TalkingPoints: Increasing parents engagement through SMS

September 21, 2015 | Tech Nonprofits

TalkingPoints: Increasing parent engagement through an SMS communication platform

This is the ninth and last post in a weekly series covering each of Fast Forward’s nine tech nonprofits.

Millions of parents across the US are disconnected from their children’s academics – 59% of public school parents report never receiving a phone call home in 2012. The disconnect is not for lack of interest, but rather a multitude of barriers including work schedules, a lack of knowledge or understanding about the topics taught in school, and for many, language barriers between teachers and parents.

Many people know that socioeconomic status is a huge predictor of a student’s academic success, but parent engagement is actually twice as important, and parent-teacher engagement is the key to increasing parent-to-student engagement.

TalkingPoints provides teachers an easy way to regularly communicate with parents through SMS, allowing teachers to quickly and simply talk to parents even if the parents don’t have smartphones. Teachers can let parents know what was taught in class that day or suggest parent-student conversation starters (“talking points”), giving parents an easier avenue to become more involved in their children’s education.

Founder Heejae Lim talks to Fast Forward about her organization and why parent-teacher engagement is so important.

Why did you found TalkingPoints?

Education is the crux of social justice and it’s a way of making a level playing field, and I personally understand the importance of parent engagement. I also know technology has huge potential to help further education, but I don’t see it happening yet, especially because of the gap of technology accessibility by socioeconomic status and by age – less resourced families have limited access to internet or data which can be expensive, and older parents didn’t grow up with the same technology that we use today, so we have to be creative in how we use technology to reach them.

Why do you think multilingual support is so important to you?

Multilingual support is unbelievably important because it’s the basis of inclusion. I think a lot of non-English speaking parents get left out even if teachers try to be very communicative, and the whole point of technology being very inclusive doesn’t happen because of these language barriers, in addition to the issue of varied access to technology

I moved from Korea to England when I was 8, and I was lucky that my mom spoke enough English to interact with my teachers. But I saw my friends’ parents who didn’t speak English could not interact with the teachers, and I could see what a huge difference it made. I knew it wasn’t the parents – I went to Saturday Korean school with the same kids, and their parents were highly engaged when there were no language barriers.

What has been the most challenging aspect of running TalkingPoints so far?

I’m a solo entrepreneur, and it can be tough. I’m used to working on a team, especially during my time at McKinsey, and not having a consistent team to bounce ideas off of on a daily basis is hard. The big thing I’m focusing on now is recruiting and putting together a great team.

What does the ideal world look like to you in terms of education?

My ideal world is where every student has the opportunity to learn, grow, and succeed and feel supported by everyone surrounding them. Every teacher and family should feel like they have the resources and skills to do that. TalkingPoints will help teachers and families become real partners in providing that support, empowering every parent to have a voice in their children’s education, all based on trusting relationships that are driven by meaningful and impactful communication and connections.

Do you have any personal heroes that have inspired you?

My grade 5 teacher in Korean school in England, named Byung-gon, made a huge difference. I had recently moved to England and was struggling due to cultural and language differences, but Byung-gon helped me and a lot of other kids adjust to life in an English school. Looking back, he shared a similar vision of education leveling the playing field and that was driving his commitment to the sector.

Heejae Lim was recently featured on the Stanford Graduate School of Business homepage.