We in Trinidad and Tobago to a great extent seem to view the parent teacher association as an organisation which has only nuisance value. Ridiculously, many among us remain oblivious to its function and true value. This state of affairs prevails, even though our National Parent Teachers Association (NPTA) has been in existence for 50 years.
Surely, we should congratulate our NPTA for surviving 50 years in a country as turbulent and full of negative vibes as Trinidad and Tobago. Our history has demonstrated that it is not easy to keep an organisation functional in Trinidad and Tobago. The fact that the NPTA has done this for 50 years is not only commendable but truly remarkable. Indeed, every attempt should be made by the current leaders of this association to establish an honour roll to keep the memory alive of all those people who struggled to bring the NPTA to what it is today. In addition, structures and mechanisms to ensure constitutional succession should already have been formulated to ensure continuity of the movement.
The question that can now be asked is, "Why insist on PTAs in Trinidad and Tobago?" The PTA is considered one of the best child advocacy organisations to be found in the Western hemisphere. Some commentators argue that one of its functions is to remind society of its obligations to children. Other advocates believe that it provides parents and families with a powerful voice to speak on behalf of every child while providing the best tools for parents to help their children be successful students.
Experts tell us that the mission and goals of organisations give us comprehensive insight of why these organisations exist and where they wish to go. In applying this information to PTAs elsewhere, it can be argued that, much value can be added to our NPTA.
PTA advocates worldwide agree that the mission of the typical PTA should be to be:
— A powerful voice for all children,
— A relevant resource for families and communities, and
— A strong advocate for the education and well-being of every child.
Historically in the United States the goals of the NPTA have been:
— To promote the welfare of children and youth in the home, school, community, and places of worship.
— To raise the standards of home life. To secure adequate laws for the care and protection of children and youth.
— To bring into closer relation the home and the school so that parents and teachers may cooperate intelligently in the education of children and youth.
— To develop between educators and the general public such united efforts as will secure for all children and youth the highest advantages in physical, mental, social, and spiritual education.
Even in matters of membership, there is much to be gained from the NPTA in the USA. Some people in our society believe that PTA membership is only for parents but from the experience of the more than 100 years old National Parent Teacher Association in the USA, we now know that PTA membership can be open to anyone who believes in the mission and purposes of PTAs.
Like the National PTA movement in the United Sates, our NPTA can develop strength and unity by embracing the following core values: 1) collaboration with all stakeholders in education; 2) commitment to promoting children's health, well-being, and educational success through strong parent, family, and community involvement; and 3) accountability. Other values which have been used to build PTAs in the USA are respect, inclusivity, and integrity in the home-school partnership in particular and among members in general.
Even in terms of acknowledging diversity, the PTA can teach us a lot. We are not at all a homogeneous society. In many ways we are different. This, however, cannot be a weakness. It is our strength. For example, in the United States, the National PTA has recognised and accepted diversity. It believes in the uniqueness of all individuals and appreciates the diversity of views, experiences, cultural traditions, values and preferences that a melting pot of people can bring to a society.
I have used the framework of the NPTA in the USA to emphasise how the PTA movement in Trinidad and Tobago can function with significance, dignity, and excellence.
I caution, however, that this cannot be achieved meaningfully without a sense of genuine conviction and commitment on the part of school administrators and their staffs and parents or by copying everything the movement in the USA has done.
* Raymond Hackett is an