It's crucial for school systems to provide equal access to resources for all families, including those who don't speak English or Spanish.
However, addressing the needs of non-Spanish, English language learners (ELL) is challenging for school systems. Paper-based technology makes it difficult to communicate effectively with these families. This creates a barrier to essential information that is detrimental to a child's education.
In this article, we'll explore the challenges school systems face in addressing these issues and discuss how digital technology improves resource access for English language learners.
All claims not directly cited in this article are derived from our national study conducted in 2022 called Communications with Education Systems.
Resource access for non-Spanish, English language learners
Providing resources for English and Spanish-speaking families is straightforward because these are the two most common languages in the country. But what about support for families who speak another language?
If a guardian doesn’t speak English or Spanish, what should be simple communication can become a massive headache with paper processes. Information provided through paper-based technology is likely only shared in English and Spanish languages. As a result, the tasks associated with things like enrollment, school choice applications, and transcripts requests can be cumbersome for non-English or Spanish speakers in districts that aren’t digital.
Translating or interpreting text on paper is a manual process that can take some time. School administrations rarely have the means to write up communications in all of the languages spoken at a particular school system, and even if they do, it wouldn’t be a good use of resources.
This disparity puts an undue burden on district families that do not speak English or Spanish. They have to take the time to use a translation tool to decipher a letter written in English. They also must hire translators for in-person meetings at their child's school.
It’s a lot to ask of EL families—especially when the Department of Justice states that they are entitled to meaningful communication in a language they can understand. District families shouldn’t be subjected to spending unnecessary time or money in acquiring translation or interpretation services to complete tasks provided by the school.
Challenges schools face in addressing ELL families
A school system may have all the best intentions to communicate with families in their native language but don’t have the resources to do so effieciently.
Many school systems still rely on faxing, mailing, and printing documents to communicate with families in the community. With a limited amount of human resources to cover these administrative processes, manually translating documents for families is not going to be top priority.
When a school district relies on antiquated paper-based technology to communicate with families, they're negatively impacting the parties on both sides. The simple act of sending and receiving information becomes a tedious task when staff members need to rely on paper-based systems. Plus, it's frustrating for staff members that don't have the resources to communicate with all families within the district. But most importantly, relying on paper alienates certain members of your community. Your school system should be an environment in which all families feel welcome and included.
If something is not being communicated in a guardian's native language, they’re more likely to miss information crucial to their child's education. When this happens, the child is the one who suffers.
How to improve access to English learners
Going paperless in your school district is the easiest way to support LEP or ELL families.
Our Communications with Education Systems study found those who do not speak English or Spanish rarely have access to a fax machine or scanner. Because of this, they are more likely to have to miss work to conduct school-related business during office hours. The extra out-of-pocket costs associated with transportation, printing and mailing services, and missing work is a real burden to families already facing a language barrier.
Go paperless to improve translation options
Considering alternatives to printers, copy machines, scanners, and fax machines to serve ELL families is one of the most effective actions your district can take. Using paper-based processes not only costs non-English-speaking families time and money but also makes it difficult for them to ask questions due to their limited capability to communicate in English or Spanish.
Digital technology is the way to go. Digital tools provide the ability for integration with advanced online translation services. For example, Scribbles Software’s records management and enrollment solutions support immediate interpretation and translation in 132 different languages.
That way, information can still be shared between families and school staff that don’t speak the same language. Overcoming this obstacle will mean increased productivity, equity, and success for staff, students, and families.
Improves access for non-English or Spanish speakers
Equal access to school resources is crucial for all families, especially those who do not speak English or Spanish. Schools using paper-based processes face even greater challenges in providing families with the necessary tools and accommodations to easily complete administrative tasks.
Take action now to improve resource access for non-English or Spanish speakers in your schools. Implement digital enrollment and choice tools to streamline communication for everyone. With the right software, all school system families can enjoy the accommodations that they deserve.
To learn more about your community members’ perceptions of paper versus digital school processes, download the research report below.