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News || Wednesday, 01 September 2010

CISCO Academy in Palestine uses SMS AidLink to Keep Students Informed, Safe

Students in North America or Europe probably couldn’t imagine their lives without the Internet—they register for classes on university websites; listservs tell them about lectures, jobs or internships. Most have probably researched and even applied to schools online. And if there are ever security issues on campus, they’d be notified instantly by email. .

But in Palestine, where the majority of youth don’t have regular web access, poor communication between schools and their pupils is a real—and sometimes even life-threatening—problem. Simple logistics become tough: Students and their professors rely on posted paper notices to keep in touch, but this often results in miscommunication, missed exams, and even failing grades in some cases. “If a student misses their final test because a paper announcement disappeared,” explains Souktel co-founder Lana Hijazi, “they might fail the year. Their job prospects go out the window, and most can’t afford another semester in school”.

Being in a conflict zone makes all these problems worse: Palestinian universities have repeatedly been shut down due to on-campus fighting, military incursions or demonstrations. During these times of crisis, maintaining students’ safety becomes a critical challenge: How can a school inform its entire community about a nearby attack, quickly and easily?

The answer is in almost every student’s pocket. Although most don’t own computers, the majority do have a mobile phone--and with Souktel’s AidLink services they can access much of the information they need: Professors can send a mass SMS alert notifying their students about assignments, exam schedules, or last-minute changes. An entire campus can receive information about internships or job opportunities, and universities can promote their application process to high school graduates. When the campus is in danger, the administration can notify every person carrying a mobile.

This month the Palestine Polytechnic University, a CISCO Networking Academy, became the fifth college in Palestine to introduce AidLink on its campus. “We needed a way to communicate with our students, to notify them about our programs of study, and to get their feedback after they’d completed a course,” explains Arafat Emad Arafat, the Academy’s president.

The University, which specializes in training courses on CISCO wired and wireless technology, was a perfect place to introduce AidLink: Its students are tech-savvy, but most have never owned a laptop and still depend heavily on their basic, first-generation cell phones. Now, with their new SMS alert service, students learn about courses, exams and work opportunities in real time, on their handsets. With Souktel’s SMS survey feature, they can text in reviews of their courses and professors to a central database—which lets college staff get rapid feedback. And if there should ever be a security issue on campus, alerting the students would be easy and efficient.

“When we send news to our students via SMS, we can virtually guarantee that the information will be reach them--unlike traditional written notices” says Arafat. “We found that students really like the service, because it’s quick, convenient, and personalized”. This in turn saves the academy time, and helps them to meet their goal: giving Palestinian youth the skills they need to succeed.