Bridging the Power Dynamics Gap between Children, Families and Teachers
The education system has over the last century or so become one of the most important institutions of society in many countries around the world. The influence of the education system on the lives of students extends far beyond their future career and economic well being fate to also include social aspects of the society from individual and community perspective. The education system is critical in shaping the values and believes systems of societies because schools now form the basic aspect of personal growth and development of people from a young age. This means that the concepts and ideas that children learn from their teachers as well as from the school curriculum have the potential to have a lasting consequence on the social landscape of the society from an individual and communal context. Key among the aspects of an education system that has been identified to be crucial in shaping how the education system influences the social development of children and the society, in general, is the issue of power dynamics between the children, their families, the teachers, as well as the teacher assistants. The concept of power dynamics refers to the arrangement of the hierarchical system of authority and influence amongst the stakeholders involved in the education system. The nature of the power dynamics of an education system is usually shaped by historical, social and cultural beliefs of the system of a society. In the western world, the power dynamics have always placed teachers and as the most influential stakeholders in the education system. Children, their parents, and teacher assistants occupy and play a less significant role and position in the education system landscape. Over the last few decades, there have emerged significant criticisms of this nature of power dynamics from specific academic and professional backgrounds including sociology and postmodernism which have faulted the system for contributing in making the system ineffective to the needs of children and the modern world. This paper is a critical examination of the approaches through which the disparities in the power dynamics between the children, their families, teachers, and teachers’ assistants in the education system can be bridged.
As already mentioned, the power dynamics landscape in the education system gives most of the authority and influence to teachers who are considered as experts and specialist in the field because of their training background and experience. As a result, teachers as well as the school institution, in general, are given the liberty to make decisions regarding critical aspects of the education system including the curriculum and approach to classroom teaching. This power and authority entrusted on teachers in the education system are evident from the manner through which they interact and engage with the teacher’s assistants, pupils, and their parents. Often, these other stakeholders have been influenced by the social and cultural believe the system of the society to perceive teachers as the position of power and authority in the education sector. Even in cases where structures have been developed within the education system itself to eliminate this perception, studies have indicated that the cultural influence that the children have grown up to still contributed to maintaining this perception (Robinson & Taylor 2013)
The role of the pupil about their teachers in the education sector in is shaped by some factors including their age and the fact that they are less educated than their teachers. For these reasons, children have grown up believing and perceiving their teachers as the authoritative figures in the education context. Children are in most cases expected to listen and follow the instructions of their teachers regarding academic and non-academic aspects of the school environment.
Parents of the pupils are the other stakeholders in the education system whose role and position in the system is below that bestowed on teachers. In most of the education systems, parents occupy a background role in the education system with their only concern being taking care of the finances of their children regarding to their academic needs such as tuition fees and learning materials. Apart from this and following up on the academic performance of their children, parents in most cases have no influence in the education system on how teachers approach teaching in the academic environment. The academic curriculum and teaching approach employed by the teachers are not always flexible to accommodate the concern of the different patents (Dalli 2012).
Teacher’s assistants are the other important stakeholders in the education sector who occupy the role of helping teachers in the management of their work and pupils. Like children and their parents, teacher’s assistants also hold less power and influence in the education system compared to teachers. This position of the teacher’s assistants in the power hierarchy of the education system is determined by the lower level of academic qualifications for a teacher’s assistants in comparison to the position of teaching. Teaching assistants work under teachers whom they take instructions from. Although it varies from one case to another depending on the relationship between a teacher and their teaching assistants, teacher assistants usually have no authority to influence what and how teachers approach their work and the content of what they teach to their pupils (Nimmo 1998).
The idea that the power disparity in favor of teachers in the education system is counterproductive to the objectives and outcomes of education has been around for a while. The argument is that dismantling and equalizing the existing disparity in the power dynamics would produce a more efficient and effective education system for the benefit of the pupils and the society. Stakeholders both from within and outside the education sector have proposed several approaches through which this power dynamics disparity between teachers, children, their families, and teacher’s assistants can be bridged and equalized (Brennan 2007).
