School messages that go missing are puzzling in era of instant communication

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 September, 2011, 12:00am


I am new to Hong Kong, and I don't seem to get much communication from my daughter's primary school. She used to bring home a weekly newsletter in her bag from her last school, and I have found out that I have missed at least one important event. Is this typical in Hong Kong?

I am very surprised to receive your query. The situation you describe is atypical of schools in Hong Kong and therefore puzzling. Schools worldwide have realised that clear lines of communication with the full range of their stakeholders are essential to form meaningful partnerships and to ensure the smooth running of the school year.

Strategies range from electronic communication to the more traditional paper-based newsletter you mention. However, the emphasis is now on the former, as schools try to model sound environmental practices and appreciate the extra reliability of sending messages over the internet, where there is less chance of them being lost or soaked to oblivion if a water bottle - or worse - leaks into a school bag.

Schools now generally have comprehensive websites which contain links to all kinds of useful information. It is quite usual for newsletters sent by the principal or class teachers to be posted there. Schools do vary the regularity of these, so you should ask whether they are weekly, for example.

Though it has become more unusual for newsletters containing important dates to be sent on paper in squashed school bags, it does still happen. In some cases, such as details about trips or for medical information, it is essential, as these usually have a reply slip that needs to be signed by a parent or guardian.

If your daughter has been provided with a school diary, this simple device should come home every day and highlight major dates, while giving a straightforward means for you to communicate with her teacher and vice versa. Do ask about this.

The number of teachers regularly using e-mail is growing. Although it is best to tackle controversial or complicated issues through a direct discussion, e-mails can be a valuable conduit for information and opinions at times.

Many schools also use online learning platforms accessible by students and parents that will contain lots of up-to-date curriculum information and even forums on which views may be shared. Check this out.

From your inquiry, it seems as if you may not even have received an invitation to a parents' evening. Typically, these may be general information sessions, conferences with the teacher, or workshops explaining areas of the academic programme. This omission would be particularly mysterious as it is extremely rare nowadays for any place of learning to keep parents at arm's length. Visit the school, find out what is really going on and ask specifically about the available channels of communication.

You have a right to high quality information about your daughter's school and how you can relate to it. Although practices vary from place to place, for the moment at least, you are not receiving what you need. You will probably find there will be one or more reasons you haven't been fully informed, but if the situation really is as you describe, then you may prefer to consider another school.

Julie McGuire teaches at an international school