The fields of sports, business, and science are also full of people whose excellence can be attributed to parental engagement. One of the reasons that little has been achieved in African education is simply that the policies are solely in the hands of school administrators. As our educational rankings attest, inaction on the part of parents is a recipe for failure.
Since as early as 1923, Western parents have taken schools to court regarding the education of their children. In the 1923 case, parents wanted a teacher in a private school to instruct their ten-year-old boy in German, even though the law at the time mandated education exclusively in English. The parents won. Many decades later, studies confirmed that children who learn a foreign language early develop better cognitive skills than those who do not; they also think more critically and can be part of the new global village. If America hadn’t encouraged multilingual teaching, it would not have achieved pre-eminence in international relations. This is just one example of how parents put their children’s interests first in education.
Similar cases involving parents and school administrators include Pierce vs. Society of Sisters (1925), West Virginia State Board of Education vs. Barnette (1942), Everson vs. Board of Education (1947), Abington vs. Schempp (1963), and Epperson vs. Arkansas (1968). We highlight these cases not because we recommend the same approach in African society, but to show how deeply parents in the developed world can be interested in their children’s schooling. Educators and government agencies do not have a monopoly on the truth and can sometimes be wrong. If parents do not offer intelligent alternatives or critical feedback, administrators must make their policies in a vacuum.
Students are the leaders of tomorrow. When we trivialize the barriers they face in education or turn a blind eye to their needs, we are mortgaging our country’s economic future. The best way out of poverty is through practical education that fosters innovation and creativity. For example, Japan became one of the earth’s poorest countries after World War II and the earthquake that followed it, relying on handouts from other nations. However, it did what any sensible nation would do: it closed its doors and began educating its citizens. According to the United Nations, the literacy rate in Japan today is 99 percent. One might profitably ask, how can a country with so few natural resources invent and export so many cutting-edge products? The answer is that its natural resources are the expertise of its people. The wealth of knowledge they possess in a wide variety of disciplines has earned Japan billions of dollars, and made her one of the world economic giants.
It is needless to mention the level of disappointment parents are experiencing with the public education system in Africa. This has prompted the withdrawal of students from publ ic to private schools, although the lack of regulation in these so-called private institutions has only compounded their frustration. Of course, in nations ravaged by poverty, joblessness, and runaway inflation, who can blame people from trying to survive by opening mushroom schools with inadequate equipment, teaching materials, or qualified personnel, even if it means exploiting their fellow Africans? It is, however, the government’s responsibility to put these schools out of business if they are offering an unacceptable education. And the way to do that is putting forward sensible and workable private schools regulation (primary, secondary and university level) which promotes quality education, and protect parents from financial exploitation.
While this may seem like an indictment, it is a sad but true representation of events as they are unfolding. Under such conditions, it is imperative that parents take an active role in how their children are educated, either at the local, state or national level. It is surprising that an association of parents for children’s education has not been formed since the inception of public education in Nigeria, or even in Africa at large.
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