Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Improving Education… the Power is In Your Hands

One entrepreneur has a vision for improving the nation’s pass rates by harnessing the power of technology and parental involvement

Salah ElBaba came to Cape Town for a holiday in 2003 and ended up marrying a local, moving here permanently and becoming a very successful tech entrepreneur.

Salah, whose exotic name comes from his Lebanese father, originates from London and started life as a partner in a very successful UK recruitment company where he remained for twenty years. His last two years there were spent developing an online reminder service for universities to help students keep track of tests and assignments; this experience was to come in handy shortly after he decided to visit South Africa on holiday.
“I originally planned on visiting Cape Town for two weeks, but ended up staying for six weeks, during which time I met my wife-to-be, Irene. I knew I wanted to marry her and live in Cape Town so I went back home to wrap things up and a month later was back in Cape Town. I proposed to her the day I landed and we were married a year later.”
Salah is someone who knows a good thing when he sees it. He’s also decisive enough to take hold of his dream and make it his own. “I wanted to make a difference in this beautiful country I had now made my new home, and I had an idea of a way to help schools communicate more effectively to parents using sms's.” In March 2004 he met Andre Roux and together they started SMSWEB, a company that now has more than 550 schools nationally using their service.

Parental involvement improves student performance

Many studies have shown the impact of parental involvement in learner pass rates. One study’s results indicated that school, family, and community partnership practices can significantly decrease chronic absenteeism, even after school level and prior rates of absenteeism are taken into account. In particular, communicating with families about attendance, celebrating good attendance with students and families, and connecting chronically absent students with community mentors measurably reduced students’ chronic absenteeism from one year to the next. Also, schools that conducted a greater total number of attendance-focused activities were more likely to decrease the percentage of students who missed twenty or more days of school each year. (http://www.adi.org/journal/fw04%5CSheldon%20&%20Epstein.pdf)

“We will send over 19 million SMS’s in 2013 and reach over a million parents,” says Salah. Parents receive messages from the school via SMS, email, social media or instant messaging, telling them about key events or important information pertaining to their child. Our schools tell us that “Parents love receiving these notifications and being on top of what’s happening. We filter our messages by grade, subject, gender, extra curriculum and even language so our messages are targeted and specific to each child. We’ve seen truancy reduced, school fees paid on time, as well as general discipline improve now that parents don’t have to rely on us sending a note home with the child,” says Salah

Salah recently announced the launch of his new product EduCals which allows parents to see their school’s calendar live on their phone, tablet or PC, updated in real time. “The logical next step in the evolution of our vision was for us to create an online calendar service that allows schools to add events like exams, tests, assignments, homework or sports days into the calendar, and allows parents to synchronise their child’s calendar with their phone/tablet/laptop/computer using MS-Outlook, Google Calendar, iCalendar (Apple), or any other calendar service around,” says Salah. “As a father of three I saw how much Irene battled with coordinating our diary with that of each child’s school curriculum, which led me to the idea of EduCal.”

I can’t wait to have my children’s school calendars on my iPhone,” says entrepreneur and mother of two Sonja D. “I get pages of notes and events from each teacher and spend hours pouring over them trying to figure out where each child needs to be on what day and at what time. Balance that with my meetings and work load and you have a recipe for disaster, with kids being left waiting or appointments being missed.”

“Every time I ask my teenage son about homework and tests he says he’s done it or he has none,” says Sonja. “Now I get a reminder on my phone and make sure I take the time to sit with him and help him with anything he’s battling with, which will definitely improve his marks now and his career prospects later.”

EduCal integrates seamlessly with SMSWEB, giving schools a powerful way to reach out to parents to keep them in the loop with important events. It also reduces the amount of admin that goes into running a school, making it quicker, easier and cheaper for schools to communicate with parents.

“We’re going to take education in South Africa to the next level,” says Salah. “Eventually calendar reminders will also contain digital content that is aligned with the curriculum so parents will be able to open the course content and review the work with the child. It will also contain videos to online training resources, like Khan Academy, so parents will be able to actively participate and direct their child’s education without relying entirely on teachers to do so.”

South Africa has hundreds of thousands of children whose parents are not actively involved in their schooling. Eventually, EduCal will be able to fulfil the role of reminding them of homework, as well as providing course content digitally.

“Technology is the solution for the challenges education faces in South Africa, and those technologies have to take into account that not everyone uses smart phones, although that number is ever on the increase,” says Salah. “Parents don’t need to have a smart phone to receive these reminders, but can elect to receive them via whichever channel suits them best be it SMS, instant messaging like BBM, Mxit, WeChat or viaEemail or Social Media. We’re blown away by the feedback we’ve received from principals, teachers and parents alike. We set out to make a difference in South Africa and we can happily say that we are doing just that, one pupil at a time.”

Connect with Salah ElBaba on:

Call (021) 914 4681 or 0861 767 932
SMSWeb´s official site
EduCal’s official site
LinkedIn profile

Article by Dylan Kohlstädt: Shift ONE

1 comment:

  1. http://theasideblog.blogspot.in/2013/03/speak-truth-to-power-student-voice.html?showComment=1375525828482#c61909848705651033