OPINION: We need to step up parental involvement in schools

“Every child who needs to go to school must go” - Minister of Home Affairs Aaron Motsoaledi
“Every child who needs to go to school must go” - Minister of Home Affairs Aaron Motsoaledi

Lack of parental involvement has been cited as one of the biggest reasons why there is school violence and low academic standards.

Evidence shows there is a correlation between parental involvement and the success of children in school, meaning the children of parents that volunteer, attend meetings, help with homework and set high expectations, tend to do better at school. 

Although there are gains that have been made over the years such as increased access to education, crucial learning areas like reading and maths have all stuck out like a sore thumb. 

Indeed, parental involvement could change the course.

Why are parents not involved?

We need to interrogate: why are parents not showing up? Are they in despair because of unemployment, are they embarrassed that they do not know or understand what is going on, are they busy?

Do they view schools as some forms of relief in that their children would not be in their care for 6-7 hours a day? 

Is it a cry for help? Are we not listening? Taking into account the socioeconomic standing of most families, do we need to be more innovative in driving parental involvement?

Studies show that parents from low income communities cite a combination of the above as reasons why they are not involved in their children's education.

Go to any under resourced school, and teachers will tell you that the majority of the parent community does not attend meetings and other school-related activities.

A district official in America was once asked, if given a chance to choose between increased budgets and parental involvement, he's choose the latter.

Parental involvement is crucial 

The importance of parental involvement can't be overstated enough as it plays a huge role in learner motivation.

So how do we foster relationships to improve parental involvement across the system?

It is no surprise that there's high parental involvement in middle and high income communities as these parents tend to be better educated, can assist their kids with homework and have formal employment and can request leave from work.

On the other end, parents from low income communities tend to be less educated, unemployed and if they are employed they don't have the luxury of taking time off from work. 

In some states in the USA, the law requires parents to spend a certain number of hours at their child's school and districts are encouraged to come up with ways to improve parental involvement. Some grant funding for districts is linked to improving parental involvement in schools. 

Surely government could curb the scourge of parents not attending school meetings and events? 

Circumstances are not all the same for all but a concerted effort must be made and parental involvement should be mandatory in the same way schools attendance is. 

The school's responsibility

There are various reasons why parents/guardians do not get involved in school activities including the shame that is caused by unemployment, lack of education, language barriers, lack of confidence and so on 

Due to the nature of our communities, successfully addressing this issues requires an empathetic approach.

Schools need to be more welcoming and less intimidating, in the same way that banks make use of KYC (Know your customer) schools should invest in KYF (know your families): no two households are the same.

Identify parents/guardians that require extra support, and encourage not only student voices but parent's voices as well.

Schools should spend considerable time on finding out the circumstances in which their students live in order to better support them.

A parent's responsibility

Parents should take a proactive role in communicating with the school, including challenges they might have with assisting their children to the best of their ability well in advance.

Parents should also seek help and form groups with other parents and neighbours on social platforms.

Perhaps smart devices could also be used as a resource that might provide an opportunity to educate parents on ways to best support their children. This also allows an opportunity to break any barriers and tensions that exist.

It needs to be widely communicated that parental involvement yields positive outcomes and should be encouraged by the Departments of Basic Education, Trade and Industry, Social Development, Health and other stakeholders.

Clearly lack of parental involvement is a socioeconomic issue that is not only prevalent in South Africa but globally.

Parents should feel welcomed, seen and heard if they are to play any meaningful role in the academic success of their children.

- Sean Mbusi is an edtech entrepreneur.

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