Parents must realise that a mother is a child’s first teacher

2012-09-08 09:17

Teachers alone can’t shoulder the responsibility for educating our nation’s next generation, writes Abdulmugheeth Petersen

Afew days ago, I was going through some work in the staff room when a commotion broke out between a teacher and a parent that had just walked in.

Because I don’t understand ­Sepedi, I waited for the parent to leave so as to find out about what had just happened.

Apparently the uproar was about the fact that the parent had been called to the school for the teacher to discuss with her the problem of her child’s behaviour and poor ­performance in class.

The parent’s prime concern against the teacher, however, was: “Why have you called me to school? Why must I deal with this? I am not a teacher.”

I wish I had been able to tell her: “Well, then, that must be why your child is failing.”

It’s fascinating that everyone in South Africa believes that they know exactly what is wrong with the education system in the country and that they can solve the problem.

People always believe that they know what teachers are doing wrong and what teachers should do better in being the prime educators of their children.

But no one ever thinks that the problem of ­education may be linked to them as parents.

No one ever says: “The teacher must be doing all he or she can to educate my child, maybe we as parents aren’t playing our part to the best of our ability.”

Postmodern living seems to have blinded us to those very traditional beliefs that ground education first and foremost in the home, that a child’s first teacher is the mother, and that it takes a village to raise a child.

I joined an NGO a few months ago that stationed me at a school in a village in the middle of ­Limpopo – a school that needs a lot of help after having achieved a 21% matric pass rate in 2010.

Thus far, I haven’t attended a single parent-teacher meeting or a “parents’ evening”.

I remember when I was a kid, ­after my first day at primary school, my parents threatened that if I wasn’t going to get at least one certificate at the end of that year, I was going to get a hiding.

Thinking back, I remember the fear that those words aroused in me. I didn’t have any choice but to pass – and with flying colours at that.

My mother used to sit with a belt next to me when I had to read my setwork books out loud to her, and then I would get a whack on my legs for every word I misread. I got certificates for the next three years.

Neither of my parents finished school. As was very common among non-whites before 1994, they left school after Standard 7. My father worked for his family while my mother nursed her ­mother, who suffered from rheumatic fever and angina.

For this, I am even more greatly indebted to them for the effort that they put into getting me through school and understanding the importance that they played in it.

Later, when my mother couldn’t understand the complex maths we did in high school, my parents still attended the parent meetings that were held four times a year, and they still ensured that my work was being done and that I was putting in study time.

They didn’t reduce my chores as I still had to wash dishes, run ­errands and do whatever else that was required to teach me responsibility – but my grades were always up to scratch.

To date, my parents have never beaten me for failing a year at school (I guess because I never did), or any of my six siblings for that matter. But every time I fail to do my best, I wish they had.

» Petersen is an ambassador for Teach SA working in Limpopo 

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