Early in October an unsigned letter purportedly authored by “Members of the Parent/Teacher Association” of a named state secondary school (since the letter was unsigned we have no way of vouching for its authenticity or otherwise) and addressed to Education Minister Nicolette Henry (and copied to three other Ministers) surfaced, ostensibly complaining about a host of irregularities at the school. It was one of those ‘tell all’ pieces of communication that proffered allegations that include alleged health risks arising out of environmental shortcomings associated with vendors plying their trade outside the school, performance at the CXC examinations, alleged corrupt practices involving school officials and administrative functions in the Regions.
The teachers and regional officials are dismissed as being among “the worst possible examples of integrity to schoolchildren and Guyanese society as a whole.” The style of the missive is crass and cantankerous.
Attached to that letter was a briefer (again unsigned) one, addressed to President David Granger (and copied to four other functionaries, including the Resident Representatives of two international organizations based in Guyana as well as a politician and practicing Attorney at Law. The letter addressed to the President is brash, intemperate, arguably even confrontational, its final paragraph demanding that the President “get your Ministers to earn their super salaries” whilst throwing in the threat that “if no action is taken by your government, we shall initiate protest action, starting at the UNICEF and PAHO office and we shall be meeting shortly with our (named) attorney to explore legal remedies.” It was, to say the least, a brusque, intemperate missive, its tone seemingly reflective of an altogether separate agenda.
The two letters appear to belong in a wider ‘family’ of developments that appear to be part of an ongoing ‘power struggle’ between the parent component of some Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs), on the one hand and Heads of schools and teachers, on the other, for control of those schools. This newspaper has been informed of instances where relationships between parents apparently wielding considerable influence on PTAs and the Heads of schools and staff whose job it is to manage schools continue to sour. Accordingly, it may well be timely for the Ministry of Education to make a discreet but firm intervention to address the situation.
Parents have every right to be concerned with the school-related welfare of their children, whether it be with their physical and emotional well- being or with the quality of the education that they receive. That point can hardly be overemphasised. On the other hand, deformities in parent/school interaction that threaten to compromise the normal functioning of the school cannot be allowed to take root since this runs the risk of compromising the very education delivery mechanism that is the raison d’etre of the school in the first place.
Reports of PTAs (or more accurately the parent component of PTAs) seemingly being used as instruments with which to supersede the authority of the bona fide administrators of schools are no longer ‘few and far between.’ They have become commonplace. Equally disturbing is what appears to be the reluctance (or, perhaps, the powerlessness) of the Ministry of Education to put an end to this development.
A careful examination of the rules laid down by the very Ministry of Education regarding the scope of the role of the PTA leaves no doubt that PTAs are meant to function within clearly defined boundaries. The Ministry’s rules make reference to the role of the PTA in promoting cooperation between home and school to enhance the process of teaching and learning, promoting the welfare of children at school, at home and in the community, acquiring and expending funds to enhance the programmes offered to learners by the school and organizing sessions to educate parents on the care and training during the various phases of schooling. PTAs, according to the Ministry’s rules, also play a role in educating parents in matters pertaining to education policy. That is as far as the prerogative of PTAs go. The rules make no provision for anything even remotely resembling dual control or authority sharing as far the management of schools is concerned, which is precisely what the parent component of the PTAs of some schools is frequently accused of.
Rules notwithstanding, incidents of ‘clashes’ between parents and Heads of schools are known to occur. Some of these ‘clashes,’ we are told, have to do with policy matters as substantive as the staffing of schools including issues pertaining to the appointments and transfers of teachers, matters over which the rules make no provision whatsoever for PTA involvement.
Enlightened and supportive parents can, through the vehicle of the PTA, play an invaluable role in continually strengthening parent/teacher teamwork which, in itself, is indispensable to rendering the delivery of education both more efficient and more effective. On the other hand, any system that even remotely resembles dual control in the substantive management of the school is a recipe for confusion and for the inevitable implosion of the school system. A juncture, it seems, has been reached, where the Ministry must move (and quickly) to issue a firm reminder (and a clear interpretation) of the rules governing the functioning of PTAs within the school system. The Ministry must restate the importance of parent/teacher teamwork whilst firmly making the point as to exactly where the lines are drawn insofar as the substantive management of schools is concerned. Otherwise, it must be prepared to shoulder the inevitable negative consequences of failing to do so.