Archive for January, 2011

Developing Global Competencies in Higher Education

Monday, January 31st, 2011
What does global competency mean in the context of the co-curriculum? (provide 2-3 sentence succinct overview) Global competencies in the context of co-curriculum represent those extra and co-curricular activities that complement the curriculum. In that sense, the co-curriculum has to be linked to the mission of the university. These activities should be geared towards learning about issues in more than one way and attempt to answer the question of how people of the globe experience the same things we experience.
What are the educational outcomes consistent with global competencies in the co-curriculum? As co-curricular activities are regarded as those out-of-the-classroom-activities that complement the classroom learning, the desired educational outcomes are similar to those put forth by the curriculum. In that sense, the co-curricular activities need to be institutionalized in order to facilitate educational goals consistent with curricular goals.
What practices/techniques need to be developed to achieve these outcomes? Although co-curricular activities must continue to complement what happens in the classroom, institutions should gradually move from defining these activities as ones that merely complement the curriculum to co-curricular activities that are an integral part of the curriculum. One way to achieve this is to offer as many opportunities as we can to complement what happens in the classroom as the first step.
Presuming that global competencies cannot be fostered in students if they don’t have global interest, how does one instill global interest within the co-curriculum? Exposure! Co-curriculum, like the curriculum needs to be infused with global themes, which leads to gradual transformation of co-curricular activities. However, incentives are necessary to drive students to various events, even though we can provide exposure, hence the necessity of moving from traditional notions of complementing the curriculum to being integral part of the curriculum
What are the leadership dimensions needed, and who must exercise them, if global competencies in the co-curriculum are to be created? The leadership needs to happen at multiple levels, starting with faculty and administration. Naturally, student leadership and student life need to be on board as well. Finally, community outreach and support can also be beneficial in this effort.
List any other conditions/barriers relevant to creating global competencies within the co-curriculum.

Read more @

Faculty resistance to change

Lack of administrative support


General student “apathy” and lack of enthusiasm on the part of student leadership

Markah yang diberikan kepada penglibatan murid sekolah dan pelalar matrikulasi .

Monday, January 31st, 2011
(a) Kementerian Pelajaran Malaysia (KPM) telah menetapkan markah yang diberikan kepada penglibatan murid sekolah dan pelajar Matrikulasi dalam kokurikulum untuk tujan permohonan ke universiti awam meliputi tiga bidang, iaitu Pasukan Badan Beruniform, Persatuan/Kelab dan Sukan/Permainan. Pemberian markah adalah berdasarkan kehadiran (50%), penglibatan (20%), pencapaian (20%) dan jawatan yang disandang (10%).

I can only comment on how it’s done in schools. In SMKDJ we used the exact same format.

Kehadiran takes 50% — this is fairly straightforward.

The ambiguity comes in for the rest.

Jawatan — there are only so many posts to go around, so pengerusi = 10 marks, naib = 9, etc. Normal members get 3 marks if I remember correctly.

Penglibatan — I forget how marks are awarded here.

Pencapaian — this is one of the worst categories, imo. Only if you represent the country to international competitions will you get the full 20 marks. If you win a national competition you get 18 marks or something.


1. Almost no one gets 80% and above for an A for extracurriculars. The cumulative marks are the average of the three subfields: Badan uniform, Kelab, and Sukan. This means that to get an A average, you almost need to win national competitions in ALL THREE categories, which is stupid and almost impossible — no one has the time. It is almost always better to be a master of one than to be a jack of all trades, which is what the MOE’s criteria seem to emphasize.

2. Also notice that you can represent the country in International Math, Biology, and Physics Olympiads, but only ONE of them will count since there is only space for ONE club. So students who are amazing in one particular subject/field and not so in the others (i.e. great in sports but not so great in uniformed bodies) will suffer.

3. There is not enough flexibility in terms of awarding marks. For example if I were to win the IMPAC Dublin and MPH writing competitions, the marks will only count IF and only if I were a member of the English Club. They would not count if I were only a member of the Geography Club. Marks are awarded firstly based on the clubs you join, then your achievements that are pertinent to those clubs — which is entirely unfair.

