Present parent-teacher meetings are not the most productive or constructive (here and here). My biggest bugbear is that these sessions place disproportionate emphasis upon academic performance per se, and often fail to take a student’s holistic development into consideration. Instead of exploring a child’s potential in the arts, music, or sports, most parents and teachers appear content to monotonously go through his subject grades and results slips. These may be appropriate for a competitive, scholastic culture, but will not be applicable in the future.
Furthermore, parents and teachers have not been using these platforms intelligently to have meaningful conversations on the growth of the kid. In an environment where young Singaporeans spend most of their time in the classroom or in the household, effective discourse between the stakeholders is crucial. If the working parents struggle with their commitments, and overburdened educators simply do not have the time, it would therefore make sense to introduce student-led conferences in more Singapore schools.
Student-led conferences have begun to feature quite prominently around the world, including a number of international institutions here. Beyond the creation of healthier relationships between students, parents, and teachers, the schoolchild begins to take greater ownership for his learning. Correspondingly, he will enjoy an assortment of personal benefits:
– Stronger comprehension of strengths and weaknesses. The student is encouraged to engage in self-reflection, and to evaluate what he has done over the past year or so. It also allows him to identify domains which he is particularly comfortable in, as well as the future action plans (traditionally, in the form of goal-setting mechanisms). Students who are just getting started could be guided by brief templates or thinking models, but these collaborative meetings could evolve to be more spontaneous.
– Greater accountability. More often than not, lackadaisical students have gotten away scot-free, as their parents and teachers play the blame game over the kid’s substandard assignments or examinations. Too easy, and too convenient. Before these student-led conferences, the student would be forced to think hard about their learning progress, and suss out factors that may have led to a certain result. The focus is not on factual accuracy and being politically-correct; instead, a well-facilitated appointment would allow parents and teachers to brainstorm on recommendations to help the child cope and excel.
– Confidence and self-esteem. Besides the negatives, appropriate focus on strengths and opportunities can allow an erstwhile shy student to come out of his shell. This can be a channel for affirmation and encouragement – from the teacher and the parents – to galvanise positive attitudes and actions. The opportunities are tremendous.
This is an area that the Ministry of Education (MOE) could think about. To start off, sharing sessions could be organised to see how student-led conferences are managed and conducted. The status quo, we should not accept.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.