Dad and Mom
By Dr. Wei Wei, LSU
Me: “Let’s talk about parents. What questions did the parents usually ask you when they came to the school?”
Teacher: “They want to know everything of their kids at school. After the exams or the results being released, we ask their parents to sign on their student’s papers to inform them of the results. Do you inform students’ exam scores to their parents?”
Me: “That is a good question. We actually do not do that at RMIT.”
Teacher: “If you do not force your students to learn and report their academic performances to their parents, how can they graduate from your university?”
This is a dialogue between two LSU staff from RMIT University Vietnam and the Head of the English department in one of the most prestigious senior high schools located in Ho Chi Minh City. It tells me at least two things: firstly, the school has serious concern over students’ academic performances in the exams; secondly, parents play an influential role in their student’s learning at home and school. As a group of learning advisors who talk with hundreds of students each semester about their learning difficulties in completing assignments, doing group presentations and taking lectures and tutorial classes, we are always willing to go further and explore what are the fundamental problems behind all these sufferings. Gradually, we started to notice their parents’ roles in our conversation with the students regarding their choices of subjects, careers, learning strategies and allocation of time for studying. Then, we felt interested in finding out 1) what are the parents’ expectations of their kids at RMIT Vietnam? And 2) what are the parents’ expectations of foreign lecturers? These questions highlight two broad areas: what is the purpose of having a high education, and what are parents’ roles in helping their children to achieve these purposes?
Fortunately, the Parents Orientation Day at the beginning of each semester at RMIT Vietnam provides us with an opportunity to get the answers to these questions by talking to them directly. I am always impressed about how passionate these parents are in the orientation and how committed they are to helping their kids to achieve their dreams (I mean the parents’ dreams). Regarding the reasons why parents send their children to a foreign university, they claim that:
- They heard successful stories of RMIT Vietnam graduates in their career development from their friends, colleagues or neighbours.
- They heard of the very high salary of RMIT Vietnam graduates.
- They believe that Australian universities can teach something new or different to their kids. They want their kids to get something different from what they got from their university experiences in Vietnam.
However, it seems odd for us that very few of the parents can clearly tell what exactly these differences are. Instead, these parents are surprisingly consistent when they answer our questions “How will or how did you support or monitor your student’s study at university?”And “What do you expect the lecturers to do for your student?” The parents assert that:
- They want the lecturers to inform them of their student’s academic performance after the examinations.
- They want the lecturers to help their student to improve English, especially when they find out that their student is unable to take notes in the lectures.
- They want the lecturers to inform them of the timetable for lecturers/workshops/seminars; therefore, they can arrange their student’s time properly.
- They want to make decision for their children, for example, selecting the subjects, modules and workshops to study.
There is an obvious mismatch between parents’ expectations and what skills we actually help our students to develop at university. What we expect our students to be aware of and achieve at the university level include:
- Putting more attention on the process of learning rather the final outcome.
- Being aware of the diversity of methods to overcome challenges, rather than learning/ memorizing a standard answer. Especially in the case of assignments or essays, there is no correct answer or one explanation or one correct conclusion. Moreover, the conclusion seems less important than the logic and evidence the students provide.
- Developing independent learning skills by setting up goals, analysing problems, making decisions, managing their own time, finding resources, making efforts with minimal supervision, evaluating the progress and identifying the gaps.
- Learning from their own mistakes or unsuccessful experiences at RMIT Vietnam, rather than trying to avoid making any mistakes. We believe sometimes the mistakes or unsuccessful experiences have nothing to do with their efforts or attitudes, but rather they may be caused by their unawareness of different learning strategies and ways of thinking.
We understand that there is no one right way to help our students and we are certainly not suggesting that we are the experts in this area, but there is some advice for parents based on our observations and communications with students at the University:
- Allow your student to make decisions after communicating or discussing with them.
- Teach your student how to make a decision, rather than focusing on the final results or answers.
- Encourage your children to reflect on their experiences and learn from their own or others’ mistakes.
- Encourage your children to learn from discussion, observation and communication with their classmates, rather than simply taking down endless notes from Powerpoint slides and not engaging in discussion about them.