As an Indonesian parent, Norman Ganto’s biggest concern is for his children. He fears they may not be able to compete academically with students from other countries later in life — like in college, for example, when it actually counts. Indonesia may have one of the largest education systems in the world, but according to a recent landmark report, the archipelago’s school system ranked dead last in terms of quality. With this problem in mind, many Indonesian parents know they must take it upon themselves to ensure their kids get the skills to succeed in life. Often, it means communicating closely with local teachers every step of the way.
Norman is the founder and CEO of a new startup called Bulletinboard. According to him, the product is simple, practical, and solves a real need, yet surprisingly, he claims it has no competition in the local market.
Bulletinboard is a mobile app and online tool for parents and teachers to come together and stay up-to-date on students’ progress. As the name implies, teachers can post homework assignments and reports for the community to access in the same way they would use a physical bulletin board. The app lets parents communicate directly and privately with teachers, as well as send out broadcasts that are relevant to all members — for example, the date and preparations needed for a class field trip.
When asked if this product was truly solving a problem, Norman answers, “Did you know teachers sometimes spend hours writing the same thing repeatedly on papers for each student? […] Also, sometimes teachers in Indonesia sometimes entrust second-graders to bring home important information to their parents. This is inefficient, and often parents don’t get the messages.” With Bulletinboard, Norman adds, parents also don’t have to rely on phone call relays from one parent to another. There’s also no need to join a public and chaotic Line, Whatsapp, or Blackberry Messenger group that will inevitably get filled with junk and irrelevant chatter.
See: Ruangguru wants to overhaul online-to-offline education in Indonesia, gets funding from East Ventures“Emails [and] Whatsapp, these are great tools. However, they were not designed to accommodate school needs,” suggests Ade Wicaksono, CMO of Bulletinboard. “Not everyone has push notifications, emails get mixed with work and personal emails, chat messenger groups often transform into a forum for parents talking about other things, and can become a nuisance for teachers.”
Cutting down on irrelevant chatter
To use the app, teachers have to create a class and invite parents to join. Parents can also search by the teacher’s name, class name, or class code. Once parents join the class, private one-on-one communication may begin. The firm says Bulletinboard saves paper and time, while enabling parents to be more engaged with their children’s school activities. The method of communication also prevents parents from contacting teachers during off hours. Teachers can see which parent has read the message, so there should be no excuse for parents to miss out on information, the pair suggests.
In Indonesia, Bulletinboard has a lot of indirect competitors — like Line and Whatsapp — but also more direct competitors from schools trying to build this product themselves. According to Norman, many schools think they can make an app like Bulletinboard solely for their institution. However, this is much easier said than done, and schools often fail to execute. With Bulletinboard, he says, parents, teachers, and students have the freedom to switch schools. It’s not necessary for the schools themselves to adopt the product, as it’s completely the teacher’s prerogative.
Bulletinboard also sees many international competitors with similar offerings. Some of the most notable names include Remind: Safe Classroom Communication, Edmodo, ClassDojo, and TeacherKit. Indonesians can also download these apps, however, Norman says he hopes his firm’s localized strategy and growing network can make Bulletinboard the platform of choice for local teachers.
Currently, Bulletinboard is a free app on both iOS and Android. The firm is waiting to gain a critical mass of users before it thinks about how to monetize. The brand new app launched in mid-July and Norman says it already has several classrooms on board and active. Norman and Ade recently appeared in Hong Kong at the RISE 2015 tech conference to showcase their product.
“The paradigm in Indonesia is that mobile technology is social media and games,” explains Norman. “I want to change this. I want our educators and parents to embrace technology as a tool to build not only their own capacity, but more importantly, our children’s.”
Editing by Osman Husain and Steven Millward; classroom image by Charles Wiriawan
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