How Parents Can Make a Difference

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By Andrew Matjila In the earlier years of the development of formal education in Africa, particularly the period of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, missionaries were at the forefront of educating our people. Not only were black children educated in mission schools, but white children as well. The government of the day only came in later on the scene to share the responsibility. Tertiary institutions required big financing which only the government could provide. An interesting feature of the period of the missionaries is that parents of school-going children, especially black parents, by virtue of their being illiterate, developed a culture of total dependency on the knowledge of missionaries and teachers to know what was best for their children’s future. Growing children were often baptized into the Christian faith and given Christian names by missionaries. They knew what was best for the people, and very often they were right, because after all they were spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, which we all embraced. For a very long period of time, black parents kept to the background of things when it came to the education of their children in school. Yes, there were a few exceptions to this rule, parents who were enlightened and wanted teachers and pastors to know that they wanted to be informed on their children’s progress in school. Yes, there were parents who bothered to ask the children at home how they were progressing with their schoolwork. Some mothers even took the initiative of visiting the school to hear it at first hand from the teachers how their children were doing. But the larger majority accepted the fact that teachers and missionaries possessed all the wisdom, the skills, the love and responsibility required for bringing up children. Yes, the parents were partly right to think so. But biological parental love exceeds all boundaries when it comes to the rearing of children. The caring parent of a child must be deeply involved in the upbringing and overall education of his/her offspring. True, in the days past, the missionary or pastor or priest was often a white person, who, from the look of things, could not be approached by parents for various reasons, including perhaps the language barrier. In many societies in Africa, rural communities very often ran away when a white person appeared. In certain parts of Namibia, people were scared stiff of white people even thirty years or so ago, and often ran away from their villages when they saw a white man. This was not simply because he was a white man, hardly. But a white person conjures up an apparition or ghost to people who had never seen a white person. We are now in the 21st Century, yet we are still saddled with the problem of parents who cannot face teachers in their schools to discuss the progress of children. Many feel that it will be tantamount to underestimating the ability of the teachers, or worse still, interfering with their work. What with certain teachers making it very clear to all and sundry in their school that they do not tolerate parental interference. Very often parents are told that they are not educated and cannot therefore question teachers on matters pertaining to education. And so the culture of “keeping parents in the background of things” continues into the future. There is a way out of this impasse: – In today’s world, we talk of stakeholders and interested parties. – The people have been freed from the woes of the past. – Today’s world empowers people wherever they are, to take full control of their lives. – Our constitution guarantees the rights of every citizen and protects these rights. – Those who are not knowledgeable about issues have the right to ask. – Our Government is founded on democratic principles and is fair to all. – Gone are the days of keeping in the background. Everyone has the right to speak out. – Formal schooling is a continuation of the work started by parents at home. Certain values, norms, cultural aesthetics of our people, etc., should be developed further and systematically at school. Afro-centric traditions of our people must be strengthened. If a people do not know where they come from, it is not possible for them to know where they are going. The weak link in the education of today’s children: – Parents who never bother to visit the school to see the teachers of their children eye-ball to eye-ball. – Teachers who, unlike in the days of yore, hardly ever bother to visit the homes of their students. – Parents who establish shebeens where school children learn all manners of sordid unprintables of life from their very early age. – Parents who drink heavily and indulge in continuous fighting watched by helpless children. – Parents who have no time for their children because of being too busy making money, even to the extent that they cannot help their children with their schoolwork. – Teachers who hardly ever prepare their lessons, or anything they want to present to children, but simply crash into the class with time-wasting surprises. – Teachers who come to school inebriated, and ready to make spectacles of themselves. They poison the children and destroy them for life. – Teachers who are often absent from school due to just loafing, or absconding. – Parents who never check whether their children attend school daily, and are shocked the day the teacher tells them that their children never attended school for the whole term. – Teachers involved in trading, cuca-shops and taxi-driving. They have ready answers that politicians are getting rich, and they should get rich also. – Parents who do not really see the value of education. – Teachers who tell the children: “I am not going to write the examination, but you. I get my cheque every month. It is up to you to move yourselves. – Teachers who start the year procrastinating, hoping to catch up with their schoolwork in June or thereabouts. When that time comes around it is too late, and the children fail Grade X. – In rural areas there are parents who strongly believe that their children fail in school because of witch-craft. – Many teachers do not read anything apart from the textbooks they use. They do not subscribe to newspapers or magazines, and do not buy good books to build up their own libraries. In country schools it is not unusual to find mail order clothing catalogues being part of the reading materials acquired by teachers for their relaxation. – Teachers who prey on schoolgirls and see in them potential girlfriends or future wives are a terrible nuisance in any school and should not be given charge over children, for their own good. – Teachers who were not re-orientated (re-educated) into independence to look at the new responsibilities that go hand in hand with freedom from a different perspective. Many still live in the past. – Finally: Schools that are not fully supplied with the wherewithal of good learning: proper and enough textbooks, teaching aids, stationery, desks and chairs, hygienic surroundings and an atmosphere conducive to the learning process. What conscientious parents ought to know: They have every right to be part and parcel of their school, i.e., to be involved in the various activities that make up the general running of their school to educate their children. They should participate in the running of their school by willingly standing up for election to their teachers/parents committees or school boards. They have a right to make proposals where necessary, to improve on the running of their school. They have a right to attend to the discipline of their children in school, even to the right of discussing such matters of discipline with the Ministry. Parents have the responsibility to check in their children’s books to see what is going on. If children never get homework, something is wrong somewhere, and parents have a right to investigate. I know that some teachers warn parents to mind their own business in this regard. But the crux of the matter is a parent’s involvement goes further than merely asking Johnny how he spent the day at school. If parents are not sure of their role in their school, they need to ask their school committee or school board about the matter. Many parents who are gifted in various fields, help their schools in coaching in such activities as soccer, basketball, boxing, karate, tennis and the like. It is not every teacher who knows all these sports codes, and they need help from parents. Teachers are not gods who must always be left to the own initiatives. They need advice and assistance as often as possible, for the sake of the children, who are the centre of the learning process. These are but brief, simple and understandable ideas and thoughts to concerned parents who really want to see their children making it in life. Of course, there are obstacles along the way that will have to be overcome. But who said life is a journey of permanently smooth-sailing joy?