4. Also we lack many many competitions and opportunities and funds — which accounts for the lack of pencapaian marks. Malaysia doesn’t send teams to many international competitions like the International Geography Olympiad, etc. Even for debating — last year Malaysia just sent their first team in about 7 years to the World Schools Debating Competition. So if your passion happens to be in a not-so-popular field, too bad for you lah.

5. Also the marks do not reflect the effort and energy put into extracurriculars. Who is to say that being a Scout leader is worth more points than representing your school to a public speaking competition? Or vice versa? Some things cannot be quantified.

6. Also take into account that those who go for NS get the full 10 marks for extracurriculars (I’m not sure about this, will check). If this is true then the whole system is greatly subverted.

7. Too many activities do not fit in the system. If you volunteer at the local old folks’ home. for example, you have no way of categorising your activity.

All in all it was a farce lah. I didn’t care about the marks — I even skipped all meetings for the uniform bodies because we learnt nothing — which means I failed my Badan Beruniform portion.

I think a better way is for students to write their resumes, then for the MOE to categorise the resumes by bands which can be converted into scores (Excellent, Strong, Mediocre, Weak). Then award the scholarships based partially on this. The quantifying of effort should come after a comprehensive survey of all extracurriculars, and not based on activities that are first categorised into Badan Beruniform, Kelab and Sukan.

by Andrew Loh.
Read more @

Co-curricular Points

Monday, January 31st, 2011

For Malaysian students applying for local universities entry, 10% of the consideration comes from the fairly new “co-curricular points” system. And from what I understand, the point allocation system is fairly opaque and many don’t really know how it gets awarded. There is even suspicion that the marks are tweaked by the Ministry of Education to give unfair advantage to certain particular groups.

Hence I asked the following question to the Education Minister to clarify the mechanism by which these points get awarded -

(a) cara pengiraan mata aktiviti ko-kurikulum bagi pelajar-pelajar untuk tujuan permohonan universiti awan; dan

(b) siapakah yang menentukan mata aktiviti ini dan apapkah langkah yang diambil Kementerian untuk menjamin proses tersebut adil dan saksama.

The replies were as follows:

(a) Kementerian Pelajaran Malaysia (KPM) telah menetapkan markah yang diberikan kepada penglibatan murid sekolah dan pelajar Matrikulasi dalam kokurikulum untuk tujan permohonan ke universiti awam meliputi tiga bidang, iaitu Pasukan Badan Beruniform, Persatuan/Kelab dan Sukan/Permainan. Pemberian markah adalah berdasarkan kehadiran (50%), penglibatan (20%), pencapaian (20%) dan jawatan yang disandang (10%).

Untuk makluman Ahli Yang Berhormat, markah bonus pula diberikan bagi penglibatan murid sekolah dalam kegiatan kokurikulum yang dianjurkan oleh pihak luar sekolah. Markah bonus juga diberikan bersarkan sesuatu jawatan kepimpinan yang disandang oleh murid dan jawatan tersebut bertujuan membantu pengurusan dan pentadbiran sekolah. Jawatan tersebut merangkumi;

i. Jawatan peringkat sekolah seperti Pengawas, Pengawas Perpustakaan, Imam dan sebagainya;

ii. Jawatan peringkat rumah seperti Ketua Rumah, Ketua Bilik/Asrama dan sebagainya; dan

iii. Jawatan peringkat kelas seperty Ketua Kelas dan sebagainya.

(b) Bagi menentukan markah kokurikulum tersebut, KPM juga telah mengeluarkan Buku Panduan Penilaian Kokurikulum Sekolah Menengah pada tahun 2007. Oleh itu, pemberian markah adalah berasaskan panduan yang telah digariskan dan digunapakai di semua sekolah menengah. Panduan ini telah disediakan oleh Jawatankuasa/Panel yang dianggotai oleh pengawai-pegawai di peringkat sekolah, PPD/PPG, JPN dan KPM.

Bagi pelajar Matrikulasi pula, penentuan markah kokurikulum adalah berdasarkan aktiviti yang diceburi pelajar dengan mengemukakan sijil-sijil yang diiktiraf dan disahkan oleh pengarah Kolej Matrikulasi berkenaan. Proses ini dilaksanakan secara telus oleh Jawatankuasa Penilaian 10% Markah Kokurikulum yang dipengerusikan oleh Pengarah Kolej Matrikulasi yang berkenaan.

