"Parents are starting to get rid of fear to say their opinions and they are beginning to express their needs," responded a headteacher of a primary school in the survey on "Efficiency of schooling and the resource management in education in the Slovak Republic", which was conducted under the auspices of UNESCO in 1993. This statement embodies the substantial change in attitudes of teachers, and also of parents to school education after the democratic changes which took place in Slovakia in 1989. From this year on, citizens began to participate more in the community life and in its management. The trend emerged according to which people who are affected by decision making participate themselves in the decision making process.
In the school, in which the education of children and youths takes place, the participation in decision making about educational matters concerns also the parents of children. They constitute the main and the greatest partner of the school. The participation of parents in decision making about educational matters has some special characteristics.
- According to the constitution and the laws parents or guardians of children, in addition of other functions (biological, social, cultural and economic) must take responsibilities in the education of their children. In the case of functional families this increases the involvement of parents in school management. Parents have frequently approached the school problems emotionally rather than rationally. This, however, decreases their participation in solving relevant problems of education in the school or in the particular class.
- Parents have no delineated professional roles in the education of their children in school and in the majority of cases - which is natural - they do not have adequate formal educational training. This prevents them from comprehending thoroughly the goals of the school system and, in particular, the goal of the school. On the contrary, this barrier makes parents free to employ their individual interests in planning the prospective educational carrier of their children.
- The new relationship of parents to the school alters more slowly than is required by new educational ideas. Rather, a more significant shift is achieved by the establishment of their professional positions in the emerging labour market. The new class of successful businessmen is more aggressive in pushing their needs forward in the education of their children in return for providing financial or material support for the school. This kind of participation of parents in running the school brings forward the ethics of management. Most probably it will require passing the new legislation to make it more fair.
- Opening the school to its environment, in particular to the participation of parents in decision making also affects also the attitudes of teachers co-operating with parents. In some cases teachers cannot tolerate that they are no longer the single authority in education of children in school and consider the participation of parents to be an interference in their professional territory. On the other hand parents appreciate if they can observe and evaluate the instruction. They value even more when they are invited by school administrators or teachers to share professional discussions with them.
2.1 The current state of participation of parents in decision making
Under the constitution of the Slovak Republic of 1992, parents have rights to care about the education of their children (Article 41, Section 4) as well as the right to receive assistance by the state in the education of children (Article 41, Section 5).
Since the formal education of their children takes part in school, the constitution implies that parents have the right to participate in decisions about education of their children.
Parents have rights to participate in decisions in school by immediately responding to a given situation and by asking whether or not the school is functioning well; their recommendations, or complaints, have a great degree of legitimacy. However, they are more respected if their opinions and attitudes are presented by a certain parents’ organisation.
Prior to 1990, when political changes in the Slovak Republic began, parents were organised in Association of Parents and Friends of the School. This was a voluntary organisation of parents in every school. Its aim was to develop co-operation of the family and the school in education matters of their children. In addition to parents their members were also other interested persons, labelled "friends of the school". Their task was to harmonise relationships between the school and the family, to instruct parents through lectures and discussions about educational issues, assist the school in the care of neglected children, and help in organising the leisure activities.
Within the Association of Parents and Friends of the School there were also commissions constituted according to needs of the school. The Association of Parents and Friends of the School could not directly affect the management of the school - this was in the charge of the school administration.
The first organisations of parents were established in this country as early as in 1930. During the communist period (1948 - 1989) these organisations were misused by the governing powers for political and ideological purposes. This was done through lectures for parents on Marxist -Leninist principles in education. Under these circumstances these parent organisations had practically no rights to participate in decisions about educational matters in schools.
After the political changes in 1989 activities of the Association of Parents and Friends of the School were terminated. Since 1990 a new voluntary organisation of parents, called Parents Associations, were gradually established. First, they were initiated by the school administration, later it was the newly created Slovak Council of Parents’ Associations.
The main aim of the Slovak Council of Parents’ Associations is to promote co-operation of parents with schools that are attended by their children. As the Slovak Council of Parents’ Associations represents the parents who are partners of the school its further aim is to co-operate with public administration in education in passing of legislature on the school system, as is implied from the European Charter of Parents’ Rights. Its purpose is to make parents familiar with their rights and with their children’s rights, as well as with the duties related to the education of children. Also, its task is to raise the awareness of parents who are, in fact, the first educators of their children.
The Slovak Council of Parents’ Associations has suggested a by-law for Parents’ Associations, which can be adopted to needs of a particular school.