One of the most widely-mentioned approaches to bridging the disparity in the power dynamics between teachers, children, parents, and teacher’s assistants in the education system is through promotion cultural changes in the entire society. This approach is particularly popular amongst the sociology and postmodernists scholars who view the education system as a social construct shaped by cultural believes of the society. The social construction view of the world is based on an argument that a person’s knowledge and understanding about the world is socially situated and constructed through contact and interaction with other people. From this point of view, the position of power and authority that the education system affords to teachers in comparison with the other stakeholders in the sector is a product of social construction of the society. The argument for bridging the power dynamics disparity in the education sector from this point of view is that the dynamics can only be changed through a transformation in the way society perceives the education system. Changing the social construct of the society regarding power hierarchies including within the education system is then the surest way of bridging the power dynamics disparities in the education system. This is a point that is supported by a study conducted in England by Ian Barron which showed that students from Pakistani heritage demonstrated higher levels of respect to their teachers than their English counterparts. The students from Pakistani heritage found it difficult to refer to the teachers by their real names; instead choosing to use “teacher” which is a mark of respect in the Pakistani culture. This was despite repeated reminders by their teachers to use their names. This is clear evidence that social constriction is a critical factor in the perception of people about the power and authority of teachers, which means the efforts to bridge the disparities need to target cultural transformation in the society (Barron 2009).
The other approach that can be used in bridging the power dynamics disparity between the teachers, parents, children, and teacher’s assistants in the education sector is through institutional policy changes. As already mentioned, the power and authority held by teachers in many institutions are down to long established institutional cultures that perceive teachers as authoritative experts in the field. However, transformational policies at an institutional level can inspire changes regarding this perception within the institution by encouraging the internal stakeholders to put in place measures that can help in doing away with the culture (Nimmo 1998).
Another approach of bridging the power disparity in the education system between teachers, students, patents, and teacher’s assistants is by leveraging on modern technologies in the information and communication sector. This approach can be particularly effective in bridging the power disparities between teachers and students. In the old system, teachers are more concerned with controlling the learning environment regarding power and responsibilities. This monopoly of power can be detrimental to the students who may not be in position to raise their concerns regarding the various aspects of teaching and class work for fear of their teacher. However, this issue can be solved by the use of technology platforms such as e-learning that allow students to receive lessons from a distance or at the comfort of their homes. Technology in the education system bridges the power disparity dynamics by giving students the autonomy to control the time and place of learning. At the same time, it can also do away with the excessive power and authority of teachers regarding communication between them and students (Dalli 2012).
Training and education is an another approach that can be used to bridge the power disparity in the education sector between the different stakeholders. The training and education can be directed for both teachers and their teacher’s assistants. Educating teachers on the need for avoiding authoritative approach in the way they deal with their students, parents, and teacher’s assistants can help in reducing unnecessary tensions between them and these other stakeholders. On the other hand, increasing the level of academic qualifications for the teacher’s assistants can also bridge the power disparity between them and teachers. With a higher level of professional training and academic qualifications, teacher’s assistance can be delegated more roles within the learning environment thus bridging the power disparities (Brennan 2007).
Promoting open communication between the teachers, parents, children and teacher’s assistants is another approach of bridging the power disparity dynamics between these stakeholders in the education sector. This approach bridges power disparity especially between teachers and parents by helping resolve unnecessary differences related to issues affecting the education system. By creating understanding between the roles of each party in the education system, the power struggles related to controlling each other are likely to subsidize this by bridging the power disparity gap between these different stakeholders (Gee 2008).
In conclusion, it is evident that power disparity dynamics between the different stakeholders in the education sector is an issue that has been around for a long time. The disparity in the dynamics in favor of teachers can be attributed to some factors including social and institutional culture which are also used in the approach of bridging the power disparities. Considering that this issue of power disparity has been determined to be a critical factor affecting the education sector, it is important that all the stakeholders are involved in the efforts to find the solution to the problem.
Bridging the Power Dynamics Gap between Children, Families and Teachers