Class action: hard to find the note from teacher in today's electronic world

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 January, 2013, 2:44pm

My child's school is increasingly communicating with me electronically. I no longer get notes, I get e-mails. Newsletters I could stick on the fridge are now attachments and homework is posted on a website I find hard to access. I tried to complain, but didn't feel I was listened to.

You are right to note a growing trend for schools to communicate with parents using the latest technology. There are good reasons for this.

First, communication can be speeded up as many parents can respond to an e-mail almost instantaneously using a mobile device. This give parents real-time information about school events or issues directly relating to their child. Of course, the same thing goes for you as a parent relaying information to the school.

Second, schools are trying to reduce consumption and distribution of paper.

However, as with any change, not everything goes as well as could be hoped. Parents might miss an important e-mail that is buried in the dozens they might receive each day. A parent who claimed to have received no information at all from a school eventually discovered that a program was inadvertently labelling the messages as spam.

Newsletters now also often come via e-mail. The advantage of this is that many editions are presented in a very professional fashion, complete with world-class graphics and photographs. While these can be visually pleasing, some parents prefer to be able to cut out various sections relevant to them and put things like important dates on the fridge or a family notice board. The problem arises in some households when a printer is not available, and without a physical, visual reminder, sometimes things get forgotten.

School websites often include some form of learning platform. Often this is the vehicle that transmits and processes homework and other vital bits of information. These platforms are only as good as the content that is put on them and their effectiveness can vary according to updating and maintenance conducted to ensure that the information is timely and relevant.

When they run well, these platforms are packed with wonderful resources and exciting links to appropriate internet material. Students and parents can log on at their convenience and access all manner of data that can not only help with home learning but also stimulate an interest in students' knowledge; a much underrated feature of some modern curricula.

Your concerns are very real ones. However, to embrace the new world there has to be adaptation from all involved. On the one hand, schools should welcome productive feedback about their communication systems, both positive and negative. You say your child's school appears not to be doing this. I wonder if you have checked to make sure they have understood exactly what you are trying to say. Have you been clear about what your issues are and how they might be addressed?

Perhaps you might think of ways of getting what you need from the current methods the school uses to interact with parents and see if you are taking advantage of all the opportunities the technology affords. Speak with other parents who may have tips and ways of manipulating the data. Speak with your child; children are usually more capable with the application of technology than their parents.

Paper-based communication will never go away. In some cases it is preferable. However, we cannot, and probably should not, go back to the past. Even mixing physical with electronic methods is likely to cause more confusion in the long run.

And with e-communication we will all be free of the horror of delving into messy school bags and pulling out soggy notices weeks or even months after they were meant to be delivered.

Change is not all bad.

Julie McGuire teaches at a Hong Kong primary school