Well, there’s slightly more clarity here with the answers, but it probably doesn’t do much to help us assess if the above process is fair and transparent, as claimed.

by Tony P.

Read more @

Staying current

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

To stay relevant, educators and policy makers must understand that today’s learners have different mindsets and demands.

EACH generation is different from the last, and therefore we cannot expect the same tried-and-true methods to work in overcoming today’s challenges.

For better or for worse, we have to accept today’s students are a whole new race of people with different mindsets, with novel ideas and needs, with a different code of conduct and ethics and with a whole new set of rules to govern their lives. This is brought about by new units of families, ways of doing business, access to information and an inacceptance of being told what to do.

We can choose to engage with the players, i.e. students, or to impose on them outdated systems that are becoming more and more irrelevant by the minute.

Let’s meet the new student.

The new student is first and foremost a creature of immediate passions wanting quick outcomes, and this is perhaps the vital reason that our education system does not meet his needs. Consider what they grew up with! Fast food, instant online services catering to every whim and fancy, instant messaging and e-mails, fast cars, faster highways; you know we are all being conditioned to respond immediately and to expect immediate responses.

Children are being conditioned to react immediately to first felt emotions, experiences and encounters — a direct result of the fast life. Unfortunately, regardless of the “gut feeling”, first felt passions are seldom right, and responses usually stem from shallow and materialistic wants and needs. The ability to look below the surface is an ability that manifests only when nurtured and trained.

Perhaps the first relevant question we should ask is whether we should be catering to this demand for fastness and new ethics, or if we should slow them down instead – to teach them to reflect, to process information before reacting.

But I believe we are no longer in the driver’s seat of that decision, as the global community of young children and adults have already clearly expressed their choice and demand for speed to be inserted into every aspect of their lives.

If we do not cater to what has become now a “need”, then we are not going to be able to capture attention, sustain interest or make knowledge relevant and meaningful. Putting aside all the other reasons, our education system has to change simply to meet the new students on some of their own terms.

New approach

A dynamic, vibrant, meaningful, inclusive and real world based classroom environment has never been a trait of the Malaysian classroom. Previously, this has never been a problem.

But the current generation of students has no fear of discussing their teachers on Facebook, openly insulting teachers who are disrespectful and not inclusive in their managing styles, and will challenge teachers’ knowledge of relevant and real-time updated content. They also do not accept “facts” that are presented and are quick to attack one-sided perspectives of the world. I must say that this does not bode well for our current versions of history and science.

From the view of a neuroscientist, I know that compared with adults who grew up in the Industrial Age, children who grow up in the Internet age have bigger cortices, more efficient synapses, brain networks and neurotransmitters, different networks of blood supply and different active regions. Even from this narrow perspective, it is clear that these “new brains” – and also new ways of thinking and knowing – will have new demands.

Combine these with the power of social networks; an organism that is the combined strength of thousands of student brains coming together as one on Facebook, and I hope you begin to see the dilemma. Students are no longer dependent on teachers or parents. They have capabilities and skills that are not addressed by our current school curriculum.

What we all need to understand is that our students are changing overnight, and the change is dynamic – never staying put at one level. Physical classrooms with tables and chairs are no longer needed for “learning” to take place. Teachers and headmasters, who equate good discipline to silence throughout a lesson, should be made to retire.

We need new learning tools. Imagine a paperless classroom environment, and perhaps even exams that are non-standardised — since the point is to train all our non-standard student human beings to achieve their potential.

This is a world of multiplicity and anti-centralised habits, and the fact of the matter is: everything we hope to achieve as a nation starts with education. It is time for the relevant ministries to become ministries of educators, not politicians who make decisions without regard to academic consequences. In the long run, governments that are willing to hand power to the students and autonomous educators will be the ones who stay in power.

Knowledge is the liberator, and our new Malaysian students should have the freedoms and trust to explore, learn and discover their own truths.

by Dr Theva Nithy, a senior lecturer at The School of Educational Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang. The School is working to contribute towards the transformation of the landscapes of Malaysian schooling and higher education systems. He can be contacted at

Read more @

Take interest in ICT, school heads told

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

IT is pertinent for school heads to completely embrace information and communication technology (ICT) in the current information era, said Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

“The time has come to re-conceptualise the role of the principal in managing schools as learning organisations,” said Muhyiddin who is also Education Minister.

