FIFTEEN-year-old Rabia finishes school at nearly 2 pm and heads straight off for a series of tuitions every afternoon. She gets back home at 7 pm, has dinner, watches some television and goes off to sleep. The next day, she wakes up and repeats the same routine until the weekend comes along and gives her some respite. There is no marked improvement in Rabia’s grades but there is immense comfort for her parents in knowing that they are helping her academic journey.
An alarming number of parents are now paying tuition teachers for their child’s academic support, outsourcing learning and bearing costs above and beyond what they pay schools for the same services. Children are increasingly pressured into producing results and parents are worse off if the tuitions do not produce the results they hope for. Tuitions are a booming market now, as its popularity is spurred in unprecedented ways through social media.
Social media sometimes becomes a dangerous place, replacing the proverbial ‘word of mouth’ where recommendations flow fast and furiously on WhatsApp and Facebook groups. A tuition teacher who earns a great reputation with a few well-connected parents manages to break into the market quickly. Activity groups for children work in much the same way. A substantial part of reliability and trust comes from social camaraderie — groups of children going together to learn ensures a great deal of safety and, after all, there is strength in numbers.
What if we were to change the landscape of parental involvement in school life through a close working relationship between teachers and parents? Research shows that maintaining positive social ties among students, parents and teachers in a school community leads to general happiness, social well-being and academic achievement.
Parental involvement is not restricted to academics.
Rather than outsourcing learning for quick results, parental involvement is needed in school life as a vital cog in boosting children’s morale, motivation and learning ability. A research report by Mapp and Henderson titled A New Wave of Evidence: The Impact of School, Family, and Community Connections on Student Achievement, found that students’ academic achievement is strongly linked to parental and community involvement in school life.
These essential relationships can be channelled through school parent-teacher associations. Not too many schools have formal PTAs with well-defined roles. Parents support teachers in a variety of ways, ranging from volunteering for reading booster groups and cataloguing the library to raising money for school supplies, organising family fun days and school trips. Traditionally, PTAs have been known to increase a sense of well-being in school by fostering cooperation between teachers and parents for the progress of the children.
PTAs are especially relevant in societies where state provision of education is in dire need of support — as in the case of our government schools — and also where the cost of education is so high that PTAs are essential to contribute resources for teaching and learning. PTAs also step in to help with school policy when the school fails to live up to the parents’ expectations. Parents are not only financial stakeholders in a school, but are vested emotionally and physically. They spend time, effort and money on their children’s well-being and are eager to participate in their children’s academic journey.
However, parental involvement is not restricted to academics and policy. Its strong impact on the children’s social well-being makes it crucial for parents to devise activities within and outside of school to foster a sense of collaboration, cooperation and community. A parent-sponsored bake sale with homemade goodies, weekend picnic, a charity show organised by parents at school or a singing competition judged by a panel of parents would all foster a sense of involvement from the entire community. In this kind of communal space, information flows freely, ideas and values are exchanged, children get an opportunity to connect with their friends’ parents, children find mentors and parents find an opportunity to share experiences.
In certain community schools, there are general fears about parental intervention and the clash it can potentially cause between teachers and students. Whilst some of the reservation is valid, it would help to remember that parents and teachers are both vital cogs in a collaborative effort to nurture children. One cannot function without the other. They aren’t partners as in a business venture — teachers are the main decision-makers whilst the children are at school and parents can lend support as advisers, motivators and volunteers.
A school along with its PTA typically represents the traditions, culture, needs and values of its society — the only way to foster positive growth is to work together towards joint aims.
The writer is senior manager, professional development at OUP, Pakistan.
Published in Dawn, November 21st, 2019