Whenever typhoons hit the Philippines – which is frequently – the first question that pops into students’ heads is, “Are classes suspended?” Getting the right answer to this can be quite challenging. Local government and school announcements on the radio and TV come in trickles. Parents resort to calling other parents or the school landline, which may be flooded by inquiries. In the end, some students opt to brave the bad weather and go to their schools just to be sure.
“Every student shares the same pain and we are solving this problem,” says Keith Lumanog, founder of Philippine startup iSkwelahan.
iSkwelahan, which alludes to eskuwelahan, the Filipino term for school, is a mass notification system that allows schools to reach their students via SMS in seconds – whether it’s about a time-sensitive situation, an event, or the rollout of a new policy.
It’s simple to use: school administrators sign up for free and add their students as contacts. The contacts can be divided into groups, giving schools the ability to organize their students into lists and send messages to two or more groups at the same time.
iSkwelahan charges PHP 175 (US$3.92) per student per semester for this service. Students would have to pay for this as part of their school tuition.
“We ask the schools to include ‘SMS broadcast registration’ as part of the enrollment process. We only ask for the email addresses, mobile phone numbers, and colleges or departments of the students when they sign up,” adds Lumanog.
iSkwelahan has obtained a license from the Philippines’ National Telecommunications Commission to operate nationwide, since regulations against bulk SMS sending are in place in order to thwart spammers. “Bulk SMS is illegal,” Lumanog explains. “Regular SIM cards are limited to one message every three seconds. Telcos have their own SMS broadcasting systems, but they’re limited to their networks only. We can send to all Philippine mobile networks at the same time.”
He says each message they send out bears the name of the school as sender to assure the students and their parents that it’s not spam and comes from a valid source. “Parents will never trust their child’s safety to a random text from a regular number.”
iSkwelahan also acts as a feedback mechanism for schools. The platform provides each school with a nine-digit number to which their students may send comments or inquiries.
Currently, more than 12,000 students are enrolled in the platform, while over 400,000 SMS have been sent in the last six months. iSkwelahan aims to sign up at least 50,000 students when the next school year opens in June.