SOON after reading last weekâ€™s Chatting Education article headlined Communities key to childrenâ€™s education, a head teacher at a school in Ndolaâ€™s Hillcrest sent a text message to this columnist.
The school head wrote, â€œTodayâ€™s [article] is among the best you have ever written. But you were supposed to also write about â€˜family pacâ€™â€¦â€, a practice in schools where parents, with prior communication, go and sit in a class to see what is going on and get an appraisal of their childrenâ€™s work and progress.
The article raised arguments to the effect that parents and other community members needed to get actively involved in ensuring that all children are encouraged to go to school at all times.
The article pointed out that â€œMany parents lack the skills, knowledge and resources to interact effectively with teachers and school authorities, while on the part of schools, there is often a lack of commitment to reaching out to parents.â€
The Suburbs Girls Primary School head teacher agreed that there is need for schools to deliberately allow parents to have a better understanding of what children learn at school and the environment in which they [children] and teachers learn and operate respectively.
Mrs Abbia Mwamba stated that one avenue through which parents can positively engage with school authorities and their children is â€˜family pacsâ€™.
She explained that this practice, in which schools allow groups of parents to sit in class while the teacher and children are engaged in the teaching-learning process, can open up opportunities for effective teaching and learning.
Mrs Mwamba said this is not a new concept because a number of schools are already familiar with it. She indicated that while a few schools encourage parents to sit in class to see what children learn so that they help children with homework when they get back home, most teachers opt not to invite parents into their classrooms.
She said allowing parents to sit in the classroom and watch the teacher deliver lessons and even help children with their tasks, leads to greater benefits for children.
According to Mrs Mwamba, this also promotes a healthy relationship between the teacher and parents on one hand, and on the other, parents and their children at home.
Having sat through a lesson, parents will have understood the concept and will therefore reinforce understanding of the same concept with their children later at home.
There may be questions regarding how feasible this practice can be, particularly in schools that are â€˜closed inâ€™ and which have not tried the practice before.
At some schools, it is unthinkable to have an outsider sit through a teacherâ€™s lesson. In a situation where a teacher is lacking confidence, ill prepared for lessons or demotivated, there is always resistance to such a practice.
Another challenge probably is the issue of the large numbers of children in a class. There may just not be enough space to accommodate another 10 adults in a room where children are ever crammed together.
Even where there is room, finding an extra chair or desk may prove to be a huge undertaking, more so that even a teacher may not have a table or desk.
Another problem that may result from allowing parents to sit through a lesson is that of the idea breeding conflict between parents and teachers. Some parents may become â€˜standards officersâ€™ and may miss their role and fail to recognise the fact that the teacher is the one in charge and qualified enough to decide the strategies to use to deliver the lesson. Some parents may sit through a lesson only to come out with a â€˜damagingâ€™ report about the teacher.
But it is not just â€˜family pacsâ€™ that should be promoted in schools. As socialising institutions, schools have been challenged to open themselves up to the public. Parents should not just be called to a school when there is an annual general meeting. No!
And parents should not just go to school to watch their children participate in sports. Most parents are always happy and ready to assist teachers carry out several duties if the school asks parents to help.
School Open Days, which can take various forms, can be used to promote interaction between the school and parents. On such days, parents can freely walk around the school premises, visit any part of the institution to see how the school is and can make useful suggestions on how to improve things at the learning institution.
There could even be Open Days for members of the school board of directors. An appraisal by the schoolâ€™s governors can go a long way in making decisions that can positively impact on the growth of the school and form a basis for policy decision making.
Whatever forms a school can adopt to promote interaction between parents and its staff, it is undeniable that involvement of parents in the activities of a school only serves to improve the institutionâ€™s practices and management.
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