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What did you do at school today?

mumbai Updated: Nov 25, 2009 02:25 IST
Serena Menon
Serena Menon
Hindustan Times
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When Yogesh Katira was a young schoolboy, his father often did not know exactly in which class his son was studying. It was not as if his father did not care about his son’s welfare. But 20 years ago, school education was never a conscious concern for parents.

Katira, 50, is now a parent, and his attitude towards his children’s education could not be more different. The businessman closely monitored his children’s school lives until the younger one finished class 10 a few years ago.

He continues to be involved in school issues in his community: he is the president of the Mulund Parents’ Association, which has members from 30 schools. Earlier this year, Katira even met government officials to complain about how school bags were weighing city children down.

“My parents would have not done anything even if they had noticed,” he said.

Like Katira, an increasing number of city parents are interested in knowing more about what goes on in their children’s schools.

One reason, perhaps, is that parenting styles have changed — from a benign but slightly aloof approach to a more intense — some would say hyper -- variety.

This means that parents are more involved with their children’s lives in general. Since school is such a big part of many children’s existence, it is inevitable that their parents would want to know more about what goes on there as well.

Another, related reason is that in Mumbai, many children now grow up in nuclear families, and in several cases, both parents work. In the absence of an extended family that might have been an influence and a source of security, a child’s school experience starts playing a big role in shaping his or her world view and personality.

“The generation gap has reduced, and parents have a greater understanding of peer pressures and competition,” said Arundhati Chavan, chairperson of the Parents-Teachers Association, an umbrella organisation of more than 160 schools’ parent-teacher associations. “Amidst the urban chaos, they want to track where their children spend half the day.”

The forum, which has grown from about 30 member-associations in 2000 to its present strength, works towards bridging the gap between school managements and parents.

Many parents now keep track of what is going on in their children’s schools through such associations, or with many schools putting up a lot of information online, through the Internet.

Active role
Some parents want more than just knowledge: they are seeking more accountability from school managements and even want a role in the decision-making process.

“I often receive 15 calls a day from worried and angry parents,” said Chavan, who was one of the three parent-members on a committee that the state government set up to suggest how a fee regulatory authority should function. “Schools can no longer do what they feel like because parents are watching.”

In the recent past, parents have helped organise bus systems in many schools, demanded greater transparency in the way schools fix fees and petitioned the state to fix many shortcomings in the online admissions for junior colleges, which the state government introduced this year.

Although the city has recently witnessed many tussles between parents and school managements, many institutions also welcome parents’ involvement, to a greater or lesser degree.

“Parents want to be a part of their child’s learning and have become a support group for the school,” said Meera Isaacs, principal of Cathedral and John Connon School in Fort. “We involve parents in certain decisions, but not all. They are not allowed to hover around the student as it makes the child conscious.”

Tridha, a school in Vile Parle that follows the tenets of Austrian educationist Rudolph Steiner, greatly values parents’ contributions.

“In fact, we interview parents, and only if they understand the school’s philosophy are their children given admission,” said Ruth Mehta, co-founder of Tridha.

So while parents in this school are not part of the administration and teaching processes, they are available to help in various activities, such as escorting children on excursions.

At a few schools, parent participation is actually part of the model of governance, such as at the Bombay International School at Babulnath. Here too, professionals take care of the teaching and administration, but parents are on various committees, starting from the governing board, which determines key policy matters, down to the kitchen committee, which includes parent volunteers who plan the school menu and cook the lunch for the entire school every day.

But even the most activist parent would acknowledge that involvement can become a cover for pushing personal agendas, and that it should not degenerate into micro-managing the school’s affairs.

“One parent’s objection to a compulsory excursion planned by a school cannot be turned into an agitation to get the school to change rules,” said Chavan. “Ultimately, we have to maintain a balance between the classroom and the home.”