On average four children are reported missing in South Africa everyday, the actual figure is probably significantly higher according to the South African Centre for Missing and Exploited children. Every parent's worst nightmare becomes a reality daily and while 88% of children are found, the distress and pain parents and loved ones endure while searching for them is immense.
Many children are abducted on their way to or from school and in order to minimise that risk, the web based company, smsweb has come up with an innovative solution which keeps the school and parents in close, immediate contact, enabling both to be aware and informed of a child's whereabouts.
By offering an unlimited sms service for schools, staff can inform parents immediately when a child hasn't arrived at school and changes in extra curricular activities can easily be relayed eliminating the problem of children not being picked up on time.
"We have had an incredible response from the 200 schools using the system, all of them stating that the communication and interaction between teachers and parents has increased dramatically." says smsweb's MD Salah Elbaba, adding: "When a child does not arrive at school in time, the parent can be informed immediately and should the child be missing, the whole school and all parents can be informed with only one sms."
In addition, parents are immediately informed of all activities and changes, parent's evenings, fetes and school trips at the school, enabling them to participate in their child's school life on a far more informed level.
"We now inform parents of problems in class and good and not so good results of tests. It is a wonderful system for last minute changes in closing times. In a culture where pupils have to be fetched from school it enables us to inform parents of cancelled sports fixtures," says Fay du Croq, Deputy Principal of The Hill High School.
These became abundantly obvious during the recent strike action that beset the teaching profession. "Within the period of the strike, schools using the smsweb system sent out in excess of 1 million text messages, comparatively, 800,000 messages in total were sent out in 2006", says Elbaba.
An essential part of this service comes into play when a child fails to arrive at school and the parent is unaware of his or her whereabouts. "When a child goes missing, the most effective way of finding it is by getting the message out quickly and making a lot of people aware of it in the shortest possible time. With the smsweb system a school can reach all of its parents and any other relevant people at the push of a button, making it the most effective way of communication. People read their sms's, they don't always read or even get newsletters from their children, the sms service keeps parents up-to-date effortlessly and constantly." says Elbaba.
"The added bonus is that many of the schools using the system have noted a reduction in truancy and an increase in discipline simply because the children know that the school has a direct and immediate communication channel to their parents" he concludes.