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February 21, 2018 Wednesday 03:13:43 PM IST

CO-LEARNING WITH PARENTS

Cover Story

In my academic career of over three decades, I have obviously attended a few hundred seminars, symposia, workshops,

and round tables, but this has been by far one of the most pertinent and significant topics being addressed for the welfare of the growing generation.

 

My first premise is that today there is a huge difference in the relationship that exists between children and parents as compared to the past. Today, conversations between children and parents are fraught. Both stakeholders call it the generation gap, where there is little mutual understanding on familial, academic, or cultural issues.


 

When we talk of learning, are we talking of book knowledge or table manners or respecting our elders, including teachers? Or are we talking of modesty? How do you define it? For example, the older generation, the present, and the future generations have different perspectives on the very concept of ‘modesty’.

 

So who teaches and who learns from whom? Who accepts what the other teaches?


 

Parenting is,in fact, a significant, yet vastly underrated, learning process. Given the circumstances today — children’s increasing, often obsessive, preoccupation with screens of various sorts and the decreasing dialogue between parents and children around the dining table where once there used to be laughter and conversation—learning needs to be regarded as a lifelong process, where learning begins at home. In fact, we would do well to recognise that parents too need help in this process — in essence co-learning. It is equally the case that cultural conditioning lets parents assume they know it all.

 

CODE AND CODE BREAKING


 

If we were to draw up a code of conduct for students today as to what are the acceptable norms at home or at an institution, do we involve parents? Will children want parents to be involved? Let’s look at what usually ‘transpires’:


  • The Parents Teacher Association (PTA) is de rigueurin every institution of learning, where parents get a feedback about their children and where parents can voice an opinion for change in any aspect concerning the child or the institution. But what is the quality of such meetings? What are the dynamics at play? So what matters most really is what parents and teachers learn from each other. And, of course, how often should the PTA meet is another issue.
  • At home, the parents’ role is next to minimal. So after school, should parents have a look at their children’s   textbooks or notebooks on a regular basis? It isn’t necessarily academic learning that is implied here, but more importantly the ecosystem that parents need to foster at home — that of a culture of empathetic knowing.
  • Should parents make it a point to talk to teachers every term or semester? Should they also learn about what papers or projects their children are  taking on? Should parents have the expertise, knowledge sharing with both children and institution in the projects the children are involved with, is a desirable idea.
  • Of equal salience is the post examination phase, where parents have the most important role to play in helping their child cope with both success and failure with equal dispassion.
  • A critical social issue is that of drugs either at school or college.  So are parents aware of the fact that perhaps their child is into drugs? It is often the case that parents may choose the route of denial. Without being excessively interfering, parents need to step into their children’s lives meaningfully.
  • The most important issue is, who takes the onus of moulding a child’s character, including instilling the necessary social, cultural, moral, and ethical values? Responsibility here is clearly a shared one, among parents, teachers, and institution. However, the fact remains that it is theparent who has the primary duty to see that their child grows up with the values to be an asset to society and mankind.

  •  

    ABDICATION

     

    Once a child is admitted into school  or college, many parents tend to leave the learning process to the teachers or the institution. They do not either have the time or the inclination to oversee their children’s studies — not entirely blameworthy reasons. A number of parents feel that once the fees have been paid, the institution is expected to deliver a ‘finished product’. However, we aren’t talking about products, but about flesh and blood creatures who are expected to be our collective future.


     

    Textual/theoretical learning or teaching is one thing. But the parents’ role in motivating their children is inarguably a fundamental given. There is clear evidence that children are more successful when parents are involved in their studies and lives while teachers will be positively motivated by parental involvement in ways more than one. Co-learning is more to do with deepening interaction with children and fostering responsible adulthood.

     

    INSTITUTIONALISATION


     

    Today, it is important we institutionalise the link between the schools/universities and parents in the matter of parenting and co-learning. Who takes the initiative? While this cannot  happen overnight, the process needs to be thought through carefully without creating another institution with its own power structures and presuppositions. It calls for breaking new ideological ground.

     

    The central aims of education are to mould a student into a good human being and to train them to be down to earth and practical in facing the realities of life. More so in nuclear families, where both parents, because of their own preoccupations, are unable to devote enough time to the children.


     

    Therefore, as with anything else in life, institution-building is one of the foundational conditions in building a better world of learning, where parents, teachers, and students coexist meaningfully and in relation to one another in the fullness of things.However, as Robert Frost says, “We have miles to go, before we sleep”.

     



    Dr. Rose Varghese

    The writer is Vice-Chancellor, National University of Advanced Legal Studies, Kochi. 

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