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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Parents as agents of change in education sector

19th November 2012
  Last Monday, I wrote on pre form one classes, whether they should be formalized or banned. Basing on my comments, I received a number of feedbacks through SMS and e-mail from readers. I had an interesting and fruitful online discussion with one of the readers, Sabas Massawe, whereby at the end of the discussion we agreed that for a longtime we, Tanzanians, have sent our frustrations and complaints on weaknesses in our education sector to the government, hoping that, the government is there to do everything for us. We reckoned that parents and community members have a role to bring change in education sector. Today’s article is going to discuss and justify that parents have a role to play as agents of change in education…

In simple definition, an ‘agent of change’ is someone who knows and understands the dynamics that facilitate or hinder change, and utilize his/her knowledge and skills to champion for talking hindrance to change. This person is self motivated by an urge to see that there are positive changes in his/ her environment.

Since independence, our education system has gone through a number of significant changes, according to my opinion, some of which were necessary and some were not necessary. Main changes in education curriculum have been observed at primary and secondary education levels.

In the last two decades there has been a dramatic change in the education system which affected curriculum, textbooks, and many more. However, all these changes have not been due to changing of various socio-economic policies but due to the wishes of the prevailing education ministers.

In one way or another, these changes have an adverse effect on teachers, students and parents. For example, changes in curriculum means students and their teachers will have to adjust to a new curriculum.

On another side parents have to shoulder a burden of ensuring that their children have obtained new text and reference books, as worse enough when these changes affect students academic performance its parents who suffer because their future academic dreams for their children are shuttered.
In one way or another they have to struggle to look for alternative means of supporting the child to obtain skills and knowledge for preparations of future responsibilities and their economic independence.

 Therefore, they are forced either to look for private schools, send their children to vocation training centers or leave around to support home chores. There might be a myriad of effects as a result of decisions made by policy and decision makers at higher levels, which might have an adverse effect on parents and their households.

It takes courage to be an agent of change in education. As parents are becoming increasingly involved in the education and training of their children, there is a possibility of using various approaches in effecting changes in their children, schools in which their children are studying as well as at the policy level.

What happens when parents encourage each other? A strong school community focused on learning develops, to the benefit of all children. All parents, regardless of their mastery of language, background, level of literacy or experience, have something to contribute to bring out positive changes.

Parents can become agents of change in education starting from their households, they need to instill in their children motivation toward learning, encouraging them to learn not for passing exams but acquiring skills and knowledge as well.

Parents can take time of their busy schedule to follow academic progress of their children in school. They can review their exercise books; talk with them as well as visiting their teachers to obtain feedback from teachers.

On another side parents can participate through attending school meetings and other functions such as ‘Open days’, which provides an opportunity for parents to obtain an understanding of school operations and participate in providing views or concrete criticisms on issues pertaining school operations.

It is my strong belief that through such forums parents can be very good monitoring agents of what is happening in school and demand for improved services for their children.

It should be noted that rights come with responsibilities, as part of requirement of change agents, parents should also be ready and motivated to fulfill their responsibilities.

For example, reviewing students exercise books, support students in learning, ensuring students have necessary requirements, motivating students to be independent in learning, follow up students attendance, attend school meetings, require feedback from teachers and many more.

In 2007, I had an opportunity to visit Bangladesh on a tour to learn various issues on education sector in that country through an invitation from Plan Bangladesh. We visited several primary schools in rural areas at Kansama, where majority of households are very poor that us.

However, parents are highly motivated to send their children to school. In addition, they make very close follow up of their children’s education progress. In one school, parents have formed a committee, which follow up academic progress of their children.

They have a roster of     visiting the school daily to gather information on what happens in school everyday.

Outside every classroom, they is a simple monitoring sheet which is filled in by parents on shift, after assessing the teaching and learning processing in a particular classroom.

Parents are allowed at anytime to enter into classrooms and monitor what is going on there. That illustrated monitoring sheet provides an opportunity for a parent to asses the teaching and learning session, whether he/ she liked it, it was motivating, it was participatory and whether he/she have an opinion that the children have learned something.

The sheet has been simplified such that even an illiterate can provide an indication of his/her feelings of what he/she saw happening in the class. I am not sure whether in Tanzania parents are allowed to see what is happening in classrooms, I don’t know why? I am confident that this can be done without disturbing school operations if good arrangements are in place.

Don’t think that this stage came on a silver plate, it did not happen by chance, it reached a stage whereby parents in rural Bangladesh, were totally dissatisfied with the poor level of education services which their children are obtaining and they had to take some action, which included lobbying and advocacy for their rights to be part of quality assurance of education services given to their children. At the end responsible authorities allowed this to happen.

I call upon parents in Tanzania to act as agents of change and promote home learning as well as advocating for improved education services at school level. Building a strong community of families committed to learning benefits of our children, and surrounds them with motivation and support while holding responsible officials and authorities at task.

We have heard of several civil societies which motivate citizen’s engagement in social economic development issues. Recently, Twaweza (which means ‘we can make it happen’ in Swahili) and Hakielimu has stood out to be some of strongest the civil societies which advocate for citizen’s engagement in bringing changes is social sectors including education.

Twaweza believes that citizens in East Africa can bring change themselves, rather than waiting for governments, politicians, donors or NGOs to do it for them.

I call upon civil societies to continue empowering parents in realizing their potential and responsibilities in ensuring improvement in education sector services. Parents should be empowered to learn how to understand their children’s educational needs.

Then, they should learn how to engage with schools and teachers to understand better what the school is providing and how parents can assist in helping meet students’ needs.

They also need to learn that they are not passive actors of instructions from the school administration, they have a right to inquire further explanation on matters raised or decisions done by school administration which somehow affects their children or households, for example: frequent financial contributions, utilization of development grant from government, disciplinary actions and many more. Some school administrations are reluctant in cooperating with parents, in such cases lobbying and advocacy is needed.

In the same tune, I strongly appeal to parents in Tanzania that we cannot continue to point fingers to the government in weaknesses in the education sector; we need to do something at our own capacity and surroundings starting from our household.
We need to build a strong parents’ power to influence changes and demand accountability of responsible authorities in providing quality education services to our children. Take courage, it can be done play your part!

The writer: Masozi Nyirenda is a Specialist in Education Management, Economics of Education and Policy Studies. He is reached through +255754304181 or [email protected]

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