The missing caregivers in education
Meraj Humayun Khan
Education is a process that is jointly managed by several groups of caregivers. Some of them presently are linked directly as they manage the formal side while others, who informally influence a child’s growth and development, stay in the background. These key players include parents, teachers and officials of the government department responsible for legislation, curriculum setting, selection of text books and other relevant learning material, and capacity building of the service deliverers i.e. the teachers. Of all the actors, parents who manage the learning environment at home – the first school of the child, are given the least attention and importance when reforms for improvement are contemplated.
Stress is always laid on revision of the curriculum, upgrading of text books, improvement in the monitoring system or any other area believed to be responsible for the unsatisfactory performance of Pakistani children. No one ever looked systematically and scientifically into the role of parents and the home environment to study their impact on children’s learning outcomes.
In Pakistan, there is a total disconnection between the home and the school whereas for healthy development of a child it is imperative that parents and teachers should be in constant touch to exchange views on the growth pattern of the child at different stages. The emotional attachment of parents to their children, their close proximity to each other, their ambition as well as their concern for the future of their child make them the most important group in the lengthy and complex process of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual development of students. Their opinion on the curriculum, the text books, the classroom management and teacher – student relationship, and the overall governance structure would be helpful in achieving the desired objectives of implementing an integrated and well coordinated educational program which has relevance to the need of the student as well as his/her community.
There have been attempts, sporadic and half hearted, to pull the parents into the education program. In 90s, the Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with the help of GTZ, introduced the concept of Parents Teachers Associations with the objective of involving parents in the management of schools. By 2012, according to the government’s figures, there were 23 thousands parent-teacher councils (PTCs) working to improve literacy rates and involve more parents in their children’s education.
A PTC comprises of five parents, a senior school teacher and a retired government employee. The scope of these PTCs had been broadened and the budget increased from Rs250,000 to Rs1 million per annum. The increased budget was to be used for minor repairs, construction of missing facilities and where urgently needed, employing more teachers to vacant positions. In 2013–18, a huge amount of Rs30 billion was allocated for PTCs which included a capacity development program for members in understanding the principles of quality construction and management of the funds available to them. The amount was calculated on the basis of Rs13000 per classroom. Besides the training, a consultancy firm was hired to supervise the construction and ensure a quality grade and safety in the seismic regions. A monitoring system was also put in place to ensure that the funds were utilized properly. According to the department, 77% of the funds for missing facilities and 90% of the additional classrooms were utilized in the years 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2016-17.
This awareness in the department about the benefits of including parents in the institution was a very welcoming development but judging from the quality of service delivery and different examination results and the non allocation of funds for the years 2018-19 and 2019-20 it seems that the interest was only temporary. In many cases the Councils existed on papers only. Where they are present the meetings are not called or members do not turn up saying that it is the job of the teachers to improve the teaching standards as they get salaries for it. In the meantime, students are suffering and the youngest ones drop out because of the boring and often harsh learning environment of schools.
The situation must change. All stake holders have to become conscious of the huge loss that the nation suffers when even one child is left out of schooling or drops out after one year or a few months. All the citizens have to be educated and made aware about the seriousness of: 1. The dangers that surround children and 2. Preparing them to understand those dangers and avoid them and 3. The quality education in the healthy development of all individuals, because, a deviant child is a danger to the whole community.
The question is how can this awareness be inculcated among the masses? One way is the formation of PTCs which should play multiple roles of enhancing the learning environment in the institutions as well as educating parents in their role and responsibilities and the education program in place in the institution to which they belong. But that will still not be enough because the PTCs’ membership is limited. What is needed is a serious effort to make communities, parents and school work together to connect with the children. This is not happening currently because teachers are reluctant to have ‘intruders’ in the school and, as mentioned earlier, the role given to PTCs is limited.
It is highly recommended that parents and community members be involved in the whole education cycle right from the planning stage. They should monitor, make recommendations, help in teaching in the absence of teachers, organize events, and introduce innovative ideas. School administration should work closely with them in order to make the subject matter and the discussions relevant. In other words, parents should be seen in the school premises and treated as welcome supporters in ensuring the success of the institution instead of keeping them at arm’s length and inviting them only when the principal deems it fit.
The writer is the Chief Executive of De Laas Gul and a former Member of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly. She has also been the Provincial Minister for Elementary and Secondary Education. She can be contacted at: email@example.com.