Talking to the parents

Stabroek News
March 2, 2001

Considering all the negative publicity in circulation about the education system and its professionals, it is unfortunate, perhaps, that a group of primary school teachers who made a field trip into South Sophia recently, did not attract greater public notice. Our report of February 27, described how 50 teachers in company with senior education and welfare officers visited the area to meet the parents of children attending Redeemer, Smith's Memorial and East La Penitence primary schools.

According to Ms Barbara Stephens, the co-ordinator of the Magnet Schools Project, under which the three schools fall, the initiative came from the staff of Redeemer Primary, because they felt that they were not getting the support they required from the parents of South Sophia. She went on to relate how when the teachers from the other two magnet schools heard about the exercise, they too wanted to participate. In the end, it was a party of 50 which trudged from house to house, bringing the message to parents that they needed to pay keener interest in their children's school work and extra-curricular activities.

According to Ms Stephens, the field trip was an "eye-opener" for the teachers. They experienced first hand the distances the children had to walk to school, because many parents could not afford the price of a mini-bus fare. Under normal circumstances, the exercise might be viewed as a health benefit, but when it is considered that many of the pupils would have little in their stomachs, then it became clear why they arrived at school "sleepy and tired," why they sometimes came late, and why they didn't do as well as they should.

The conversations with residents, it appears, were not all one way, and the teachers heard some parents complain that when they gave voice to their concerns, either the schools or individual teachers did not always respond as anticipated, although there were some exceptions. The party learnt too, that although parents were intensely interested in the well-being of their children, coping with jobs, and making ends meet had an impact on the amount of attention they could give them.

Research has shown that children's school performance improves where there is close co-operation between parents and teachers. We used to have it in this country, in the days when educators, although not fabulously well-paid, nevertheless had a high status in the society. However, the undermining of the professionalism of teachers, the economic problems of the country, the advent of drugs, and the changing social values of the community, have all conspired to drive a wedge between the teachers and the parents.

The fact that the teachers and welfare officers of the magnet schools, who operate in conditions which hardly motivate, should be prepared to go to this effort to open a line of communication with parents in order to help their children's education, can only be commended. One hopes that this is not a one-off thing, and that by getting to know each other, the two sides will come to a greater understanding which will be reflected in the behaviour and performance of the pupils. It is a process which will also allow the schools to identify more easily children with special home problems in need of attention.

For too long, the system has waited for the parents to come to the staff at Parent Teacher Association meetings, and the like. But poor parents, and single parents, and very tired parents, and parents who live in areas like South Sophia, cannot always attend those meetings. And if they do, the conversation is often one sided. The teachers of the magnet schools, on the other hand, went into Sophia to listen to the parents as well as to talk to them. The results could only benefit everyone.

Now that the magnet schools have shown the way, what about other schools?

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