K12 Records Resources

April 06, 2023

From Pencils to Pixels: Digital School Processes vs. Paper-based Methods




The prospect of leaving paper-based school processes behind

Over the past decade, overall access to and reliance on digital technology has increased. But what about paper-based technologies, particularly when it comes to communicating with educational institutions?


Traditional paper-based processes can be time-consuming, inefficient, and costly. Paper-based forms and documents require significant time and effort to produce, print, and distribute, which can create bottlenecks and delays in communication and administration. Additionally, paper-based processes can lead to errors, lost documents, and miscommunication. Furthermore, traditional paper-based processes can be inaccessible to families who do not have access to printers, paper, or transportation to attend school events. 


According to our recent study, more Americans have access to mobile technology, computers, and internet access than to paper-based products or technologies that support paper-based interactions, like printers, copy machines, fax machines, and scanners. This difference in access spans across the home and the workplace.


On the other hand, digital processes provide a more efficient, convenient, and cost-effective means of communication and administration. Digital processes can save time and resources, provide access to educational materials and resources, and eliminate barriers associated with traditional paper-based processes. Therefore, phasing out paper-based processes in school systems and embracing digitalization is essential to improve the efficiency and accessibility of education.



Understanding family access to paper-based tech

When it comes to weighing the pros and cons of paper versus digital processes in school systems, one critical factor to consider is access. Income and generational differences can play a significant role in determining family access to paper-based technologies for communicating with schools. Scribbles’ 2023 communications with educations systems study revealed:


  • People with a lower household income have less access at home to paper-based products or tools than those with a higher household income. 

  • Less than half of households making $34K a year or less have home access to stamps, a checkbook, or a printer. 

  • Less than 25% of households making $34K a year or less have access to a copy machine, fax machine, or a scanner.

  • Generationally, older generations have more access to almost all products and technologies than younger generations, both at home and work.


Families with lower incomes may not have access to the same level of technology as higher income families, which can make it challenging to engage in communication with schools. Similarly, older generations may have scanners or fax machines in the home, while young parents could be relying primarily on their mobile devices.



Why printers and paper no longer make the grade in school system communications

Not to mention, people in general don’t particularly want to deal with printing and paper in the first place. Digital devices and innovations like QR codes and contract signing apps have transformed previously paper-based processes into simple, quick digital interactions. This is true in most areas of life, from personal banking to shopping. However, despite this trend, somehow the need to print a document continues to show up for most people – especially parents and guardians of children in school systems, a demographic who doesn’t want to deal with paper or printing any more than the rest of us.


  • Over 50% of survey respondents report being frustrated or annoyed when educational institutions require them to adhere to paper-based processes like printing materials, paying by check, or faxing documents.

  • 45% of school district members prefer to exchange information over an online system such as email or an institution's website over the next 2-3 years.


Parents may be reluctant to deal with paper-based processes for several reasons:


  • Inconvenience: Paper-based processes can be time-consuming and inconvenient. Parents may need to take time off work or rearrange their schedules to visit the school and submit paperwork.

  • Disorder: Paper-based processes can be more prone to errors, such as lost or misplaced forms, which can cause delays in processing and create further frustration for parents. 

  • Financial burdens: Paper-based processes can be a financial burden for families who may need to purchase paper, envelopes, stamps, or other materials to submit paperwork. 

  • Preferences for digital options: Many parents prefer to complete administrative tasks online or through mobile apps.




Breaking the mold: Why education systems should consider digital technology over outdated paper-based methods

70% of school district members say that a variety of digital customer services would be valuable in interacting with educational institutions, including:


  • Online payment systems

  • Online dashboard access

  • Automated messaging (emails, voice messages, and texts)

  • Mobile-friendly access

  • A record of their interactions


Data clearly indicates that families prefer digital over paper-based technology when it comes to interacting with school districts, making online processes well worth evaluating. School districts that have yet to make the switch from paper-based processes to an online platform should strongly consider doing so for several reasons. 


  • First, online processes offer greater efficiency and convenience, allowing schools to automate tasks such as student enrollment, record-keeping, and scheduling. This can save time and resources for both school staff and parents. 
  • Additionally, online processes offer greater accuracy and security, reducing the risk of errors and data breaches.
  • Online processes can also improve communication and engagement between schools and families, allowing parents to access important information and communicate with teachers more easily. 
  • Improve the effectiveness of school operations and enhance the educational experience for students, making it a worthwhile investment for school districts to consider.


Always consider who needs access to the resources your district provides, and how the demographics of the district may be impacting parents’ and guardians access to technology. Parents of all backgrounds deserve the opportunity to participate in their children's education.



Scribbles’ 2023 communications with education systems study

Recently, Scribbles Software published a new research report covering communication trends between school districts and families, students, and alumni. “Mismatched Expectations: How students, Families, and Alumni Expect to Interact with Education Systems” is available now! The survey results detail the insights of students, alumni, and families from a diverse range of school districts and charter schools across America. Download the report now to gain perspective on your district or charter school.



Download our report to get access to research key findings!