At school level, the school head or principal must be involved in ICT by encouraging continuous innovation and improvement, he said at the 5th roundtable meeting of Asean Educational Leaders and the 3rd Conference of South East Asian School Principals Forum in Brunei recently.

The events were held in conjunction with the 46th Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organisation (SEAMEO) Council Conference (SEAMEC) and 6th Asean Education Ministers Meeting (ASED).

Schools and their principals should not depend on archaic methods, but should move towards keeping up with technology and making decisions and improvements that are current and relevant, he said

For a start, he said school principals being the “implementers and translators of policies”, should be ready to face and resolve problems experienced at all levels .

At the same time, Muhyiddin stressed that they should not expect to implement change if no attempts were made to understand the context of change.

Sharing the Malaysian experience, he said the ministry had launched several initiatives to improve the education standard.

“We have developed clusters of excellent schools under the High Performing School Programme where school leaders are encouraged to share best practices in order to enhance student learning. This programme has brought about positive results,” he said.

He said 20 schools obtained high performing status last year and many more would meet the benchmark this year, including those from remote areas.

“We have also embarked on the School Improvement Programme to accelerate school transformation on a wider scale,” he said adding that since its implementation last year, 40% of schools had demonstrated marked improvements in student performance.


Read more @

In remembrance of Tun Abdul Razak

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

Universiti Tun Abdul Razak (UniRazak) recently co-hosted a tahlil ceremony for the late Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, after whom the university is named.

The event was held on the 35th anniversary of his death. Abdul Razak, Malaysia’s second prime minister, passed away on Jan 14, 1976.

The ceremony, which was also hosted by Abdul Razak’s family, was held at the home of his widow Tun Rahah Mohd Noah.

Over 300 people attended the solemn gathering, including family members, government officials, cabinet ministers, and the university’s staff and students. Amongst those in attendance were Abdul Razak’s son Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Malacca Yang di-Pertua Negeri Tun Mohd Khalil Yaakob.

The tahlil is a religious event where Muslims pray for the well-being of the deceased.

UniRazak’s president and vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Md Zabid Abd Rashid said he was glad that the university was a part of the event.

He said that it was heartening to see the current students attending and paying their respects, and he hoped they would continue Abdul Razak’s legacy by being committed and dedicated to education for the betterment of the country.

Read more @

Types of Co-curricular activities (CCA)

Saturday, January 29th, 2011

In Singapore there are generally two types of CCAs. They are the Core CCA (also known as Main CCA) and the Merit CCA (also known as Secondary CCA or Optional CCA).

Core CCAs (e.g. Band, Rugby, Boys’ Brigade, Track and Field, Singapore Youth Flying Club) normally take up more time and resources and have more emphasis placed on them by the school. Joining a Core CCA is compulsory for secondary school students in Singapore and it is considered an integral part of the education system.

Merit CCAs (e.g. Chess Club, Gardening, Philatelic Club, Library Club) are less time-consuming. They are an optional addition for students with an interest in the Merit CCAs subject.

Sports and games:

  • Archery
  • Badminton
  • Basketball
  • Cricket
  • Cross Country
  • Fencing
  • Field Hockey
  • Flatwater Canoe/Kayak Racing
  • Floorball
  • Golf (only offered in some schools)
  • Gymnastics
    • Artistic Gymnastics
    • Rhythmic Gymnastics
    • Trampoline Gymnastics
  • Hockey
  • Handball (played with a club)
  • Judo
  • Netball
  • Outdoor Adventure (usually in junior colleges/JCs)
  • Rugby
  • Sailing
  • Sepak Takraw
  • Shooting
    • Air Pistol
    • Air Rifle
  • Soccer
  • Softball
  • Squash
  • Swimming
  • Table Tennis
  • Taekwondo
  • Tennis
  • Tenpin Bowling
  • Track and Field
  • Volleyball
  • Waterpolo
  • Wushu
  • Ultimate(Frisbee)
  • Sumo

Uniformed groups:

