Parents Gateway is a one-stop, centrally coordinated app streamlining engagement between parents and schools, capable of direct mass communication of time-sensitive messages of high level of importance to all parents nationwide. With curriculum time saved, teachers previously burdened with onerous administrative work are free to focus on core teaching and to better meet students’ needs. Parents stressed by disparate admin processes for children in different schools can now manage all in one app.
Parents Gateway, a one-stop technological enabler with secure authentication via SingPass (the national digital identity) has a strong citizen-centric user design focus, with iteratively developed features and enhancements enabled by Agile Software Development Methodology. It was deployed nation-wide to all parents of school-going children aged 7 to 18 to enhance convenience for parents as well as improve the level of engagement with parents as our key partner and stakeholder in education.
In addition, it has also succeeded in eliminating many of the pain points highlighted by our teaching workforce – the frequent, frustrating, manual administrative process involving distribution, collection, collation and repeated reminders when engaging parents, through their children, using hardcopy forms. This has allowed our passionate teachers who genuinely desired to devote more time delivering quality lessons and nurturing students, to be better supported in their core roles.
Busy parents, especially those with children in different schools, were stressed by an onslaught of disparate administrative processes. Parents were, therefore, overwhelmed by different apps used by different schools, all seeking to meet the administrative needs of their children.
Enter Parents Gateway – the one app to rule them all!
The importance of parent involvement cannot be underestimated. Empirical evidence** suggests that parental involvement is strongly associated with children’s socio-emotional development and typical barriers to increased parental involvement in schools are time constraints among parents, a lack of awareness of opportunities to engage and a lack of communication between school and parents – all of which are resolved by Parents Gateway.
Built from end-user’s perspective through extensive customer journey mapping, Parents Gateway empowers effective school-home partnership
(i) its Parent-Centric Design (parents can view information pertaining to their children, consolidated and synced in one app, on-the-go, even if children attend different schools.)
(ii) leveraging on familiar user-behaviour of citizens (such as adding to calendar, in-app notifications, etc.)
(iii) teachers can now effortlessly track and monitor responses from parents within a shorter turnaround time
On 7 Feb 2020 when the government declared a heightened level of disease outbreak readiness (Dorscon Orange) for COVID-19 at the national level, more than 230,000 parents received notifications and instructions from MOE HQ via PG in a matter of seconds. The Travel Declaration feature allows schools to better track travel history and facilitate contact-tracing, allowing MOE to support the national effort of COVID-19 case management.
Focused Group Discussions were conducted with various stakeholders including school leaders and school administrative staff, parents, public sector agencies in the social and family sectors to understand real needs and determine the product roadmap. Thereafter, putting a Whole of Government lens on innovation by collaborating across government agencies to better deliver parent-targeted resources and services being provided, we embarked on the second tranche (Parents Gateway 2.0) – a daring enterprise of Service Journey Mapping across agencies, making Parents Gateway the forerunner in breaking down vertical silos of agencies and encouraging horizontal flow of information through inter-agency collaboration. The very success of Parents Gateway depended on its ability to string together services across various government agencies such as health records from the Ministry of Health, social programmes from the Ministries of Culture, Community & Youth and even pre-enlistment from Ministry of Defence.
Thus, Parents Gateway has become the gateway for dissemination of important messages from the Singapore Government to families and households: Another case in point would be the National Environment Agency (NEA) using Parents Gateway for its national campaign for dengue prevention – educating families on identifying symptoms and applying the "5-step Mozzie wipeout" – to eradicate the danger of dengue.
[** The Longitudinal Process of Early Parent Involvement on Student Achievement: A Path Analysis Momoko Hayakawa, Michelle M. Englund, Mallory N. Warner-Richter, Arthur J Reynolds NHSA Dialog. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2016 Nov 18.
Published in final edited form as: NHSA Dialog. 2013; 16(1): 103–126.]
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
FIRST AMONG EQUALS
• First-ever synergistic digitalisation aligned with “Smart Nation Singapore” – across 348 schools, MOE HQ, reaching to almost half a million parents
• Embarking on Service Journey inter-agency collaboration
• Government’s first foray into a large-scale experimentation on the use of Commercial Cloud and Open Source Technology.
• A first – parents manage all administrative functions in one app, even for children in different schools.
ADOPTION OF DESIGN THINKING LEAN STARTUP MODEL
• “Forever Beta” approach – responsive to changes – lean and agile to monitor, calibrate and fix issues quickly.
• Empowered by Agile Software Development Methodology, iteratively delivering citizen-centric design
• Prioritizing Minimal Viable Products (MVP) delivering solutions at the last responsible moment.
• In-house development, outsourced for maintenance – ensure Ops-Tech team channels efforts efficiently
• Data-driven decision-making for product development
• Data for policy-making
What is the current status of your innovation?
The Parents Gateway initiative undergirded by the 2 major principles of the Digital Government Blueprint under the Public Service Transformation drive – Digital to the Core, Serve with Heart – and firmly established in its mission-centricity has birthed Parents Gateway2.0. Enhancement-oriented, the Parents Gateway roadmap spans 2023 and beyond (MVP 5 to 12), aimed at providing massive value to its stakeholders – schools, parents, Ministry of Education and Whole-of--Government.
