With changes in technology and increased access to devices, many schools are now turning away from relying on the more ‘classic’ methods of communication. What parent hasn’t experienced the frustrations of forgotten permission slips, lost notices and the general niggling feeling that the stray piece of paper at the bottom of a school bag may have been important?

Emma Hatton’s three-year-old son Freddy attends daycare, while her six-year-old daughter Sienna is at primary school. Freddy’s daycare uses the Storypark app to communicate with parents. Hatton receives notifications when a ‘story’ about Freddy has been uploaded and can then view, comment on and share the story.

The app helps her know what Freddy has been doing during the day and allows her to build on this when he gets home.

“If I know they went out searching for bugs, I might read him a bedtime story about bugs. This could prompt him to recall what he learned or saw or enjoyed about the bug hunt, or ask questions he hadn’t thought of earlier.”

Sienna’s school does not communicate through an app; however, this does not create any issues for Hatton.

“I make sure to touch base with her teacher at least once a week during pick-up or drop-off and we can talk about anything that might be going on. My daughter’s six so she can articulate any issues she’s having as well. No matter what platform you have, as long as you’re engaging, it works pretty well.”

A double-edged sword?

Newer technology can facilitate reliable and timely transmission, a two-way communication stream and saving time at both ends of the wire. However, some feel it makes communication between schools and parents more complicated than necessary.

Alicia Harris’s children’s primary and secondary schools both use an online portal to communicate with parents. She says the idea is good – in theory.

“It’s like a one-stop-shop for everything I need and should know, but it puts the responsibility of communication in the parents’ hands rather than the school. You know, ‘I put it on the portal…’.  I have so many portals and apps and passwords though and once you have kids at different schools there’s a whole new portal to remember and access,” she says.

“I’m just so overrun with information and questions and payments and requests that I just check out from time to time. I am sure this has happened all through the ages before technology connected us.”

Harris would prefer the schools used Facebook a little better for communication, but says the issue may be as much about the fatigue of parenting and working as it is about schools’ communication methods.

“Neither of them really do, but I wonder if that’s because that’s how I have got used to receiving my information. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a portal that multiple schools could use? I could use one login and have access to both kids – this probably already exists!”

The biggest provider of school-related communication apps in New Zealand, School Apps, began five years ago when a Hawke’s Bay school approached a development agency to create a communication tool.

Another app, Skool Loop, was created by Kaikoura-based parent Sharlene Barnes after her son introduced her to the existence of smartphone apps in 2012.

“Getting permission forms back to teachers is no longer the paper trail it used to be. All you need to do is sign the form with a swipe of your finger and it will electronically notify your child’s school or teacher that they are allowed to go on that field trip – the form for which your child may have lost to the abyss of the backpack a week ago,” says Barnes.

With different schools adopting different channels to suit their communities, perhaps we are in a transition stage between old and new communication methods between schools and parents. So is it time to cut the cord? Maybe hold the phone on that one.

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