  • Boys’ Brigade
  • Girls’ Brigade
  • Girl Guides Singapore
  • Military Band
  • National Cadet Corps (NCC)
  • National Civil Defence Cadet Corps (NCDCC)
  • National Police Cadet Corps (NPCC)
  • Red Cross Youth (RCY)
  • St. John Ambulance Brigade (SJAB)
  • The Singapore Scout Association (SSA)

Performing Arts groups:

  • Angklung Ensemble
  • Bands
    • Brass Band
    • Concert Band
    • Symphonic Band
    • Wind Band
  • Chinese Orchestra
    • (some schools may focus on certain solo instruments, like Cedar Girls’ Guzheng Ensemble)
  • Choir
  • Dance Clubs
    • Chinese Dance
    • Indian Dance
    • International Dance
    • Malay Dance
    • Modern Dance
  • English Drama
  • Gamelan
  • General Music
  • Guitar Ensemble
  • Guzheng Ensemble
  • Handbell Ensemble
  • Harmonica and Keyboard Ensemble
  • Harp Ensemble
  • Indian Orchestra
  • Piano
  • Orchestra
  • Strings Ensemble
  • Violin

Note that Band may either count as a uniformed group or a performing arts group.

Clubs and Societies:

  • AVA Club (Audio and Visual Aid)
  • Art Club
  • Astronomy Club
  • Chess Club
  • Chinese Cultural Club
  • Chinese Calligraphy Club
  • Computer Club
  • Debate Club
  • Drama Club
  • Entrepreneurship Club
  • Environment Club
  • Gardening
  • Green Club
  • Guitar Club
  • Health and Fitness Club
  • Hydroponics Club
  • Infocomm Club
  • Interact Club
  • Language Club
  • Library Club

*Mathematics Clubs:

  • Mind Sports Club
  • Multimedia Club
  • Philatelic Club
  • Photography Club
  • Robotics Club
  • Science Club
  • Singapore Youth Flying Club (SYFC)
  • Video Animation Club

In some schools, instead of separate clubs for Language, Debate and Drama (and even Culture), these domains are grouped under the heading of Language Debate and Drama Societies, an example of which is the English Language Drama and Debate Society (ELDDS).

Read more @

The positive side of co-curricular activities

Saturday, January 29th, 2011

AS an active former student of a public school, I am concerned over the adverse comments in Star Education over the Education Ministry’s ruling requiring students to join at least three types of activities.

The uniformed units, societies and games are the three sections under the co-curricular unit.

A member involved in all three activities has to attend 15 meetings per year. Even then, not all the students make the effort to attend these meetings.

Tuition, music lessons, homework and transport problems are always used as excuses for not attending these meetings. There is only one solution to their “woes” and that is to have effective time management.

I know of students who have taken part in more than three co-curricular activities and have yet been able to complete their assignments on time. Besides, co-curricular activities are actually a platform for youths to express themselves and hone their skills.

Being part of a club’s organising committee gives students an insight into how to communicate, coordinate activities and solve problems.

They will not find it a chore to attend meetings, and might even look forward to it themselves, if they are interested and passionate about the clubs that they have chosen to join.

Students should not think of co-curricular activities as a burden but should instead participate and regard them as another form of education.

by Ee Xin.

Read more @

Bring back joy of schooling

Saturday, January 29th, 2011

STUDIES show that more and more school-going children are emotionally disturbed, as reported by the Health Ministry.

School is no more a fun place. In the old days, we always looked forward to going to school. But students today shudder to think about their school.

The school schedule is one cause of stress. Children spend time doing challenging school work, project work, participating in district events like choral reading, debates, etc.

At home, they have to complete loads of homework. Besides, they have tuition classes to attend; some attend tuition for every subject.

The poor child is deprived of his best moments in life – childhood. Even holidays are not spared. Children have extra classes to attend in school. And again more work needs to be done.

Even the physical environment creates stress for children. In most schools, the walls display slogans like “5As our goal” and “We will achieve 5As”.

They make the young minds ponder: Can I obtain 5As or will I fail to get 5As? What happens if I can’t get the As, will my parents be upset? What will my friends think of me?

Not only are the students stressed but the teachers and parents too. In my recent interaction with some teachers, they say the Kurikulum Standard Sekolah Rendah has created more paperwork, leaving less time for teaching and learning.

