Wither the P.T.A.?

By Devi

The Parent Teacher Association was meant to bring together parents and teachers who have a common objective - the welfare and overall development of the school children. The emphasis is on academic development but other facets of a child's personality need to be developed too, so that the end product of a school education is a well-rounded personality.

The first Parent Teacher Association was started in the U.S. a century ago, in 1889. The idea was slow to catch on in India. It was only in the 1950's that the movement actually took off in our country. It gained momentum when the parent teacher organisations were given a semi-official status in 1959. The National Institute of Education defines P.T.A. as an agency which attempts to bring together the three important constituents of the school system, the child, the teacher and the parent. There is naturally interaction between the child and the parent at home, the student and the teacher at school. It is the third angle that needs to be closed. There is a necessity to bridge the communication gap between the teacher and the parent.

Strictly speaking, there is no clash of interests. However, in actual practice, the P.T.A. is used for purposes which defeat its very objectives. The P.T.A. is not a venue for a mud slinging match between parents and teachers. Often the school management uses it mainly as a plank for their fund raising programmes. The child hardly figures in such a scheme. The teachers tend to view the parents with suspicion, thinking that a parent attends a P.T.A. meeting only to complain against the teacher's method of teaching / poor teaching, overloading of home-work or to question the validity of their valuation. This is true to a certain extent. Most parents are concerned only about the problems faced by their own children. Parents need to look beyond their individual child's problems and take a wider view. Naturally their own children's problems vis--vis the teacher and teaching need to be aired, objectively discussed and solutions found.

Education even from the kindergarten level is a very complex process today. The syllabus is unmanageably heavy. For instance in one subject like number work, a child of five years is expected to learn numbers up to 1000, say the numbers backwards from 100 to 1 and learn the spelling of numbers up to 100. In the English class, only three letter words are taught, keeping the phonetic element in mind (e.g. cat, mat, bat where only the first letter is changed). What is the rationale of teaching the spelling and pronunciation of three letter words in the English class and making the child learn such long and phonetically different words like spellings of numbers? What if any, is the use of making the children learn the numbers backwards from 100 to 1?

It is things like these that parents would like to discuss with teachers. The teacher herself may realise how unduly loaded the syllabus is but may not be in a position to take it up with the school authorities. The parents in such a case can strengthen the hands of the teacher to bring about corrective action. In a closed atmosphere the parents are often afraid to bring up their child's problems for fear of victimisation.

The parent should bear in mind that as far as possible their complaint should not be a personal attack on the teacher which may adversely affect the teacher's career prospects. There is a need for an objective approach on the part of both the teachers and the parents. Open dialogue between them strengthens the academic progress of the school.

In Visakhapatnam, the P.T.A.'s are almost non-existent. Sometime back when one of the prestigious schools arbitrarily raised the fees, the parents objected. The salaried class found it really difficult to cope with the hike in school fees. The school management took a rigid stand, while the parents sought a legal remedy. The school was able to take shelter behind its minority status - and most shamefully cancelled the admission of those students whose parents had gone to court. Fortunately not all schools have such a retrograde attitude.

Admission criteria, eligibility for appointment as teachers, school fees, uniforms, are some of the issues where parents could be involved, at least at the discussion stage so that their views may be elicited. This need not be viewed as interference. Some of the more progressive schools in the country, such as the public schools at Bombay assert that parents have to be an integral part of the educational process. They believe that there is scope for the parents to actively help in organising field trips, project work, teaching creativity etc. It is time that the schools in Visakhapatnam activate their P.T.A.'s and usher in a new era of cooperation between parents and teachers.

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