There is a school in the highlands of Malaysia, in a remote area very similar to rural Madagascar. The local people are warm, friendly and prosperous. They are well educated and have a large influence on the distant national government.
Their success comes from two things: Firstly, their Christian faith which set them free from alcoholism and harmful taboos, and secondly their passion for education. Before a school was built some children would walk a week to get to secondary school, boarding for most of the year. When I visited it was obvious education was highly valued.
The secondary school was immaculate with beautiful gardens. The caretaker showed us round and explained that each village was responsible for part of the school. Some villages looked after a classroom; others looked after the grounds.
The local people were passionate about the education of their children, and as a result, teachers and children were hard working and successful. This remote school achieved some of the best results in Malaysia.
Across the world countries which value and make sacrifices for education are more successful. Filipino people, whose country is like Madagascar, value education highly. This gives them the skills to work all over the world sending money home. Many Asian people see educating their children as doctors, engineers or dentists as being incredibly important.
1) How can we involve people from the wider community in schools in Madagascar?
2) What difference would it make if community were involved in a school?
3) What sort of challenges are there that prevents community involvement?
I can usually guess which parents will see me on a Parents’ evening. If the students are well behaved, studious and trying their best, their parents will visit. If the child is naughty, never does their homework and looks like they want to be somewhere else, their parents will be somewhere else.
Parents who care about education often have children who are successful students. This is because children learn a lot of their skills and interests from their parents. Some parents say there are no jobs for educated children. But just because they can’t see any jobs now doesn’t mean jobs don’t exist or won’t exist in the future. And some children will start their own businesses and make new jobs or use their education to make existing businesses more successful.
How can schools help parents get excited about education?
- Hold parent information evenings, where all parents are expected to attend. In an evening, you might:
- Share what students are learning.
- Share school news and successes.
- Share important school dates.
- Share success stories of students who have left the school.
- Encourage parents to keep their children in school.
- Encourage parents to engage with what their students are learning, for example having parents ask their children to teach them what they are learning, or to ask about what they are learning.
- Make it a fun, social occasion with some entertainment if possible so parents want to come.
- Report cards should have more than a grade and a one word comment. Teachers should say something good about a student and something that needs to improve. This means you need to take some time to get to know the students’ strengths and weaknesses. Parents appreciate you noticing some positive things about their student even if they aren’t perfect.
- Parents’ meetings are an opportunity to discuss with parents (and often the student) how they are doing, encourage them to keep going and suggest some ways to improve. It is an opportunity to help parents understand the value of what their children are doing. Even if a student is terrible you should be looking at how they can improve and find something they do well.
- Involve parents in the school which can increase their enthusiasm for what the school does. Not all parents have time to be involved. Examples:
- Parents to come to school and teach something they are experts in.
- Maintaining a classroom.
- Planting and maintaining fruit trees in the school grounds.
- Keeping chickens in the school for the benefit of the kids.
- Coaching kids in football or other sport.
- If parents cannot pay fees, find a way for them to contribute to the school instead! Their inability to pay is often due to unemployment. Can they help with maintenance, or work in the kitchen or grounds for a few days? One school bought some land, a long way away from the school. Parents who cannot afford the fees work the land a day or two a month instead. The food from the land is used to feed the children in school. To avoid the children from being bullied and labelled ‘poor’, the farm is located outside of the school area and the assistance to the parents is not made public.
- Education that costs money engages people in education. If people must make some financial investment, it says they value the education. However, it is important that people who genuinely have no money can be educated.
- When students complete a class test, send it home to be returned with a parental signature. Keeping parents informed about how their children are doing is important.
What should parents do at home to show interest in education
- Ask children about their school day in detail, for example, ‘What subjects did you have? What did you learn about in mathematics? Can you show me an example of the equations you solved?’
- Talk to students about their class tests and report cards. Praise them for the good things and encourage them to do better in the areas they struggle with.
- Help students have positive aspirations. That doesn’t necessarily mean changing the family trade (e.g. farming) but might mean using their education to do it better.
- Expect children to spend time at home reviewing what they learnt at school. Provide a quiet time in the house for them to study.
- Always be positive about education, even if they are not well educated.
- Read to young children from a book. Maybe the school could develop a library of books for parents to read?
- Teach children about the things the parents are good at.
- Encourage children to read books themselves.
Some children have a carer who is not their parent. In this case you should involve their carer as you would involve a parent.
Both parental and community involvement in a school has the potential to make a huge improvement to the results of a school.
- How positive are your school community and parents about education?
- How could your school improve relationships with community?
- What steps will you take as a teacher to improve your relationship with parents and community?
- Talk to your headmaster about any ideas you think are important.