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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Can parents be used as partners in making school reopenings successful?

What school should look like post COVID-19? A parent and educator with an experience extending 20 years writes about considerations that the government should take in school reopenings

The news of private schools reopening in Pakistan has given prominence to the term ‘bitter-sweet’.

Parents are sliding on the scale of anxiety- where some are on the worrying side, not willing to take risks of their precious holdings, relentless in keeping them home and doing their best as substitute teachers till the vaccine is out.

Parents are as confused and anxious as everyone else

Moving towards the middle we have the parents where they are as confused about everything like everyone and have to practice their heart into the ‘send and see’ approach.

Read more: Provinces decide to reopen schools, NCOC meets to give final nod to decision

The other end of the scale has taken a long time to come out of denial and may have done very little with their kids over the past few months and somehow in their own logic and reason think more about the monetary loss of fee in private schooling sector, brain drain and blame-game and just to add humour, are also not sure about sending their offsprings to school either. Let’s work together, shall we?

“Communication” is key

How can we open our schools with the primary goal of safety in mind? With the help of parents. How? With a well-planned ‘caring communication’ strategy. By stating simple guidelines of hygiene procedures when coming from home and the expected conduct of cleanliness at school.

A suggestion-a safety-first kit should be provided by the school (as a welcome gesture of care and concern) to be kept in class and the same list of items should be provided to parents who can procure the same items to carry in their backpack. ‘Communication’ is an overused word which is seldom used in its actual form and meaning.

Handing out instructions and placing adverts on street lights is not communication-using deliberate caring language and being upfront about weaknesses and acknowledging challenges in handling all aspects of school life when they reopen is not only normal but it must be normalised in our parental discussions and school staff rooms.

A school setting should be a comfort zone for parents and students

No parent will drop you like a hot potato if they know that there is a genuine problem that a school administrator is trying to deal with rather than avoiding and pretending to be camouflaged. Visible effort must be made such as accessibility through emails, voice messages, text messages or approaching an actual representative on the phone during designated hours.

If continuous access is not possible at least have heartwarming auto-respond messages typed out for emails specific to the current scenario as well as recorded voice messaging services. The last thing we all should be doing is increasing our level of stress and helplessness in a school setting which is meant to be a comfort zone for parents and students alike.

Read more: Pakistan: Is it safe to reopen schools now?

Social media should only be used for announcements and maybe messages from principals, coordinators or the head of school to instil a compassionate neuron in our mindsets. Facebook chats and messaging are a nightmare to all communication strategies and should be closed mostly and open on special events and emergencies if needed.

A hybrid model of teaching and learning with SOPs should be introduced

How can we open our schools with the primary goal of learning in the novel challenging scenario? With the help of parents. How? By offering a hybrid model of teaching and learning so that the SOPs can be followed, routines can be established and students can become self-directed learners and not just screen absorbing little humans.

If the staggered approach offered by the MoE is followed, it will be an arduous task for teachers to keep pace with achieving the academic milestones for the scheme of studies. For example: one unit may take one and a half weeks if a grade 5 having 4 sections and 30 children are divided into halves over the week.

It would be a wiser idea to deal with the hands-on aspects of the syllabus, difficult concepts and core tasks in class and the rest should be shifted to hybrid modules with revision and reinforcements and other student-friendly assignments which parents can be supportive of as well.

Assessments can be modified for this academic year with emphasis on students’ efforts, perspectives and projects rather than just data entry tests which measure memory not creative thinking.

Parents already have been unconsciously trained into supporting their children at home during these lockdowns, let’s keep them employed for their child’s benefit for after school reopenings! The reward is not a salary-but the smile of accomplishment and strengthening of the parent-child bond when it comes to learning at home.

Surveys should be conducted from students and parents about their needs

How can we open our schools and make them adaptable, improved and attuned to the 21st century needs and future surprises? By taking frequent check-in surveys from students and parents. By asking the right questions about their needs.

Through sharing the schools’ plans, reasons for modifications, addition and re-engineering of their curriculum. By focusing on incorporating the aims and goals of Pakistan’s education dream with the 21st-century learning areas. By asking pertinent questions such as access to technology and devices, sharing of resources at home, learning abilities, interests of the students which harness their multiple-intelligences and not just rote-learning abilities.

By asking a student’s concept of assignments and grading in lieu of benchmarks given by educational boards. This gives voice to students and choice to parents who support at home in attempting these assignments.

All the information gathered should be made comfortable for the parents and students by allowing them the state of anonymity- no data should be collected about who said what so that no vendetta can be claimed. Nowadays this can be done easily in Google forms for free. Being open and receptive to feedback is not the signing of a bond to consent to the suggestions given by students and parents-but the caring and authentic communication to the stakeholders of a school and the educational society in general.

I hope we can make parents as partners in these changing times. We have to go through this. Teams can overcome adversities when they change hands and roles. Just like the parents did when the lockdown began. Keep hearts and minds open- so our schools can open.

The writer is an educator, teacher, and reformer with 20 years of experience in the realm of education in Pakistan and Canada. She believes that a teacher is a student forever. She tweets @teachersbloc