Efforts to close the educational achievement gap have mostly focused on changes in the classroom. But since students spend 70% of their time outside of school, it makes sense to look outside the classroom too.
Research shows that when parents are actively involved in their children’s education, grades, test scores, graduation rates, and attendance go up. The federal government has identified family engagement in education as a key driver of student outcomes, particularly for English-language learners.
However, getting parents more engaged in schools is challenging, especially in low-income communities where English isn’t the first language. Lack of resources, scarce time, and language differences can be barriers to connecting with parents in a meaningful way.
The Novel Idea
Heejae Lim’s nonprofit organization, TalkingPoints, aims to connect teachers, students, and parents through a communication platform that translates text messages into seven languages. By overcoming the informational, cultural, and socioeconomic barriers between school and home, Lim hopes to narrow the achievement gap by increasing parent engagement in low-income communities.
Through a web platform, and soon on a mobile device, teachers use TalkingPoints to send parents text messages related to curriculum and other aspects of their child’s school experience. Over time, the content engine adapts as it gathers and responds to data, becoming more targeted in its usefulness based on the unique needs of each classroom. A dashboard tool also allows teachers to see what other educators are communicating, which messages are resonating, and how to communicate most effectively with parents using the platform.
Rather than solely offer parents and teachers a space to exchange text messages about school assignments, TalkingPoints also aims to build a bridge between home and classroom. “It’s a relationship-building tool that empowers parents to be real partners in their students’ education,” Lim says.
Events that occur at home, such as an older sibling moving out or a grandparent passing away, often impact a child’s behavior and schoolwork.
Other companies exist to connect parents and teachers but, Lim explains, they are “high-touch and high-cost,” requiring significant effort and time from parents. She thinks of TalkingPoints as a low-cost, low-effort approach that focuses on content. Lim formalized the idea for TalkingPoints in early 2014 during Startup Weekend Education, an event where teams work to launch startups. She went on to work with a group of teachers to pilot the concept in September 2014.
One of them, a middle school science teacher in San Diego, had struggled with sparse communication with the parents of her students. The teacher started using TalkingPoints to text with the mostly Spanish-speaking parents twice a week. These exchanges often evolved into conversations, building relationships that helped the teacher better understand her students and engage them more effectively in the classroom.
The parents that have participated in TalkingPoints’ pilot have liked it too. “Each time I receive a text message, it’s like a little surprise, like opening a gift, of being able to have a little information [on] what my child is learning, and being able to have a healthy discussion with my child about various topics,” one parent said about using TalkingPoints.
Born to educator parents in South Korea, who then moved to the UK, Lim recalls her multilingual parents communicating with her teachers there. Lim quickly learned that this kind of communication and engagement gave her education a real advantage, compared to her Korean friends whose parents couldn’t speak English. She came to Stanford GSB with the vision of someday working on a mission-driven cause in the education sector.
“I have a strong belief that education is the crux of social justice — it is an equalizer, a key driver in leveling the playing field, but different access to technology is actually further increasing the achievement gap,” she says.
Prior to attending Stanford GSB, Lim designed and implemented the data-driven decision-making system for all public middle and high schools in Bahrain while working at McKinsey & Co. While at the firm she advised the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Teach First. Lim served as chief of staff to a special advisor to the Secretary of Education in the UK, and while an undergrad at Oxford University, established a summer school for underprivileged girls in Quito, Ecuador.
As a Social Innovation Fellow, Lim is now working to formalize partnerships with educational institutions.
“My dream,” Lim says, “is to ensure that every single child in this world has access to basic education and equal opportunities to learn, grow, and succeed.”
Heejae Lim received her MBA from Stanford GSB in 2015. She is a 2015 Social Innovation Fellow. The fellowship provides up to $180,000 in funding, advising, and support to graduating Stanford GSB students who want to start a nonprofit venture to address a pressing social or environmental need during the year after graduation.