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22.07.2005 Feature Article

Ensuring Meaningful Community Involvement in the School Experience

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It is on record that an unprecedented number of young immigrants including Ghanaians who should be in school are languishing in jail in Canada, especially in the city of Toronto where we have a large immigrant population. I should think the story is no different around the globe wherever Ghanaians find themselves in large numbers. How unfortunate! Some Ghanaian youth both in Ghana and elsewhere have dropped out of school and have adopted street life full of crimes such as doing drugs, shoplifting, fraud, prostitution and in some extreme cases armed robbery. Reasons for their “un-Ghanaian cultural way of life” are mostly attributed to acculturalization, dysfunctional families and apathy on the part of the community.

The school experience to such Ghanaian youth-at-risk is a non-starter! This frightening trend of event paints a gloomy for our community in and around the world, especially in Toronto-Canada where the Ghanaian population is growing astronomically. We need to act NOW as a concerned community or risk losing some future leaders of our community to waywardness. As a teacher and social commentator, I personally see meaningful community involvement as an important part of the school experience. I therefore discuss briefly in this discourse how our community in Toronto and elsewhere can actively get involved with the school experience in order to save our youth from dropping out of school any further.

The Secret:

There is an African adage that says, “It takes the whole village (community) to raise a child”. How true! This value should be brought to bear on our parents, teachers and community leaders if our children are to achieve success in their education.

It is a known “secret” that at a time when children need more education to succeed in life, more and more classroom time is being eaten up in discipline issues, and less time is available for actual learning. Unfortunately or fortunately, research has revealed that our “modern society has created a society environment that actively promotes anti-social behavior, glorifies the denigration and exploitation of other people, and belittles the importance of parents.” Bob Glossop has described this situation as “socially toxic environment.” It is adversely affecting student achievement!

The Hard Facts About Inner City School Boards Like the One in Toronto: Obviously, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) serves Ontario's most diverse community, spanning a broad range of social, cultural and economic conditions.

The TDSB was created on January 1, 1998 following the amalgamation of seven individual Boards of Education. It is therefore the largest school board in Canada and among the largest in North America. The Board serves almost 1.6 million voters of the City of Toronto.

The cosmopolitan and multicultural population of Toronto places an enormous responsibility on the TDSB to provide many immigrants students who come to Toronto each year. Facts and figures show that about 53% of TDSB secondary students have English as their first language. In elementary schools, 41% of students have a language other than English as their first language. Over 80 languages are represented in TDSB schools. According to the Board, languages from all over the world, such as Urdu, Serbian, Spanish, Swahili, and Cantonese, are spoken by students in its schools.

More than 47,000 (24%) of elementary students were born outside of Canada in more than 175 different countries. Also, over 11,500 (12%) of secondary students have been in Canada for three years or less.

Another hard fact is that as at now the Ministry of Education funds ESL students (new immigrant students whose first language is not English) for only 3 years, yet it takes 7 years for an ESL student to become academically proficient.

For these facts and many other reasons I see the standardized provincial test (EQAO) is not fair to TDSB, which is highly diverse. Student achievement in the low as well as middle level income communities is seriously hampered. Therefore we need to bring together such communities to discuss and find ways and means to help our students succeed at school and in life as a whole. It is in this light that the Brookview initiative must be seen and welcomed by all educators and parents in NW 2 Family of Schools in the TDSB.

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 have tremendous “advisory” role to the play in the life of the school.

I liken the school councils in Ontario-Canada to Parent/Teacher Associations(PTAs) in Ghana and elsewhere. And ask the following questions: 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/PTAs? Are parents motivated enough to sit on school councils/PTAs? 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 involve 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. 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 make to look elitist.

In Ghana, most PTAs are unfortunately dominated by few parents who remain as chairpersons and condone with headteachers/headmasters/principals to treat the associations as their own bonafide properties. Many other parents look on unconcerned!

Get Involved!

I would therefore encourage parents (especially Ghanaians) to take opportunity of school councils and teacher/parent conferences 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.

The numerous local Ghanaian Churches and Cultural Associations as well as Umbrella Organizations of Ghanaian Organizations in Diaspora (in and around the world, especially in Toronto) must vigorously seek avenues to encourage their memberships to get involved with school experience wherever they are!

Joe Kingsley Eyiah,Teacher, Brookview Middle School, Toronto-Canada Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Joe Kingsley Eyiah
Joe Kingsley Eyiah, © 2005

The author has 27 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: JoeKingsleyEyiah

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