates into one place. Having this central point of contact and information is not only likely to drive higher levels of engagement, it’s also helpful for your admin staff too. Messages an updates no longer need to be duplicated and reposted across various platforms, and by using features like smart forms, you decrease your reliance on paper-based communication too. Gone are the days of the dreaded permission slip crumpled up at the bottom of the child’s school bag, never to be seen again!
An app-based approach to school communication is a step towards achieving great parental engagement. Better parental engagement leads to better outcomes for everyone - the school, the parent and most importantly - the child and their learning experience.
Daniel Woodcock is Managing Director at Weduc - Smart Communication.