Parents caught in the rat race are also in stress mode. Besides having to find a good school for their kids, they also search out renowned tuition centres to send their children to.

Are As in the examinations the only criterion or goal of education? Surely not. Education should be wholesome, not just targeting academic excellence.

What about moral, spiritual, social and physical excellence? Children need to excel in all these domains. Excellence is a word that is always misunderstood by parents, and perhaps teachers also.

I believe every child can achieve excellence. For example, a C grader moving up the ladder to obtain a B or even a C+ is also excellence. But how many of our parents and teachers consider this as excellent?

The Smart School conception talks about this kind of excellence – a child should progress according to his capability and capacity. But, we only acknowledge excellence when the child obtains all As in his examination.

Stress in school is not a new phenomenon, but a story repeated time and again. What action has been taken to reduce stress among the three crucial players in school: students, teachers and parents?

We need solutions to these issues and bring back the joy of schooling.

by Dr. S. Nathesan.

Read more @

Tips on Getting Involved in School

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Once a week, Raquel Orozco visits her son’s elementary classroom in Rockville, Maryland, and reads a story to a small group of students. Although she is self-conscious about her limited English skills, she spends other days chaperoning school field trips to the Washington National Zoo, volunteering at PTA gatherings, serving on the district’s parent advisory committee, or driving her youngest to soccer practice. “We came here from Mexico City to find a better life for our children,” she explains, “and we’re doing well.”

For Orozco and her family, her hard work is paying off. All five of her children are getting good grades and doing well in school. Her oldest son, Daniel, will graduate from high school next year and go to the local community college—a first for her family.

The research is in, and the results are conclusive: students whose parents are actively involved in their education do better at school, regardless of their family income and background. Specifically, students with involved parents have greater academic success, better attitudes about school, and fewer behavioral problems. This makes sense, since parents are the central figures in the lives of their children.

It’s also true that all parents want the best for their children. So why aren’t there more parents like Raquel Orozco? Why are some parents from diverse ethnic backgrounds reluctant to come to school? It turns out there are some very good reasons, including cultural differences, lack of understanding about their role, time constraints, and language difficulties.

Cultural differences

Barrier. Parents may come from a culture that teaches them not to question authority. In these cultures, education is perceived as the responsibility of the schools, and family participation is viewed as interference with what trained professionals are supposed to do. For these parents, it is important to understand that teachers in the United States really do want parents to be involved in their children’s education. In fact, good teachers understand that only by working with parents can they do a first-class job; after all, parents know their children best.

Solutions. Approach your child’s teacher the right way, and you’ll forge a great partnership. But how should you do that? First, avoid meeting with teachers during the first few days of school. Overwhelmed with back-to-school paperwork, new rules, and new faces, teachers need time to get settled and to get to know their new charges. If your child is starting kindergarten, you may be invited to come with her or him on the first day to take part in orientation activities. However, this is not the time for a long, personal introduction; save that for a bit later.

Many teachers welcome the idea of meeting with parents briefly within a couple of weeks of the start of the school year. Try stopping by 10 minutes after school to introduce yourself and chat briefly. Virtually all schools have some sort of open house early in the year, and this is another ideal time and place to meet your child’s new teacher. At this point, the teacher typically will provide a plan for communicating with parents; for example, a monthly calendar or weekly letter. Read or listen to the plan carefully, and if something is not clear, ask questions. Find out how you can get in touch with the teacher at school and exactly when is the best time to call or e-mail.

As the year progresses, plan on maintaining your communication with the teacher. Conferences usually are scheduled around grading periods, but don’t wait for conference time to let the teacher know when important events are happening for your child or to check in about a troublesome issue. Keeping in touch with the teacher builds a relationship that can be important when concerns arise.

Lack of understanding about their role

Barrier. Parents not educated in this country may value education highly, yet have little knowledge of what their children do at school and lack information on how to support them. The more parents know about their child’s school, the better an education that child is likely to receive. But how should you go about gaining information?

Solutions. One of the best ways to find out what is going on at school is to volunteer time and help in the classroom. Offering this kind of support gives a positive, encouraging message, and as a side benefit, you will get the answers to any questions you may have about your child’s classroom. By spending time in their child’s classroom, parents get to appreciate what teachers do, and children see an ongoing partnership between school and home.

