The suicide of a 12-year-old girl in Delhi on Saturday after attending a parent teacher meeting (PTM) with her mother at a government school, once again highlights the failings of the Indian education system. Ironically, the PTM that she attended was part of the Delhi govt’s initiative to hold a Mega PTM at over 2500 government schools for more than 16 lakh students on the same day so that the quality of education can be brought up to par with that imparted in private schools.
The girl, a student of class VII had accompanied her mother Shahjahan to the government senior secondary school where she was a student in the morning to attend the PTM. At the PTM, teachers told her mother about her weakness in studies and she was scolded by her mother, said a senior police officer. After returning to her home in Khayala, she hanged herself from a ceiling fan at around 12.30 pm, said the officer.
"We got the call about the suicide by the girl at around 12.45 pm and a team reached there and recovered the body of the girl and sent it for post mortem. Preliminary enquiries hint that the girl might have taken the extreme step due to her helplessness and humiliation," said the officer.
Inquest proceedings have been started under Section 174 to enquire the incident, he added.
As any parent or child will tell you, a parent-teacher meeting is quite a traumatic experience especially when it is held after a set of exams and if the child has not done well in them. The blame-the-student meeting can be quite humiliating for parents and children, especially when it happens in front of other parents and students who are waiting for their turn.
The Harvard Family Research Project, a part of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, actually released a tip sheet for principals, teachers and parents on how to tackle these meetings. One of its points for teachers is to start with the positive aspects of the children. “Let families know about their child’s ability level in different subjects and in relationship to his or her peers. Help families understand student data to demonstrate progress against learning goals and to identify areas that need to be addressed.” It also suggests that teachers ask parents for their input on student strengths and needs, the opportunities the child has outside the school to learn, and what the parents’ dreams are for their child. But the most important point it makes is to seek solutions in collaboration with the parents. “Avoid judgments about what ‘they’ should do and instead emphasise how ‘we’ can work together to resolve any problems,” the sheet suggests.
The sheet also lays some onus on the parents, advising them to tell the student what they’ve learned from their teacher. But it doesn’t mention any thing about scolding the child. “Show him or her how you will help with learning at home. Ask for his or her suggestions,” it advises the parents.
The US body is not the only one that is suggesting ways to make the experience more productive and less humiliating. New Zealand government’s education department has similar suggestions for parents, when it comes to talking to the child about the meeting. “Share the positive things that the teacher said and give them plenty of praise. Then talk about anything the teacher suggested you could do at home to help them,” the official website advises. It also describes these meetings as “useful, positive meetings” which will enable the parents and teachers to “become partners in your child's education.”
On the other hand, the website for the Indian government’s Human Resource Development Ministry has no resources for parents about the parent teacher meetings. Its attitude is quite clear from a circular issued in 2015. The notice made parent teacher meetings compulsory for government schools, reported The Times Of India. During the meeting, the circular said, parents must be informed about the shortage of attendance of their wards and all parents of children from Class VI onwards must be told that scoring 15 marks out of 60 is must for passing Class IX examination. The situation is the same on the website of the Delhi government’s Directorate of Education.
Indian schools could learn from Brittni Daras, a teacher in Colorado, US. She realised how much of an impact a teacher can have on his or her students during a parent teacher conference in March 2016. A parent told her that the reason her daughter had been missing Daras’ classes was because she was in hospital, after she attempted suicide and the police broke into her house to save her. Darras recalled in a Facebook post in May that she cried when she heard the story.
“As her mom sat across from me, we both had tears streaming down our faces. Feeling helpless, I asked if I could write my student a letter to be delivered to her at the hospital; she said her daughter would love that. My student got the letter; her mom said that her daughter cried, turned to her mom and said, ‘How could somebody say such nice things about me? I didn’t think anybody would miss me if I was gone’. It made me realise that I was way too close to losing another student to suicide,” she wrote.
Darras, determined that her other 100 students should not take this step, spent two months writing a letter to each of her students, telling them what she felt was unique about them. “Suicide is growing to be more and more common, and I can’t help but to think that it’s a direct result of the pressure we put on these kids — to be successful, to fit in, to be the best in their class/sport/etc. We need to remember that each human being is unique, and that is what makes them special. Instead of trying to change it, we need to embrace it, because together, we can make a difference, and we can save lives!” she wrote on her Facebook page.
With inputs from PTI
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Updated Date: Aug 01, 2016 17:39:10 IST