Report on Parents' Views on School Education

A workshop organized by Divyam Academy of Values (DAV) & International Forum for India's Heritage (IFIH)

on Saturday 22 December 2007 at Dhanwanthari Kalakshetra, Ayurvedic Trust Campus, Ramanathapuram, Coimbatore 641 045

Introduction

This half-day workshop brought together forty parents from Coimbatore to solicit their views on the quality of their children's school education. The workshop's central themes were advertised as:

"In recent years, there has been a growing national debate on the quality of school education in India. Educationists, teachers, parents, and students, have been asking the following questions: Should the purpose of school education be simply to pass exams? Are our children encouraged to think and understand, or are they just asked to passively memorize masses of data? Are their talents and potentialities nurtured and stimulated to the full? Do they find at school an atmosphere that encourages their personalities to blossom? Are our children generally happy and satisfied with their schooling?"

After a keynote address by Mrs. J. Geetha, retired principal, parents were called to the dais one by one in a common session lasting almost three hours, its second part being interactive. Three brief concluding addresses by Mrs. Hema Ravikrishnan, educational consultant, Shree Baldevdas Kikani Vidyamandir Matriculation Higher Secondary School, Coimbatore, Shri Michel Danino (IFIH) and Shri P. R. Krishnakumar (DAV), summed up the proceedings and proposed a resulting perspective.

This report presents the salient points made by the parents, taking also into account the remarks collected in the registration and feedback forms. Parents were generally unhappy with, even seriously “worried” by, the quality of prevailing school education, but did not limit themselves to critical remarks; they also proposed many positive and realistic steps, which were addressed to three different kinds of recipients:

   

the parents themselves;

   

the teaching community: school managements and teachers;

   

the policy makers: the Government (State or Central).

We have structured the report accordingly.

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I. The Parents

All participants agreed that parents themselves are largely to blame for the prevailing situation, by pressuring their children to achieve high marks, by comparing them with other, better-performing children, or by spending little or no time with them. Parents also often oppose positive change, afraid that their children will not “perform.”

The solutions proposed included:

 
  • Parents should spend more time with their children, or “invest time” with them;

 
  • they should act as friends to their children and come down to their level.

 
  • Home schooling, especially in the first years, where good KG schools following the Montessori method are not available. (One parent observed that unlike the Matriculation board, the Montessori method “respects the child as a person” and “believes that the child knows.”)

 
  • Parents should come together to interact with the school managements and help in bringing about changes in the educational system.

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II. The Teaching Community

Parents had many complaints against the manner in which schooling is conducted:

 
  • Nothing is taught as to what kind of person the child has to become. Several parents also observed that the child’s first years are crucial and must be made use of to build a strong foundation. Instead, children are pressured to “perform” as earlyas possible; sometimes they are pushed to learn reading and writing by the age of 3.

 
  • The syllabus is too heavy: school students today have four times as much material to absorb as their counterparts of 1950.

 
  • Teachers tend to make excessive use of rote learning or memorization. They do not take time to explain concepts. As a result, children are given “neither roots nor wings,” and their potential is not allowed to flower.

 
  • There is cut-throat competition, which manifests, for instance, in excessive homework, in the loss of all leisure time, in stressed or depressed children, or in progress reports that can be a source of humiliation. As one parent remarked, “The more we stress our children, the more they become under-achievers.” Another noted an alarming increase in children with learning problems.

 
  • Most of the child’s activities consist in writing for hours every day in a mechanical manner, which brings no benefit and is a waste of time.

 
  • The source of this competition is the board examination systems, which create a “vicious circle” of obsession with performance, mechanical learning, tuitions, and commercialization of education.

It should be noted that most of these complaints were addressed to the Matriculation system; some parents found the ICSE schooling more creative and less stressful; others ranked the CBSE board between ICSE and Matriculation.

The solutions proposed lie in:

 
  • introducing writing not in KG but only afterwards; and, when it is introduced, to present writing as a form of expression;

 
  • greatly reducing homework and making it more creative;

 
  • reducing the load of books carried from home to school and back;

 
  • not comparing one child with another; therefore doing away with internal ranking;

 
  • creating a positive atmosphere at school which will stimulate the child’s innate intelligence and favour character over achievement;

 
  • learning how to approach a subject; to listen to the child; to give more importance to the how of teaching rather than to what to teach;

 
  • integrating vocational training, which imparts the dignity of labour; learning should be life-related;

 
  • keeping enough time to encourage creativity, for visits to the school library, practice of music etc., so that children may enjoy their schooling;

 
  • using teaching material that can inspire the child, and encouraging the child to read additional material or books;

 
  • using Indian tales or stories (one a day, for instance) to teach values; schools can also make use of outside people as sources of inspiration and for the teaching of ethics through example, recognizing that students are ready to be inspired;

 
  • for all the above, having teachers well-trained in character development;

 
  • banning any form of corporal punishment; children can only progress through motivation, not through beating;

 
  • avoiding multiplication of examinations and replacing them with an intelligent system of evaluation and assessment;

 
  • ensuring that teachers of quality are attracted to the profession, and get proper remuneration and recognition;

 
  • finally, making proper use of parent-teacher associations (PTA), i.e. not in order to pressure children to perform, but to move forward on all the above points

Several parents remarked that Matriculation schools have considerable freedom till class 8 or 9, but fail to make use of it; a few promising exceptions were however noted.

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III. The Educational Policy

There was a general complaint that the syllabus is too taxing on the child as well as unsuited to the Indian context: examples and reference points are too often drawn from the Western world and not related to the Indian child’s environment.

Most parents noted an erosion of values and found that current schooling does not impart values or contribute to making the child a good human being. Several parents pointed out that terrorists are sometimes well educated and make use of their learning for the wrong purposes. Mere learning, therefore, by no means guarantees good character.

The examination system with its focus on the memorization of masses of data came in for considerable criticism and was held responsible for the degeneration in the quality of school education and for the commercialization of education.

The following solutions were proposed:

 
  • The syllabus should be considerably lightened to reduce stress and make space for more creative learning content and methods.

 
  • The concentration should be on basic concepts rather than on masses of data.

 
  • Teachers should be adequately trained to use creative and stimulating methods of teaching.

 
  • The examination system should be focused on testing intelligent understanding rather than rote learning.

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Conclusion

The above suggestions are being sent to the Government of Tamil Nadu, the NCERT and other educational bodies of the Central Government, as well as educationists. Summaries of the main solutions proposed are also being sent in the form of resolutions. Copies of this report will also be circulated among leading schools of the Coimbatore region and as widely as possible in the teaching community.

The workshop was felt to be a first step towards addressing the problems of school education. One parent commented at the end, “I felt a need to change my entire opinion by which I viewed Education as a whole.” Another stated her satisfaction “because the practical problems were discussed; we got new ideas and different points of view.”

Even though most parents came with severe criticisms, they were able to formulate constructive proposals. It is hoped that educational policy makers, educationists, school managements and teachers will take note of the parents’ recommendations in the right spirit and turn them into a reality.

If we combine the suggestions from the parents with those from experienced teachers (see IFIH’s report on teachers’ workshop) and with the students’ recommendations (from IFIH’s Survey), the result is a wide-ranging, realistic, implementable reform plan for a new school system in India.

 
       
 
 
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