For many years, the International Community School of Addis Ababa was a primarily offline school. Local staff and even a few teachers remember when there were only three email addresses for ICS, and one office aide was responsible for delivering printed email messages to the rest of the staff. Twelve years later, while we still struggle with connectivity at times, and of course lag behind our students in tech savvy, we are working hard to harness the best available technology tools for progressive and effective education. Our parent interactions should reflect our classroom practices, and it all starts with each family’s admissions journey.
The ideal admissions process is positive for both the school and the applicant family. Simplicity, transparency and ease of use are essential for any system. Opting for a fully online application process requires a thoughtful approach to ensure a balance between efficiency and a personal touch. Technology is not always the right solution for everyone, due to varying comfort levels, cultural expectations and internet availability. As our world races forward with digital solutions, it is easy to assume that online is best for everyone and everything. However, we all continue to value a human connection.
The New: Everything Online
ICS adopted online applications in the spring of 2016 and the advantages to us were clearly evident from the beginning. The collection, validation and volume of data improved immediately. Applicant information was all electronic, centralized and easily shared among admissions and educational staff. Parents monitored their own requirements and steps, reducing emails. As we improved our knowledge and implementation, we improved the user experience in parallel.
The option of paper applications initially remained available. The small number of paper applications received were easily entered by the admissions office and any communication could still be conducted separately through our email system.
“To avoid confusion and communication gaps for our new families, it was clear that we needed to transition to requiring the online application from everyone.”
The Old: Keep It Personal
A real person answering parent questions, allaying concerns and providing honest answers about challenges, is the first step in a strong, positive parent-school relationship. Thoughtful and detailed email responses to questions from prospective families have always proven effective in making that essential personal connection and reassuring anxious parents. With an online system, there are fewer email exchanges between the family and admissions, and fewer informal opportunities to ask impromptu questions. This increases the responsibility of the admissions team to initiate contact, anticipate family needs and be virtually available.
Because about 70% of our applicants come from schools outside of Ethiopia, almost all of their admissions communication is conducted electronically. They stay for two or three years in Addis, and then move on to another post, so school applications are one item on a long list of relocation to-dos that they complete every few years. The ease of an online admissions system with a centralized and up-to-date checklist, communication tools and a clear and logical process is welcome to busy families juggling the demands of a transitory life. As an admissions team, we are again presented with the challenge of reaching these families in different ways, sharing avenues for learning about ICS and Ethiopia.
For the remaining 30% of applicants, who already live in Ethiopia and may already be familiar with the school, there is a different set of challenges associated with online applications.
Internet connectivity is only available through the state-owned telecommunications company and many families struggle with speed and stability while trying to apply online, losing completed forms or being unable to upload documents successfully.
In addition to the practical challenges of an online system, some local families are not comfortable with or accustomed to conducting their children’s school business in a non-paper format, nor are their children’s current schools and teachers prepared to provide the electronic requirements that are part of our application process. These families are more likely to be phone or drop-in inquiries, allowing us to accommodate them personally from the beginning of the process. We can also identify the schools that are unable to complete requirements electronically, and provide paper forms with specific instructions.
For many local parents, a personal relationship with a member of the admissions team often ensures that an initial inquiry becomes an online application, that admissions requirements are completed and parents feel engaged in the process. Local parents who already have children attending the school often assume that they will bring a younger sibling, but they are late in applying or expect they can quickly complete a paper form. This requires our admissions team to be attentive to any mention of younger siblings, to ensure priority for those students, and take special care in guiding the parents through the online system.
Because we now require the online application for all students, we provide the option to apply in person in our office. We have a dedicated laptop available, a list of items the parent should bring to the initial appointment, and serve a good cup of Ethiopian coffee to keep everyone going. Some prospective parents come just for the reliable internet connection, but many will sit with an admissions office team member to go through the forms step-by-step. This allows us to explain each question and gather the most accurate information from the parent and keep the process manageable. It also eases any technology barrier. In this way we are able to provide a positive experience that emphasizes the in-person interactions.
Our transition to a fully online application system has been a valuable opportunity for reflection on our process and our responsibility to engage parents. Each interaction with a new family, each conversation with another admissions professional, each article in this bulletin provides us with insight and chances for growth in our daily practice. Often something new can help us remember the value of something old.
About the International Community School of Addis Ababa
The International Community School of Addis Ababa is an American-accredited IB World School. Offering the Primary Years and Diploma Programmes to the children of the international community in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. As a responsibly inclusive school, ICS Addis empowers students to excel in their own world, with the support of a dedicated and experienced faculty and personalized learning opportunities. Originally founded as the American Community School in 1964, with the construction of a new campus on land donated to the US government by Emperor Haile Selassie, ICS now serves over 950 students from 65 countries on a well-equipped and growing campus.