A massive Delhi government school building is like a fortress for families from the low-income neighbourhoods. It keeps the parents in awe and ensures that a wide gap is maintained between the school staff and the parents’ community. However, Delhi’s mega Parent Teachers Meeting (PTM) has a potential to transform these sarkari (government) fortresses into public-owned schools.
For the third time in the last two years, on September 1, Delhi’s government schools opened their doors to parents. Our team decided to meet some not-so shy parents who attended the mega PTMs in their ceremonial attires. A thousand parents were interviewed across the state with help from members of school management committee.
Research says that schools only require three bold steps to engage parents – ‘welcoming’, ‘honoring’ and ‘connecting’. The Delhi mega PTMs have aced the first step of ‘welcoming’. In the true spirit of a warm welcome, rangolis were prepared, personalised invitations were sent and school gates were decorated with welcome messages. When Babita, the mother of a child enrolled in the school couldn’t find the correct classroom, a high-school student escorted her to the correct room. There was tea, water and every little thing that would make them feel welcome.
The second step is ‘honouring’ the parents by recognising their efforts and importance the in child’s education. We came across teachers who exchanged phone numbers with parents encouraging them to stay in touch and teachers who had a list of standard complaints. When a curious parent inquired about his son, the young science teacher started explaining the importance of coming to school regularly, to drive home the point that his son needs to be more regular in school. As soon as the teacher took their first pause, the boy interrupted by saying, “I only missed the school once in last 7 months.” His father vouched for him. There were teachers who did their homework and gave precise feedback to students based on their performance in the previous unit test. An absence of formal training and guidance on how to make parents feel honoured was felt. However, in roughly four to six minutes of parent-teacher interaction, the role of parent was either unrecognised or misinterpreted.
The third step of ‘connecting’ parents to educational outcomes seems like the end of a rainbow. This step requires inclusive policies to reconstruct the role of parents beyond monitoring the schools and being passive recipients of information. We need audacious principals and teachers who consider parents as partners to maximise learning outcomes for the students.
School factors are important for a student’s achievement but there are studies that claim that ‘parental effort is consistently associated with higher levels of achievement.’ Thus, while interviewing the 1000 parents who attended the PTM, we also tried to explore their key role in their child’s education.
Around 49% of the parents reported that they have occasional conversations with their child’s teachers. Almost 50% parents opted for regular PTMs and 20% demanded extra classes. There were 23% of parents who also asked for regular updates through phone calls and SMS services.
We asked parents about the kind of support they provide to their children to ensure learning after-school. We could gather varied responses ranging from finding tuition classes to playing simple word games. Almost 361 parents, more than one third, gave an unclear answer or indicated towards providing no academic support. The rest of the responses could be broadly categorised as the providers, the participators, and the encouragers.
The providers have ensured that the child has access to tuition books and other learning resources. Around 36% of parents sent their kids to tuition and 6% said that they make sure that the child has access to support books, stationeries, and the internet.
Interestingly, 33% of parents confirmed that they directly participate in their child’s learning activities. Checking note books and school dairies and discussing school related work were quite common. There were a couple of responses where unlettered parents sat with their children during homework hours. There were quite a few parents who played the direct role of a tutor at home and engaged with the child through learning games. The direct involvement in homework made us call them ‘the participators’. Also, 9% of parents said that their children got academic support at home from siblings and other family members.
We called 16% of parents ‘the encouragers’ as they reminded children about homework, woke them up early or dropped them to schools. Also, we believe these categories are not water-tight and the role of parents in after-school learning can be a combination of all three roles.
According to intuitive estimates of a few teachers and principals, the attendance of parents has increased over the last three meetings. It’s surely challenged the perceptions that parents from disadvantageous communities cannot be engaged in academic activities. There are parents like Reena, who came prepared with the specific agenda of delayed distribution of computer textbooks. There were parents like Shakuntla, an immigrant from UP working as a domestic help, who came with a little helplessness and lots of openness, claiming that she will do whatever the teacher recommends for her child. Mid-sized hoardings of SMC members displaying their contact details encouraging parents to reach out for help, indicates that there are parents who are willing to support other parents as well.
Celebrating the massive success of Mega PTM is important, but planning further can not be procrastinated. Policy makers, government bodies, educationists, and citizens now need to put their brains and hearts into ensuring that parents become partners in our mission to revamp public education.