RECENTLY, Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik called for love, happiness and mutual respect to be nurtured as the three core values in charting the new direction of the national education system. The minister sees this as an extension of two of the challenges in Vision 2020, namely strengthening unity and fostering a caring society.
While mutual respect has always been a key ingredient in the country’s bid to maintain and promote national cohesion and unity at all levels, love and happiness have not been directly stated as the responsibility of schools or of teachers and educators.
While the minister is right in arguing that if you inculcate love for learning in children, they will be happy in the school environment and respond favourably to the teacher’s efforts to impart knowledge, there are still the family and home influences to consider.
A happy and affectionate child is the product of a safe, secure and loving family environment with parents who encourage him or her at every turn.
On the other hand, children who are unhappy at home often bring their problems to school with negative manifestations such as anti-social behaviour or learning difficulties.
A happy child can also be a spoilt and undisciplined person whose parents pander to his or her every demand. Will such a child be happy in the school environment with rules and regulations to not only control conduct and behaviour but also to ensure receptive learning?
Generally, one can assume that both parents and teachers want the best for the children, the corollary being that no parent or teacher would wish them harm.
While loving their children is assumed to be the sacred duty of parents, teachers should also show kindness, care and concern to bring out their best in school. One can therefore conclude that no one knows a child better than his or her parents at home and his or her teachers in school.
Parents and teachers should therefore collaborate and work as a team in helping children to be successful in school. As parents and teachers learn the value of this collaboration, they can create an environment that supports the students through a three-way partnership – children, parents and teachers, with each party respecting and valuing what the other two can bring to the table. This is mutual respect at its best.
Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs) must be revived and empowered to play a leading role in the new development announced by the Education Minister. Not only must their role and function be redefined, they must also be better structured to facilitate ease of communication.
It must be stressed by the director-general of Education and his state and district working teams that PTAs are established for the benefit of the children and not for their parents to run a business.
A dynamic leadership comprising the school head at the helm, a senior teacher and a parent elected as the PTA chairperson together with the members in the committee will ensure its efficiency and effectiveness.
For a start, school heads and teacher counsellors must undergo refresher training to improve their people skills, especially handling parents and delinquent or reluctant students.
Bearing in mind the more troubled modern environment we live in, with its numerous challenges and negative peer and societal influences, all teachers need to be trained by professionals who handle these issues in the public arena.
With proper training in teaching methodologies, a good knowledge of child psychology and classroom management skills, teachers should be able to handle the most difficult students and take them through the curriculum with varying degrees of academic success.
However, unlike teachers who undergo teacher training programmes such as the certificate or diploma in education at nursery, primary and/or secondary levels before they are qualified to teach, parents would have no formal training. Most handle their children’s upbringing through custom and tradition or instinctively. What PTAs can helpfully do is to organise parenting workshops which provide skills, knowledge and information on ways of handling different aspects of children’s upbringing, especially the more challenging emotional ones that affect learning.
Most parents have the same goal as teachers to make sure their child succeeds. Keep parents informed of what is going on in their child’s life at school by producing a weekly newsletter or creating a classroom website. Let parents know how they can reinforce at home what their child is learning at school.
Contact parents regularly for good news as well as bad, and consistently inform them of their children’s progress. Face-to-face meetings can be held once a term or whenever necessary.
But would teachers and parents be able to instil in students a love for learning if the latter themselves are difficult and resistant or perform their learning tasks grudgingly?
PTAs could run workshops to expose parents and teachers to teaching methods and tips on how to cultivate a love for learning. These include providing hands-on experiences, making learning fun, helping children to discover their interests and passions and appealing to their different learning styles.
If a child’s love for learning has faded, teachers and parents can help to revive it by providing room for error and experimentation instead of a one-way lecture.
Providing opportunities for hands-on, personalised and creative education would result in opening up the skills and talents that would not surface in the old, stifling environment of talking down to children.
Through a dynamic and caring PTA, the school will create an effective capacity building mechanism and more mutually beneficial family-school partnerships supporting students’ achievement and success.
It is only through this collaborative endeavour, which squarely confronts the related issues and challenges, that we can create a positive, lasting change and equity in Malaysian education.
DATUK HALIMAH MOHD SAID
Association of Voices of Peace, Conscience and Reason
Empower parent-teacher associations