The silver bullet (Part II) Parental involvement or Parent Engagement

While they may appear to be the same on the surface, parent engagement goes beyond the customary Open House meetings
"Whereas engaging parents in supporting learning in the home results in this. Which parent is without this desire that his/her child achieves? Every parent does whatever is possible to ensure this."
"Whereas engaging parents in supporting learning in the home results in this. Which parent is without this desire that his/her child achieves? Every parent does whatever is possible to ensure this."Wikimedia Commons / Eric Ward

Today's parents are confronted with a situation where the East and the West have blended. While this is a good sign, what is confronting parents as well as children is the confusion of values. Another difficult task for most parents today is how to harmonize the demands of freedom which every child today imposes more and more persistently which conflicts with the demand of self discipline which parents want their children to develop. While parental engagement is the key to a child’s educational success, modern day parents are struggling to get involved with their child’s learning.

Let us not confuse parental involvement with parent engagement. While they may appear to be the same on the surface, parent engagement goes beyond the customary Open House meetings, attendance at school functions, parents helping in events at school and such like.

While these activities help the involvement of the parent with the school, there is no tangible result of higher achievement by children accrued as a result of this.

Whereas engaging parents in supporting learning in the home results in this. Which parent is without this desire that his/her child achieves? Every parent does whatever is possible to ensure this.  

A typical exchange between parent and child on the child reaching home from school would be

“How was the day?”

‘Yea…it was okie…”

“What did you do in school today?”

“Oh…nothing much…it was the usual…”

Communication of such a nature will not reveal much of what exactly was done or not done during a typical school day and much of what transpired as a part of the learning process would remain a secret. A sampling of exchanges between teacher and parent on any given Open House at any school reveals that parents are increasingly finding it difficult to get information from children about their activities at school and at the same time most children feel it is not important or find it difficult to discuss this with their parents. The difficulty in sharing can in part be attributed to the typical stance of a parent who would like the child to excel in everything and since all children cannot excel all of the time, slow but steady erosion in communication will take place with an impasse reached around the time that the child reaches high school.

This breakdown in communication or difficulties in communication between parent and child has serious implications in several areas. These may be in the areas of achievement levels of the child, stressful parent-child relationship, stressful parent-school relationship and child-school/teacher relationships. Most children today feel they are ‘hassled’ by their parents asking them too many questions. Pushing too hard for information creates a wall which parents find difficult to break and this in turn leads to anxiety for parents. A vicious circle forms itself with parents going around in a loop and unable to connect.

A comfortable child is an achieving child!

Educational research has revealed that one of the first and guaranteed ways to improve higher achievement of children is to ensure proper sharing of information. A school can do this at different levels. At a very basic level, it can invite experts in the field to conduct workshops and share tips on effective communication between parent and child. Such workshops have great potential to help parents know their children better and also learn the art of easy yet effective communication. A positive change in approach on the part of the parent by being a friend, mentor and guide rather than a ‘pushy parent’ allows for trust and confidence in the relationship to blossom. When this happens, the child’s learning improves and in turn the academic work and self esteem. Better grades, quality homework and a happy child is what we want at schools.

A Healthy partnership between school and parent

At another level schools must work together with parents to ensure proper communication about the course work and curriculum so that parents are linked in to the activities of the classroom. With a fast pace of life and the hectic schedule of working it is increasingly difficult to have many meetings between school/teacher and parents. Circulars sent home may mysteriously disappear or get lost. The system of School Newsletters, Year Books, School Calendars etc., are a part and parcel of the process of engagement. There is also the question how much such engagements contribute to achievement of students. The school calendar would score more here since it is a direct tool of communication between school and home. However, at the end of the day, there is just that much print that can be shared. In such a scenario and in an increasingly wired world, technology can play a major role.

Today, at the click of a button a load of information is at hand. School websites must evolve to become comprehensive and interactive with every parent actively engaged along with the child, in accessing not only information about the grade to which the child belongs and its activities but also resources to supplement and complement learning at home. This will ensure that all stakeholders are on the same page and learning is an extended process with both teacher/school and parent working towards a common goal as partners.

Knowing enriches!

Schools can look at long term programmes and sustained programmes that target both teachers and parents into knowing more about best practices whether it is curricular or otherwise.

Parental engagement can be different at different levels and it is generally found that it is easier at the primary level as these are novice parents and eager to learn more about learning. From this perspective programmes that might work at the primary level do not work at the secondary level. There are also factors of socio-economic status and ethnicity as well as the educational experience of parents that play an important role in how engaged parents would be with the school. What would be a requirement for a parent of European ethnicity would not be a requirement for an Asian parent. For instance, by and large Asian parents have an obsession with marks and grades and parental engagements would need to cater to understanding of performance in terms of skills and not grades.

Parental engagements are a win-win situation for all stakeholders with the child as the ultimate beneficiary. They raise the confidence level of parents in schools and teachers have comfortable channels of communication in place through which they may engage with parents as partners in education. When families support the learning that takes place in schools, student achievement levels are bound to rise!

Dr. Farooq Ahmad Wasil, a published author, and an educationist, is Consultant and Advisor to TSPL (Thinksite Services Private Limited). He has over 3 decades of experience in the field of education Management – setting up, operating and managing schools.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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