Another way to find out what’s going on with your child’s education is to check out the school’s Web site. These sites convey a range of information: school address and phone numbers, links to school staff profiles, calendar of events, updates about school closings, curriculum information, and homework assignments in individual classrooms. Indeed, the primary purpose of a school Web site is to communicate with families. So take advantage of it!

You also can gain information about how the school system works by attending meetings of the school board. There are over 14,000 public school districts in this country, and a school board whose members can be elected or appointed by other government officials governs each of these districts. Board meetings generally take place once a month, and most are open to the public. By attending these meetings, you can find out what’s going on in your district. And if you want to participate further, you can speak out on issues that concern you, or run for election to the board.

Time constraints

Barrier. Parents may work long or irregular hours. They may feel that they just don’t have the time to visit school or to make a regular commitment of time to their children’s education.

Solutions. One approach to this problem is to ask your employer for time off. Many businesses encourage civic responsibility and will give their employees time to volunteer at a child’s school. If you cannot take time off of work, there are still plenty of ways that you can be involved outside of the classroom. Teachers may need to have handouts assembled or records organized, and these can be prepared at home.

At home, you can support your child’s education by showing genuine interest in their work and progress. Structure a home life that is both educationally stimulating and supportive of your child’s schoolwork, and thus demonstrate how important education is to you. Remember that homework gives your child an opportunity to develop responsibility and self-discipline. Remembering assignments, organizing materials, gathering information, and budgeting time are important skills to learn for life. With this in mind, plan a routine that works for you and your child and keep it consistent.

Of course, joining a parent organization provides an excellent way to get involved, as well as an invaluable source of information and support. There’s nothing like getting advice on navigating your child’s school from parents who have already learned the ropes. Your local PTA provides a key opportunity for you to influence your children’s school and education directly.

Language difficulties

Barrier. Recent immigrants can be insecure about their English-language skills and reluctant to try out these skills among authority figures. They may be embarrassed to have their child translate for them and avoid situations in which this must happen.

Solutions. Not only does the federal law known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) require schools to give parents the tools they need to support their child’s learning in the home and to communicate regularly with families about their child’s academic progress, but it also mandates that schools communicate with parents in the languages they speak “to the extent practicable.” Indeed, schools and school districts around the country are taking steps to involve all parents.

For example, Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland publishes a comprehensive guide to navigating the school system and makes it available to all families in English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese. The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District in Alaska, where 60 languages are spoken, provides non-English-speaking families with a mentor who speaks their language and orients them to the school building and staff.

But what if this is not happening in your district? Cindy Choy, an immigrant parent from China, provides a powerful example of the way forward: “I immigrated to San Francisco more than four years ago. When I first immigrated, I didn’t understand English and did not understand my rights. I did not know how to help my daughter in her education. Fortunately, I met a teacher who spoke Chinese, and she was very important to me and my daughter’s education.” Choy goes on to describe how she volunteered to help on a field trip and in her daughter’s classroom, and began to understand the U.S. education system. She also started learning English simultaneously with her child. Since then, Choy has become a member of various parent groups, the English Learners Advisory Council, and the School Site Council.

Making progress

Schools are taking the responsibility to serve their multicultural, multilingual communities seriously, and helping families get involved—some for the first time—in their children’s education.

At Bonita Springs Elementary School in Bonita Springs, Florida, where the student body is 51 percent Hispanic, parent workshop/dinners on school-related topics have provided excellent starting points for communication.

For Cora B. Darling Elementary School in Postville, Iowa, the celebration of cultural traditions has become a key feature in the school year. American, Mexican, Filipino, and Russian students and parents work together and teach one another about their holidays.

Oakland Terrace Elementary School in Silver Spring, Maryland, where 30 percent of the students speak a language other than English after school, has developed an extremely successful annual Sports Field Day, largely organized by parents. The students each choose a country to represent and compete for that country.

Parents like Raquel Orozco and Cindy Choy are responding to this encouragement and are leading the way for all families. The gradual shift in U.S. education policy and practice demonstrates that parents finally are being valued not simply as important players in the formal education of their children, but also as full partners.

by Judy Molland, the author of Straight Talk about Schools Today (Free Spirit, 2007). She can be reached at

Read more @