By Joe Kingsley Eyiah, Teacher, Brookview Middle School, Toronto
source: Joe Kingsley Eyiah

As I sat in Cafeteria of Brookview Middle School one night at the beginning of this school year among the staff and a large number of parents who had gathered for the school’s curriculum night I could count ONLY one or two Ghanaian parents present. Yet we have a good number of Ghanaian students at this school! At the entrance of the Cafeteria the executives of the school council were busily canvassing parents who showed up at the curriculum night for membership. It could be described as the most successful and well attended curriculum night at Brookview ever since I started teaching at this largely immigrant community school in Toronto-Canada, eight years ago. The administration and teachers of the school had prepared for the night. It was a big opportunity for parents to experience a “full day” of their child’s life at school and interact with the teachers of their child in both core and elective subjects. Parents were walked through the curriculum and expectations of Grades 6, 7 & 8 as prescribed by the Ontario Ministry of Education. They also had the opportunity to visit their child’s locker and socialize with other parents whose children also attend the same school with their own. It was a night to remember- happy that I could interact with some parents of the students I teach! But sad that many Ghanaian parents who ought to be at the school that night were missing out The questions that kept ringing in my ears were: Where were the Ghanaian parents who should have been at the curriculum night? Were they at work or at home? If they were at work couldn’t they have asked for permission to be away from work that night? If they were at home then my fears were more compounded by the unfortunate idea that most Ghanaians care less about their children’s education.

It is a fact that many Ghanaians living in Toronto have to do more than one job to make ends meet. However, we need not to sacrifice the education of our children on the altar of our jobs. The best investment we can make now is in our children’s education. That pays more than our double and triple jobs in the long term

First-Hand Experience as a Parent: At my first school council meeting in Toronto-Canada about nine years ago, my experience at executive meetings of Parent/Teacher Association (PTA) in Ghana became reminiscent. Parents “participating” in school administration! Right? I was at this Etobicoke school council meeting to stand in for a friend who had a child at that school. I will never regret the time spent at the meeting. It was a golden opportunity for me to learn at first hand what goes on at school council meetings in Canada.

The School Council is an important part of school in this country. It brings the concerns and the best advice of parents, community and school staff together in one forum. Among other things the direction, advice and support given by the school council assist the school in its efforts to improve student success and achievement in a safe, comfortable learning environment. School Councils in Ontario:

On April 12, 1995, the Ontario Ministry of Education and Training (OMET) issued its Policy/program Memorandum No.122 requiring all school boards in the province to have in place policies regarding the formation of school councils by June 1996. Theoretically, the essential function of school councils is to give voice to parents and members of the community by removing some of the major aspect of the administration for an individual school from the purview of a central board of education.

The Ontario initiative is the result of the recommendation of the Ontario Royal Commission on Learning (1995) and the Ontario Parent Council (1995) that school councils be established “to enable parents and students to assume a more responsible and active role in education programs and services within their local community”(OMET, 1995,p.l).

Perhaps, the school council’s “participatory” role in academic development of the school is limited or even eliminated from its mandate by the OMET precluding the council from having specific influence in the policy area of curriculum. This notwithstanding, the councils do have a tremendous “advisory” role to play in the life of the school. How do we as parents take opportunity in the School Council to get involve with the education of our children? Is there any public willingness, especially among the Ghanaian community, to serve on these councils? Are parents motivated enough to sit on school councils? Let’s try to explore some answers to these questions in the following paragraphs. Willingness to Serve: Research has indicated that there is no sufficient motivation for parents who are, for the most part, motivated solely by their narrow concern with educational opportunities for their children to get involved with the school councils (see Golench, 1997). Though the government’s initiative, to me, provides activity and empowerment, many parents have seen school councils as non-starter. Such parents find themselves either too busy with daily life or have no interest to volunteer on the school councils. There should be therefore appropriate motivation for enthusiastic voluntary participation from parents. My past experience at the school council meeting mentioned earlier underscores my conviction of the tremendous opportunity that parents who serve on the school council have in influencing school life in their local community. The public willingness must be whipped up and sustained among parents through encouraging parents’ involvement in school programs!

The potential for assistance and knowledge that lies in the community beyond the school’s parents is a significant untapped resource. School Councils should not be seen as or not be made to look elitist. School Principals must go the extra mile to talk to parents about the need for them to attend school council meeting to share their opinions on the governance of their children’s schools. There could be tokens of awards from the schools in recognition of parents who make regular attendances at school council meetings.

I would therefore encourage parents (especially Ghanaians) to take opportunity of school councils and curriculum as well as information nights at their children’s schools to influence the school life for their children and the community at large. Those who can, should volunteer to serve as community representatives on these councils. Those who can not attend such important school/parent gatherings should make use of their representatives to let their concerns and voices heard at council meetings. Parents who are not council members are invited to sit in council meetings to contribute to discussions. This is an opportunity parents must make use of to strength the school community.

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