Do Indian schools have the dual responsibility of educating children as well as their parents?

The Innerkern Dialogue with Piyush Jain

At Innerkern, our Applied Education Research Team regularly engages in deep and enriching conversations with school leaders, teachers, and parents as we explore and analyze their practices within their socio-cultural context. We call such learning conversations the Innerkern Dialogue.

We decided to talk to Piyush after we read his recent thread on Twitter about the pain points he had picked up from his conversations with parents across the country for more than seven years. Piyush Jain is an educator and parent coach. He looks after the delivery of technology enabled academic solutions in 14 affordable private schools in Delhi and Haryana. Piyush is the founder of Edspectrum Foundation,  a social enterprise focusing on education, childhood development; and capacity building through accessible content. Piyush is also a parent coach and is currently looking at working with parents across the country. You can reach out to Piyush here. Following are the highlights from the Innerkern Dialogue with Piyush Jain. 


Question: We want to talk to you about the issue with parents that teachers often face and when we work with schools. We hear things exactly as you mentioned in your tweet, the complaints that parents have about the education system. You mentioned a whole lot of things that parents say. So, what are you, as somebody who works with parents, hearing parents say about the quality of schooling in India?


Answer: I have actually mostly worked with the private budget schools and the low income schools. I have had few interactions with the students of high income schools too, who expressed what their parents said. So, there is a difference and there are similarities too. The similarities are that most parents have some hardwired statements like “they are not able to read or write anything and when they say this comprehension is not a concern or even a question. They are mostly worried about reading, writing and basic addition or subtraction. Another thing I have noticed about the high income group parents is that they are very interested in academics but they also are very interested in activity based programs and experiential learning. When it comes to parents from the low income private schools, they don’t have these demands. So I feel most parents are not very demanding about the quality, but their major complaint is regarding the school fee. They are like the fee is too high or the volume of books is less and those kinds of direct tangible comparisons. For them, the quality of education is based on simple comprehension, whether the child is able to read and do basic numeracy, then they are okay. If they are not able to do these basic functions then they are not okay with it at all.


I also feel there is a huge gap in the way teachers give feedback to the students and parents and those processes are not very much in place in most schools. Whether it is a high income school or a low income school, it has a lot of deficiencies in terms of trust deficit from parents, towards the schools. Parents want to see the return of their investment and they are looking for quick results. But results in a child can be visible only in the long term. You cannot see results in the short term. However, I have noticed that as a parent, when they invest in their child’s education they like to see some developments in their child, and these short term gains can be visible only through a proper feedback channel that needs to be created by the schools or by the teachers, for the parents. One of the things that can be easily made possible by the teachers is to remain in touch with parents by sharing personal mobile numbers with parents.


However, when the school is very rigid in their approaches, or when the parents become very difficult to handle, the differences keep increasing, so timely, effective communication channels are essential.


There are also other factors involved here. When it comes to why the parents complain about the quality of the schools, they never complained a lot about rote learning etc. In my experience rote learning works for parents in some way. The reason for that is that if parents have time to support their kids at home then rote learning processes and spiritual growth of the child is something parents are equipped to handle. Those parents who are educated are able to support their kids to do their homework as long as it is in the older academic learning method, if new models are being used in the classrooms it becomes confusing for the parents. That is why we need a feedback mechanism towards establishing communication channels, for parents to be clear about what is happening in the classroom and how it is contributing to their child's learning.


Question: So this is a very interesting thing you said, that parents are not really interested in quality; they are more interested in quantity. As a result, when you change some way of teaching in the classroom, parents get confused. Right?


Answer: Yes, we see that parents and the teachers are comfortable to stick with the old practices. If the learning practices are changed at school then the tuition teachers also become uncomfortable. Because the feedback mechanism is so poor from the school that the parents tend to rely more on the feedback from the tutors directly about their child’s progress and learning.


Question: What do you think is the basis of this behaviour of parents, they just want to know what is happening?


Answer: When rote learning is happening, they understand what is happening at school. But if there is any strategy used like experiential, experimental etc in the class, parents and tuition teachers don't understand, they don't know what to make of it. They become uncomfortable.


Question: So what do you think is the basic reason for this? What do you see as the problem here actually?


Answer: Parents like to see gains, They like to know whatever is happening towards learning for their kids, they want to make meaning out of it. When they cannot make meaning out of their children’s learning experience themselves, the parent wonders if his choice of school is right.


Another reason for the informed parents to be distressed is that they like to see how their children are being prepared for the future. They look to see if they see how this is preparing their child for ten years from now and when they don't see evidence for that they get disillusioned. So having constant communication with parents to talk about these long term visions of the school and how these skills are built step by step may be a necessary step.


But most parents are not aspirational like this. They only aspire for their kids to make very small changes in life. The parents are only comfortable to handle that level of change from what they have experienced as students in their childhood. So with every generation, they only aspire to grow a little bit. They don't feel comfortable with a lot of changes or any drastic progress being made in schools towards learning. They feel slow progress is better. In the context of business families we see that they want their children to have the exact same life that they have experienced as the parents feel it is safe ground. So they deny any major change in their children’s life. Also risk taking for individuals is behaviour that can be learnt only over a period of time, by facing risks. In the absence of such experience, parents tend to play safe.


Question: Have you thought of ways in which schools can address this gap in how parents view learning? Do schools have to educate the child and the parent at the same time? What is the solution you see?


Answer: First of all, during the admission or during the orientation sessions, it becomes very important for the school leaders to talk to parents and clarify what and how the school is going about doing things in the classroom, and manage their expectations. It is also important to explain what they have stopped doing from the past so parents know the school is doing different things in the classroom.


Some of the things that worked for me is to give parents a surety about our efforts and asking for time to see the results. In my experience parents do give you time to show results. When you give them a timeline, it instils confidence in them. But to accomplish this kind of outcome it is essential for the school to have some set processes in place. The school also has to take their share of accountability and by the end of the timeline if parents don't see the results they were promised for some reason, then you have to see what can be done about that, either take responsibility or explain complexities.


Question: How do you scale parent education, so that most schools benefit from an approach like this?


Answer: You know, that's one thing we really feel and like when parents are expecting return on investment it is because that is what works in the normal public scenario. In any workplace you see that people work between nine to five. They put in work according to the salary and society sees teachers in the same light. Teachers also tend to not take responsibility and resort to shifting blame. A 10th grade teacher puts the blame on the third grade teacher when they see a child is unable to read and write. They also tend to expect parents to bridge the gap when a child ends up having learning gaps. Parents also tend to push the responsibility onto the school for their child’s learning gaps.


However my experience has been that the culture we build in society and school plays a major role. I have seen some schools where everyone co-creating learning possibilities together as teachers, and they support each other and even create lesson plans together. They have a very good bond with each other as teachers and so they all work together to create great learning experiences for anybody. Mostly you see that the leader, who is leading the organization, spearheads these situations in the school. Developing the guiding values and important values of empathy, well being, and ownership in each and every teacher becomes important in these schools. School Leadership is actually one way of scaling. School leaders need to be trained and supported to become visionary leaders for building such schools.