COMMUNICATION between home and school is crucial to the success of any educational model, but the 21st century and its focus on technology have all but obliterated the days when a teacher would write a note in a child's book. That's where Mark Trought and his School SMS messaging service come in.
Designed to strenghten the link between teacher and parent, the service is said to, among other things, make it easier for educators to send standard mesages to many parents in a technological flash.
Launched some two years ago, Trought, who is director of operations for the service, has successfully introduced it to over 50 schools across the island. Principals are able to send texts, fax or email messages into the School SMS 24-hour contact centre, which are then sent out to respective parents or students within minutes.
"Jessie Ripoll had an issue with a chemical spill out at Central Sorting Office the other day and within minutes, the principal could have asked us to send a message to parents to ask them to come and pick up their children. Within 15 minutes that information was out and the parents could actually go and pick up their children or start the whole process of getting the child before the normal time," Trought explained as he sought to show the benefits that can be derived from subscribing to the service.
Another example he gave was the case of Manchester High School, which won the 2012 All Together Sing competition by securing more votes than all the other schools in the competition.
"While they were doing their campaigning, we were actively sending out messages to the parents encouraging them to not only support the group, but also to get friends to support," Trought said.
Trought also recalls one case where a child was locked in at school and called his mother who contacted the School SMS service call centre. The contact person at the centre then called the school principal, whose phone number was one of several hundreds in their database.
He pointed to the low attendance of parents at PTA meetings and asserted that his company would seek to address this by ensuring that parents get messages directly from the school. Currently, most institutions at the early childhood and primary school level send home a typed note with students to their parents, however, Trought said in a lot of cases parents do not receive these notes. He also pointed out that given the number of single parent household in Jamaica today, only one parent would see these notes. The School SMS service, on the other hand, would send text messages to both parents.
"If we increase the communication between school and parents by making it more efficient, making it much more quicker, making it much more convenient, parents would be better able to participate in school activities," Trought noted.
"Even when school is in recess when you can't make contact by giving a note to a child to send to the parents, you can send it directly," he added.
Trought's company currently employs eight persons full time, a cadre of part time workers who do data entry, as well as overseas partners who assist with the technical aspect of the service. The company charges a one-time fee of $300 annually per mobile number and an additional $150 for any extra phone number. This money can either be paid to the school once they have subscribed, or to the company, which is located in Parkington Plaza in Kingston. Along with the fee, a parent would have to submit an authorisation form which requires details such as the name of their child, the school he/she attends and the phone number/s to which they would like messages to be sent.
Schools that are signed up with the service also benefit from receiving a free school website designed by the School SMS service as well as hosting space.
"We want to ensure that every school is online and that parents can see what is going on at the school that their child is at. If there are events at the school, they can see what's going on and they can be basically kept abreast," Trought said.
Trought said a number of rural schools, especially, have come on board and he feels this is because of the low Internet penetration in some parishes which makes it difficult for school administrators to send email to parents, or vice versa.
"We operate on a 24-hour basis and what this means is that on a Sunday, which has happened many times, the principal would call us and say send a message to the parents because something important has happened," he pointed out.
Trought noted that subscribers can also promote fundraising events and seminars through the School SMS programme to other schools or parents at no extra cost.
The director said they hope to partner with the Ministry of Education in coming months.
The company will also be rolling out an attendance management service in select schools this month so that parents and school administrators can better monitor the attendance of students.
This project will aim to make ID cards offered by its partner schools bar code readable. Once a student swipes their ID cards at the security post at most institutions, then the time and date of attendance will be automatically recorded in the School SMS tracking software.
"So anytime a principal wants to pick up a profile on a student, he knows how many times he has been late, how many times he has not been to school and we are also looking to integrate it with our SMS software whereby, if a child fails to scan after the designated time to arrive at school, it sends a text message to the parents of these students," Trought said.