Respect teachers as partners in education

When I was a teacher, while we stopped short of referring to parents as "customers", it was clear we were expected to think of them as such ("Teachers are mentors, not vendors"; Thursday).

We were held accountable to them, and we were to address their concerns to the best of our ability - not just collectively, but as individuals.

The problem this posits is this - what we give one child, we deprive another child of; what a child has received, another child has a right to ask for the same.

In Singapore, we are used to banging on the table for change. Parents are free to issue (and have carried out) threats to escalate a matter to the Ministry of Education, the education minister, or the prime minister if they feel their demands have not been adequately met.

It was not unheard of for teachers to issue an apology for situations where they were not necessarily in the wrong, or be compelled to accept a ruling that may contradict their professionalism or personal values. We came to accept that this came with the territory.

It is a strange phenomenon we are witnessing in this age - that when a child exhibits behavioural issues or performs badly academically, the responsibility almost invariably falls squarely on the teacher.

There is little acknowledgement of the other contributing factors or the limits of what the teacher is able to do - he does not have moral authority over the student, he cannot withhold privileges, he does not oversee or control what the student does outside of the classroom, and he was not present during the student's formative years to model appropriate behaviour and instil the right values.

Clearly, there is some way to go before a school and parents can truly be called partners in a child's education.

For this to happen, the conversation between the two, and the way teaching is currently understood, has to shift.

Li Mingda

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 22, 2016, with the headline 'Respect teachers as partners in education'. Print Edition | Subscribe