By Gustavo A. Ramirez, Guidance Counselor / Education Consultant / belizeguidance.blogspot.com
Previously, we discussed the issue of parents and guardians who seem neglectful and show very little, if any, interest in their children’s day-to-day work, or lack of work, at school. However, I made it clear that there’s nothing to be gained when educators or PTA parents point fingers at students’ parents who do not regularly participate in school activities, or communicate regularly with teachers, or attend school and PTA meetings. We do not help students to learn by judging their parents or by comparing one parent to another. How, then, do we constructively help parents and guardians to replace any misconceptions they may have of the schools where they send their sons or daughters everyday, i.e. viewing schools as daytime babysitters?
How do we motivate parents to become involved and be a part of their children’s day-to-day education, and not feel like “outsiders” in the Education process? How do we help parents to see and feel that they are an integral part of how their children learn everyday as they grow in body, mind and soul? As often as I unabashedly urge everyone to welcome “change”, I admit that these are not easy paths to follow. However, let us first examine some common misconceptions that many of us may have about schools, teachers, and administrators -- about Education in general. Before we attempt to develop positive solutions that could encourage more parent participation at school, let us review how/why the many labels and misconceptions of Education might have become ingrained into our culture. Perhaps once we understand the origins of these labels/misconceptions we can then replace them with progressive and practicable concepts of the true nature of Education.
According to recorded History the early development, growth, and management of Education in Belize (British Honduras) is credited to pioneering initiatives of the Church. There continues to be a church-state partnership in Education in Belize today, but the Government asserts control. We salute and thank churches that developed and improved standards of Education in Belize from its early colonization days as British Honduras up through today as Independent Belize. Nonetheless, therein also may lay the roots of the misconceptions that schools alone are responsible for the development and management of a student’s education. Perhaps, many parents have always felt, or still do, that they are not supposed to intervene or meddle with (church) schools to educate students, i.e. to help them develop critical thinking and self-discipline.
Consequently, many parents choose to stay out of their children’s Education process and let the church/school alone handle it. As a result, these parents may seem not to care about their children’s schooling, even though the parents really do care. Moreover, there are parents who were not privileged to obtain a formal academic education (i.e. Primary School only) and perhaps they feel that they are nowhere as qualified as the Church to “take charge of” their children’s Education -- that’s for church/school, not parents, to do. How do we, then, remove the misconception that some parents may have that their participation in their children’s education is much less important than that of church and school? Another misconception that many parents/guardians have is that they have no say in how a student learns at school since that is a church/state responsibility. To counter this, schools, especially Primary/Elementary, could include frequent parent classroom participation as a part of a student’s daily learning process. By being fully aware of each other, schools and parents can motivate each other to be a part of a student’s daily learning process, inside and outside of school.
What, though, constitutes active parent participation in a child’s Education? Is it picking up report cards, knowing our children’s teachers, and attending school or PTA meetings? Is it paying school fees and tuitions on time? Is it making sure that our children go to school (in uniform) everyday and complete homework everyday? More than all that, it entails “being a part of” our children’s daily learning experience! From their entry to exit of a school, we parents can develop a partnership with the school (teachers and administrators) to help enrich our children’s learning opportunities. That includes constantly monitoring our children’s progress or lack of progress at school. Nevertheless, “partnership” involves two sides: parents and schools. Thus, schools also should monitor students’ progress, or lack of progress, at home. Schools and parents, as well as the entire community, need always remember that Education (learning) is given and received not only within school walls! Yet, educators may ask, “How do we work at school with students whose parents seem to have wiped their hands of all responsibility to their children?” What’s to stop teachers from doing the same? Furthermore, it’s commonplace today for both parents to work (outside the home) everyday. How then can parents and schools establish/keep working partnerships when today’s family dynamics and structures have changed so very much from what they used to be? There are no simple answers to these questions. Nonetheless, these are issues that as a nation we cannot ignore or expect only one side to solve. Let us address these issues by keeping informed at all times and never assuming to know what goes on at school and at home!
My experience, inside and outside of Belize, as student (Primary/Secondary/University), as teacher and guidance counselor, and as parent has proven that one of greatest tools educators can use, and the best motivation that schools can offer students and their parents is to make school a positive experience every single day. That keeps everyone interested and involved at school. Yet, that is quite a large order for any school. Surely, routine teaching and testing, teaching and testing, teaching and testing is not enough to provide a positive experience everyday for students, teachers, or parents. This is why non-academic (no grades) or extracurricular activities, including Sports, are offered and help enhance each student’s daily learning experience. Moreover, extracurricular activities for students also encourage more parents to participate in school activities. What parent does not want to see, even help, a son or daughter give a speech, act in a school play/drama, or play competitive football, basketball, or volleyball against another school’s team? Also, throughout the length of a student’s career in school, healthy competition can be encouraged, not only in the area of grades but throughout all extracurricular activities where students can compete against each other and/or against other schools. Finally, in reviewing my previous experience as an educator since 1978, as teacher and guidance counselor, I feel that positive experiences for me occurred at school especially when I was most “prepared”. Therefore, let us thank administrators and teachers for being prepared, and above all, for having patience. Patience, more than any academic preparation, is what best enables teachers and administrators to ‘connect’ with students in order to try to understand them and help them. (Of course, we should all strive to keep that in mind when dealing with each other – whoever and wherever we may be!)
Yes, let us clarify many misconceptions that exist about teachers and schools by involving everyone in our systems of Education. “It takes a village!” All of us, not only schools and parents, have important roles to play in the process of helping young people (our children) to develop physically, socially, psychologically, intellectually, morally and ethically. First, though, we must accept that Education involves not only an accumulation of knowledge, but also the day-to-day “practice” of what we learn. Let us disregard old labels and become motivated to be actively involved in our children’s daily learning experience. Parents and educators: let us stop looking at each other as suspiciously as we have done in the past or as many of us still do today. The best education that a student could possibly receive is one given by home, school, church, and the entire community actively working hand in hand to continuously learn from each other while helping students to learn and grow everyday. Education, after all, is not so much about successful teaching as it is about genuine learning.
Final word: Excuses do not solve problems. Parents who may think that they have acceptable excuses for not being a part of their children’s learning process (Education) are basically choosing to avoid the challenges of parenthood and of today’s rapidly changing world. Schools that do not engage students’ parents and the entire community from the beginning of a student’s career, or are too engaged in the mass production of graduates, need to reorient themselves to integrate school and family, as well as policy makers and the (faith) community. As individuals and as a nation, as a jewel, let us emphasize teamwork and humane progressive education, at school and at home, instead of emphasizing Education as rote learning and diplomas. Let us, whenever we consider our children’s Education, eradicate from our vocabulary the phrase “their job” and replace it with “our job”.
These articles on Education are not intended to be comprehensive or complete. They are written and contributed in an effort to provide a “starting point” for valuable discussion amongst educators, students, and the community. When we discuss and review students’ learning capabilities and the ways in which we currently try to educate them, we learn from our mistakes as well as success. Here’s to finding the best path to follow, fellow educators!