Parents' involvement in children's education can be a double-edged sword

June 13, 2022 | 05:54 pm PT
Lang Minh Researcher
To secure the best education outcomes for students, parents and teachers should join hands instead of being pitted against one another.

The day I learned I got first place in the National Excellent Student Selection Contest for Literature, my mother woke up at 4 a.m. to buy the best pork from the wet market in our neighborhood. At 7 a.m., we took a dish of lean pork paste to my literature teacher's house as a gift of gratitude.

My teacher, also a mother, sometimes dropped whatever she was working on to listen to my mother whine about how lazy I've been. My mother, in return, put all the faith she had for my education in the hands of my teacher.

Ten years later, I woke up at 5 a.m. to an email notification. Thu, HR head for a multinational corporation had contacted me to complain about her child's Social Sciences curriculum.

She listed every issue she had with the curriculum in a 10-page document, citing sources from similar programs around the world, concluding that the school's curriculum did not fit with her personalized approach to her child's education. I later learned that the international school that her child attended had to give in to the demands of a group of parents including Thu to revise the curriculum.

This was the complete opposite of what my mother did in the past. Parents are now active players in their children's education, not just teachers. They are getting much more involved with schoolwork these days. No longer are they content with sitting their children down and watching them do homework, today's parents want to approve sponsorships for their children's debate contest, provide feedback on education programs, choose locations for extracurricular activities, and even give suggestions on how the school should coordinate its staff.

As they say, it takes a village to raise a child. A comprehensive education requires the engagement of both parents and teachers, with the former acting as a bridge to bring the community closer to the teaching process. But there are problems with this notion.

A report by Carl James and Selom Chapman-Nyaho from the York University of Canada found that such an approach to education would heavily favor privileged groups: the rich and powerful at the expense of other groups without similar wherewithal.

In Vietnam, with the advancement of technology and social media, a smartphone is all it takes for anyone to publish any piece of info without verification. Parents can do that too, even if it violates rights to privacy and other legally protected rights.

The involvement of parents in their children's education doesn't always yield expected results. Garry Hornby and Rayleen Lafaele from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand say there are four factors that may lead to discrepancies between expectations and reality: parents' belief that they should be involved in their children's education; the student's age, behavioral issues and capacity to adapt; the relationship between parents and teachers, their differing views and goals; and social factors, such as the economic-political climate.

The recent incident of school violence at the International School Ho Chi Minh City (ISHCMC) has highlighted the difference in approach between parents and teachers. The mother wanted to see the student who supposedly beat her child, and her words and actions demanding it escalated tensions. The school authorities, meanwhile, were careful with their words and said very little in order to verify what actually happened.

In similar situations, parents, believing they are underdogs, enlist the help of public opinion to sway the conversation in their favor instead of waiting for the school and relevant authorities to sort things out.

Why is that? What do parents expect their children to learn when they themselves let online communities, fickle and prone to violence as they can be, be the judge? This is not how we should handle conflicts in the real world.

Today, I believe that both my mother and Thu were right. Honest and direct conversations are always the best way to bridge any gap between parents and teachers. This way, the involvement of parents and teachers in the child's education will carry the values it should.

All stakeholders in a child's education should put his/her interest first and the individual ego last. We set great store by the quality of humility. Let's keep in mind that like charity, humility too, begins at home.

*Lang Minh is a researcher. The opinions expressed are his own.

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