Jason Tan Eng Thye
The recent publication of the Ministry of Education (MOE)’s guidelines for School-Home Partnership has focused attention on the often contentious nature of the relationship between parents and teachers, and raised questions about what an ideal partnership might look like.
Given the abundance of academic research on the benefits of actively engaging parents in their children’s schooling, it is not surprising that MOE has spent considerable effort in trying to cultivate better school-home partnerships.
The formation in 1998 of the advisory body Community and Parents in Support of Schools led to the universalisation of parent support groups in schools. At the same time, MOE’s Ethos of the Teaching Profession, which lays out its expectations of teachers, states clearly that they need to develop trusting and supportive partnerships with parents in advancing students’ best interests.
The Ministry’s efforts to reach out to parents have coincided with rising affluence and improving educational attainments among parents of school-age children. Both of these trends have contributed to increasing parental aspirations for their children’s educational achievement.
Quite naturally, there has also been more proactive parenting. For instance, there has been a growth in social media networks as parents compare information and opinions on their children’s schools and teachers as well as on educational policy issues.
More parents are actively exercising their rights as “customers” to provide input to schools about matters ranging from the appropriateness of punishments to teachers’ marking of homework.
It is clear that many parents expect a great deal from their children’s teachers while wanting a greater say in the kind of education their children are receiving.
At first glance, it would appear to be a simple matter for teachers to teach and for parents to parent their children, with a clear-cut dichotomy of roles and responsibilities.
However, the reality proves far more difficult. For one thing, schools expect parents to be supportive in actively supervising their children’s homework and lending support to various school events and activities.
Some primary schools even conduct classes for parents so that they can better understand the new mathematics curriculum and coach their children.
A primary school teacher recently made headlines when she criticised parents who, in her opinion, had been unwilling to spend time reading with their children.
On the other side of the coin, teachers often resent what they view as unwarranted intrusions into their professionalism when parents question the accuracy or fairness of their marking of students’ assignments or the soundness of their pedagogical strategies.
In other words, the delineation of boundaries between parents’ and teachers’ roles and responsibilities appear at times to have become blurred.
Another common problem in school-home relationships is the tendency for both parents and teachers to blame each other for students’ alleged shortcomings in conduct or academic performance.
Teachers may complain that parents fail to see the value in current education policy trends and stick to an outmoded conception of teaching and learning.
They may also feel that some parents are teaching their children values or attitudes that run counter to those contained in MOE’s character and citizenship education curriculum.
Parents, on their part, may feel that teachers fail to adequately consider the unique learning needs of their children.
The ubiquity of private tutoring has provided parents with a basis for comparing the teachers with private tutors who parents think may be better able to focus on their children’s specific learning needs.
A third problem concerns the nature of school-home communication. Teachers may find it difficult to contact parents or find parents unreceptive to teachers’ opinions and advice.
They may also find that they need to contact parents after school operating hours have ended, which means an encroachment into their personal time. Parents may feel that teachers contact them only with bad news about their children, and that teachers are talking down to them instead of treating them as equal partners.
The Ministry’s guidelines attempt to address the issue of parental roles and responsibilities.
They state, among other things, the need for parents to create a conducive home environment for their children to complete homework.
They also advise parents to help their children develop independence in terms of time management and completing homework on their own.
In addition, these guidelines urge parents to respect teachers’ private time and their professionalism in dealing with inter-student conflicts in school.
These guidelines are an official acknowledgement that the task of developing trusting and supportive school-home partnerships is not easy and is very much a work-in-progress. The guidelines remain exactly what they are – guidelines.
The reality is that there is a variety of parents. Some, for various reasons, are unable to provide adequate guidance and supervision for their children’s schooling.
They are also unable to have regular conversations with their children’s teachers to discuss their children’s academic and non-academic development, perhaps preferring and trusting teachers as professionals to guide their children instead.
The guidelines will not likely change these parents’ behaviour.
Teachers may still find that they have to step in to plug gaps in parental involvement by performing some responsibilities that are best performed by parents, such as providing students with a regular place and time for study.
As part of their mission to be caring educators, they may even have to spend time after school operating hours to help students with pressing personal or family issues.
The guidelines have also yet to effectively address the concerns of those parents who insist on being actively involved with their children’s schooling to the extent of questioning teachers’ professional competence.
As parents, they have arguably every right to demand what they deem to be the best education for their children.
Perhaps MOE could have suggested ways in which these parents can engage in constructive conversations with teachers on their children’s progress in school.
Teachers face an ongoing problem of how to develop trusting and supportive school-home partnerships in the face of this parental diversity in terms of expectations and perceptions of roles and responsibilities.
Their arduous task is not made any easier by the fact that schooling is not only about teaching and learning, but is also about hopes and dreams. It is therefore invested with a great deal of human emotion, which the terms “trusting” and “supportive” imply.
Both parents and teachers will need to try and find a middle ground where they work as allies amid the backdrop of blurred school-home boundaries and rising mutual expectations on the part of both parents and teachers.
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