|Al-Ahram Weekly Online
13 - 19 September 2001
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
Back to schoolWhen it comes to ensuring their children learn their lessons, parents are starting to feel like they are going to school all over again. But are they doing the right thing? Mariz Tadros investigates
Having heartily congratulated a nine-year-old on his completion of the fourth grade of primary school, I soon learned that the praise was supposed to be spread around. "He isn't the only one to be congratulated," his mother immediately retorted. "I studied the entire syllabus with him -- thank God it's over."
An increasing number of parents are taking on the role of teacher at home. Parents complain that they are forced to spend several hours every night explaining lessons and helping to solve homework exercises to ensure their kids understand their school's demanding curricula. Most complaints come from parents of children in private schools, as the parents of students in public schools are not all literate, let alone educated sufficiently to explain today's syllabi.
This prompts questions about whether there really is a problem with our educational system, or if children are simply being underestimated by over anxious parents. But parents interviewed by Al-AhramWeekly are adamant that teachers are just not doing their job. "They don't bother explaining lessons properly and we have to go over the lesson," explained on exasperated parent. "Sometimes this is confusing for the child, because the way I explain things is very different from the way the teacher does."
Loaded school syllabi are also blamed. "They have to learn so much that sometimes the teacher skims through it in class and expects us to go over it in detail at home," another parent insisted. Other parents point to lucrative private lessons as an incentive for teachers not to teach a class properly.
Mohamed Kamal Soliman, secretary-general of the Teachers Syndicate, denies that parents need to take on a teaching role in order for their children to learn. To the contrary, he argues that parents do not spend enough time supervising their children's studies. The demand on private lessons, he claims, is the product of "social values and parental conviction" that schools are not performing their role adequately - and this applies to parents from all classes and walks of life.
Soliman protests that a teacher's performance comes under the scrutiny of far too many people in the educational system to be able to slip through the cracks. He cited three different levels of supervision within a school and another three from the Ministry of Education who check up on a teacher's abilities, saying that this makes it impossible for teachers to evade their responsibilities in the classroom. "It is particularly the teacher who comes under the spotlight and is subject to close scrutiny," Soliman added.
But Rasmy Abdel-Malek, head of the planning unit at the National Centre for the Development of Education, disagrees. He claims that existing structures and committees for teacher supervision need to be activated and applied more rigorously. "There are committees who are supposed to follow up on teachers," he explained. "They need to start doing that, because some teachers care for nothing but private lessons."
Said Ismail, professor of education at Ain Shams University, argues that to point the finger at one party is a form of injustice. Part of the problem, he argues, has to do with parents' excessive anxiety over their children's future, which can be so extreme they end up doing more harm than good.
"[Parents today] don't get their children into the habit of studying on their own. Instead, they are there spoon-feeding them every word," he said. "Many of our parents were illiterate; they never spent hours at our side. We had to rely on ourselves." A parent's help should be limited, says Ismail, restricted to supervision and follow-up, rather than turning into a substitute for teachers.
As for the difficulty teachers have covering the school curricula, Ismail says size and scope are no excuse. "There are more demanding syllabi in religion, history and geography in other countries, and teachers manage to do their job," he says. "I have to lay a lot of the responsibility on teachers. Private lessons are one aspect of the problem, but there is also the absence of a work ethic, and that does not just affect teachers."
Ismail is concerned that children are no longer brought up to rely on themselves, but consistently depend on someone else to think and take the initiative on their behalf. He says that the only solution is for schools to become schools again -- places of education. "This will not happen so long as the Ministry of Education continues to claim that we are moving forward and that our educational system is all well and good. The first step is to admit that we have a very serious problem that has to be tackled."
One thing Ismail is convinced would help is to extend school hours so that lessons are long enough to allow for the adequate coverage of the topic at hand. The extra time could also mean that children would have less work to do at home. Speaking with disdain of Egypt's growing latch-key kid problem, Ismail claims that every child, no matter how young, has a key around his neck and ends up having to fend for himself at home because the school day finishes early. "Ideally, children should go home late, after completing their homework, and not have to be tutored for hours by their parents or a private teacher."
Until that happens, many parents will continue to feel that they are revisiting their early school years, just to make sure their children are equipped for their examinations at the end of each year.
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