Parents Gateway2.0 – a one-stop, well-resourced, platform – is the result of radical rethinking of service delivery, comprising collaboration with different agencies to support parents at every stage so that they, in turn, can better nurture their children through their schooling years from Primary to Secondary to Tertiary levels. Consequently, parents are now better equipped with relevant knowledge of the processes, less frazzled by the stresses of parenting and much more empowered in their parenting journey.
Collaborations & Partnerships
It was multi-faceted collaborative effort between MOE HQ, GovTech, Public Service Division, School Leaders, Parents and Amazon Web Services.
Parents Gateway leveraged on Public Service Division’s Innovation Lab Digital Service Accelerator Programme to help define, design, test the idea and uncover needs. The Alpha version was rigorously tested in 66 Pilot Schools. Its success birthed the “Forever Beta” version for continuous improvement and incorporated SingPass authentication for security.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
With COVID-19, the government, schools and parents are grateful for digitalisation of Travel Declaration making digital central collation and data processing efficient, unlike the nightmare of collating hardcopy forms.
The novel "1 app for all their children in different schools" thrilled parents, no more worries about losing instructions or children misplacing letters from school.
Valuable usage data via the app can inform policymaking and trigger intervention measures by the government.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
Parents Gateway improves the quality of life for teachers, reducing administrative workload by 30 minutes weekly. Parents Gateway is estimated to save about 1,5 million man-hours a year of teachers’ workload.
The app has significantly levelled up 348 schools’ operations capabilities, moving from hardcopies to digital platform. Parents Gateway played its part in the National Agenda to mitigate Climate Change and in contributing to ASEAN’s carbon-reducing efforts, saving 91,607,754 sheets of paper since its launch (approximately 5,000 trees saved in 2019).
With outreach to the majority of parents of school-going age children and 100% of schools onboard enjoying swift, enhanced communication between schools and parents, Parents Gateway has been duly recognised and presented with 4 prestigious awards:
1. 2019 Public Sector Transformation Awards (One Public Service Award)
2. 2019 OpenGov Award
3. 2019 GovTech Impact Award
4. 2019 ASEAN ICT Award (2nd Runner-up)
Challenges and Failures
Despite the longdrawn problem of teachers burdened by onerous administrative workload, some schools were reticent in moving to a digital platform; others were comfortable with the current apps used and resistant to change, but the team persisted. The team’s experienced Education Officers and User Experience Designers visited schools to conduct research diligently so that the features planned for development are cutting edge and user-friendly. The passion of the team and the rapport built with the schools won them over. They also trained teachers and helmed schools’ briefings with parents to encourage onboarding.
Balancing technology with schools’ operational considerations was also key to getting buy-in. For instance, if parents had granted consent and then changed the input, schools' collated data may not be accurate. Hence, editing via the app past the deadline was disallowed. Some parents were unhappy. Education Officers had to engage such challenging parents and win them over.
Conditions for Success
Anchored on the principles of Design Thinking, a cross-functional Ops-Tech team of Software Engineers, UX Specialists, Business Analysts and Teachers engaged in extensive customer journey research. Using prototypes, leveraging on wireframes for stakeholders visualise to provide critical feedback, they built digital capabilities ensuring that Parents Gateway remains intuitive.
The success of this project is due to key partnership of teams from across Ops and Tech fields, at multiple levels working synergistically together with passion and a “dare-to-do” spirit. Strong leadership with project oversight at senior management level provided support and strategic direction, including securing funding support.
Compared to traditional use of servers, Open Source and Cloud technology reduced capital expenditure, proved cost-effective, allowing scalability.
The team’s commitment to free teachers to nurture the young while providing convenience to parents was also critical to success.
Within the organisation, Parents Gateway 2.0 was birthed, founded on the same vision, with the aim of reaching out to parents of younger children, at Kindergartens and Pre-Schools in Singapore.
To replicate Parents Gateway, the necessary ingredients are strong visionary leadership, digital capabilities, a cross-functional Ops-Tech team of Software Engineers, User Experience Specialists, Business Analysts and Education Officers engaged in extensive customer journey research, pertinent to that particular context/culture.
Incidentally, at the ASEAN ICT Awards where Parents Gateway was 2nd runner-up, delegates from The Philippines and Korea expressed interest in replicating Parents Gateway in their own nations to reach every parent at their municipality because they perceived that it was possible to replicate.
The ethos of Parent Gateway is centred around the spirit of Think Big, Start Small, Learn Fast.
Humble beginnings are not to be despised. We progressed from using low resolution (hand drawn on paper) to high resolution prototypes using software to create mock-up designs. The process was iterative and became more sophisticated as the requirements surfaced through the group of parents who gave feedback on the feel and tested process changes, sentiments etc and then moved to implementing the Alpha version.
Strong leadership with project oversight at senior management level needs to steer the team through support and strategic direction, and especially in securing funding support. At the same time, the team should have the liberty to be creative and propose ideas.
Selecting the right members for the team is important. They need to have resilience, mission-centricity, persistence, passion and compassion, empathy, be willing to suspend judgement while walking in the shoes of stakeholders to genuinely understand their concerns, have unwavering commitment to the common vision and be prepared to experience delayed gratification.
It is imperative to engage all stakeholders and get their buy-in even if it takes time because without consensus and cooperation, there would be unnecessary hurdles that hinder progress and affect the team’s morale.
With Parents Gateway replicating itself on different levels (currently replicating at Kindergarten and Pre-School levels), this one app that rules them all, is envisaged to become Singapore’s gateway to meet the needs of schooling and parenting at all levels.