Monday, February 02, 2009

Involving Parents and Teachers

My apologies for the lax posting over the past two weeks — I've been busy with a research proposal, which I will write a bit more about some other time. I just read this very interesting article by Jay Mathews, a well-known education writer in the Washington Post, titled Why Easy Grading Is Good for Your Career. Mathews lists out school reforms proposed by teachers he interviewed, and assesses them based on their potential and viability. It's a great but quick read, and I recommend it.

I agree with Mathews's assessment of all the proposed reforms — I'm not a fan of teacher tenure, and I absolutely agree that some sort of standardised testing is a must for most education systems. What strikes me the most is that most of the viable and high-potential reforms are those which involve parents and teachers.

Two of the highest-rated reforms, for example, involve parents in the process of discipling unruly children, and improving students' study skills. Most parents from uneducated and low-income backgrounds probably did not do very well in school, if they went to school at all. To expect them to help with their children's homework, or to know how to enforce study discipline, is a pretty tall expectation, and one that will not be met by very many parents. Mathews recommends arranging counseling for families with troubled students, and offering night classes for parents interested in learning how to study.

Mathews also strongly recommends involving teachers and parents equally in the setting of education standards. Instead of having the national curriculum set by bureaucrats, he suggests that each school collect recommendations from teachers and parents, and forward these for consideration at the state and then federal levels by a committee equally involving civil servants, parents, teachers and business executives. The ultimate result will be a curriculum developed by the grassroots, while having passed muster at the national level.

At the same time, Mathews insists that teachers have the freedom to decide how to prepare students for the national education standards. The national curriculum should not prescribe specific textbooks or teaching aids. Teachers know best what will work with their students, and need the freedom to do their work on their own terms; let the exam results be the judge of what works best.

While obviously very idealistic, I think Mathews's recommendations form a good basis for ideals we should work towards to. The education process in our country is very bureaucratised, with little input from parents or teachers. But this is not how things should be: we want our children to learn at the feet of their parents and their teachers, not civil servants or politicians. Our education system is failing our young because our system does not have a role for parents or teachers to play. If we want an effective education system, we need to get teachers and parents actively involved in the learning process.


Shawn Tan said...

I think that there is already a basic feedback mechanism in our schools today - the PIBG meetings. However, even getting the parents to attend the meetings is no small feat. Granted, some parents want to get involved and cannot but I think that largely, parents tend to wash their hands from the responsibility. Some parents flatly tell the teachers that they send their kids to school to be educated and disciplined because they have failed to do it at home.

If we designed a fully open grassroots system, what will most likely happen is having education policy dictated by the few people who either care or have their own personal agendas.

Anonymous said...

It depends on the type of parents you have. If they are business people with little education they would think that education may be important for their children but won't make them rich like them. Or they would say look at me I am rich without education. Education is a right for every individual to know how to count, communicate and plan for their health and finance. However, because of hidden motives of political expansion education is exploited as a means to indoctrinate and hypnotized citizens into zombies. Which begs the question are we a zombie nation?

Soo Huey said...

Just to share:

My mum was very active in PIBG throughout my primary school years. Together with other enthusiastic parents and equally enthusiastic teachers, they worked very hard running fundraising campaigns, sought corporate sponsorship and even organised a walkathon which proved to be a huge fundraiser for the school. In the time my sister and I were there, they helped revitalise the canteen, clean up the toilets, stock the library, bring in new chairs/tables and put money towards setting up a computer room. The teachers gave feedback about events and projects that they thought would benefit the children, and the parents helped materialise them through their networks and contacts. Parents and teachers active in PIBG became good friends as the years went by.

The same level of enthusiasm was carried over when I went to secondary school. My mum continued to be involved in PIBG. The 1st year was great and my mum was invited to be on the board of governors.

Then in my 2nd yr, we changed headmistress and in came Cik Halijah - The students hated her, The teachers hated her, PIBG hated her. (She was history teacher in PFS before coming to my school and sources say she was equally useless then and they hated her there too, so it amazes me how she got promoted to headmistress!) She was the type who felt everything was too difficult and the least she had to do or be involved in or be vaguely responsible for, the better.

It was pointless to have a PIBG with Cik Halijah as headmistress! My mum quit after many frustrating PIBG meetings. She continued to help out (through me) for school events like Canteen Day and supported my girl guiding activities, but never went back to PIBG.

At about the time my mum quit, other parents who were previously also actively involved in their children's education also quit PIBG.

Teachers who were enthusiastic about being teachers couldn't bear working with Cik Halijah and started applying for transfers. One by one, the better teachers started (or tried) to leave the school.


As Matthews' article suggests, sometimes it is not the parents/teachers who don't want to do more. Sometimes the system doesn't allow them. Often times, we have horrible principals! The system definitely needs a revamp!

Point of interest: Cik Halijah was suspected of embezzling school money the year after I left. It's believed she didn't like "meddling parents" so she could maintain better control over the books (her coffers). They transferred her away... I wonder where to... probably to destroy another school.

Anonymous said...

Teachers should be paid more as if you pay them peanuts you get monkies. Lecturers should not be overworked and underpaid as this will spill over to the standards of learning that student inherit. If you have poor teaching you get poor students. It should have the best of all cultures and during Dr M's dictatorship Christian and Chinese values were stifled even Mandarin oranges were discriminated.

Anonymous said...

Parents must also participate to what their children are into school. Their interaction helps in the growth and development of kids.


Unknown said...

I think that parents can also play an important role for the growth of their children, the parents should be involved in the education of children. Many children need to help their parents during Education, but some time to bridge the communication gap between the child and parents is very expensive for the child and his Education. This is why it can not develop its educational level.

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