According to this by-law Parents’ Associations in schools are independent voluntary organisations of parents, or guardians of children. They serve as a forum to express opinions on the functioning of the school, to present proposals or complaints and to receive information of how these proposals have been dealt with.
Also according to this by-law, Parents’ Associations are legal entities, they can establish legal relationships with other entities and are responsible for matters inferred from these relationships. Their tasks are:
- to co-operate with the staff of the school in providing quality education for children, which is based on principles of humanism, patriotism, democracy and on research findings
- to exercise the protection of the rights of children, which are embedded in the UNESCO Declaration of Children’s Rights,
- to advocate the interests of parents of the children, as per the Family Law,
- to provide protection for teachers as per the moral code from some pressure groups,
- to support the effort of the school, teachers and the non-educational staff in the instructional process,
The tasks of Parents’ Associations include:
- to identify opinions, ideas, suggestions and requirements of parents concerning the education of children in school,
- through their representatives, to negotiate with the headteacher, teachers and other staff about educational issues, while respecting each other, in the context of the shared responsibility for the education of the pupil,
- to co-operate with citizens’ initiatives, childrens’ and youth organisations and school administration offices,
- to promote the implementation of new elements and the latest research findings for improving the instructional process,
- to take part in the solving of some behavioural problems of pupils and in protecting children from detrimental effects,
- to assist in out-of- school education, especially in organising out of school activities,
- to co-operate in providing technological facilities for the school,
- to nominate representatives of Parents’ Associations for the School Council, which is the self-governing body of parents,
- to establish the School Council, which assists the school in legal, methodological and professional matters.
Parents of children in every class establish the Class Parents’ Association. It discusses topical and controversial problems in education of pupils as well as other activities of pupils in a particular class.
The All-School Parents’ Association consists of all parents of children of a particular school. It sets the main goals of education which is focused especially on the moral education of children and youth. Amongst the agenda for its meetings are the implementation of tasks arising from regulations for organisation of instruction in the particular academic year, issued by the Ministry of Education of the Slovak Republic.
The Parents’ Council consists of representatives of parents of individual classes. It is elected in the meetings of Class Parents’ Association. The Parents’ Council discusses the relevant problems and issues of education of pupils of the whole school. Specifically it concentrates on,
- responding to suggestions of parents; by doing this it co-ordinates the activities of Class Parents’ Associations,
- co-operating with the School Board, school administrators, and other educational staff who are invited, if needed, to participate in its meetings,
- co-operating with the organisations of children and of the community,
- organising leisure, cultural and sports events of pupils and parents.
According to Act No. 542/1990 on Public Administration in the School System and School self-governing Bodies self governing bodies are being established in schools and districts. In particular, there are School Boards in schools and in districts there are District School Boards. Parents are elected to be members of these self-governing authorities. Parents can use them to manage a range of activities: they may assist the school in providing resources and technology for the school, in protecting children from detrimental effects, in pushing forward the interests of the school in self-governing bodies, in involving beyond-school agencies - community organisations, social organisations, cultural organisations and also businesses in school matters.
Through the School Board parents who are members of the School Board, can present their opinions on:
- the enrolment of pupils,
- academic fields offered by the school.
- adaptation of curricula, the structure of electives and facultative subjects, the number of pupils therein,
- information about organisation and resources of the school,
- the annual school report,
- the annual report on the school budget, presented by the headteacher.
The District School Boards can:
- present opinions on proposals on funds of investments and school facilities in the district.
In the Slovak Republic there is no central school board or national school board in which parents are represented, having consultative or decision making powers, and which could negotiate on significant school and educational issues with the Ministry of Education.
With the exception of the survey which has been mentioned in the beginning of this chapter (which covered only 6 primary schools from several regions of Slovakia), participation of parents in decision making in educational matters in schools has not been investigated in great detail. We do not have accurate data on the effects of the new legislature and its implementation for schools concerning decision making of parents. However it is clear that both parents and teachers must be prepared to be much more involved as citizens in school decision making.
Kollarikova, Z.: Efektivnost’ skolovania a riadenie zdrojov vychovy a vzdelavania (Efficiency of schooling and resource management in education in the Slovak Republic) Paris, OECD 1995. In:Ucitel’ v demokratickej spolocnost. Brno 1993
Constitution of the Slovak Republic. Governmental Gasette, Bratislava 1992.
Act No. 542/1990 of the Slovak National Council on Public Administration in the School System and School Self-Governing Bodies