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Pupils and schools thrive when parents become involved

Parental engagement is essential if their children are to do well in the classroom, writes Nadia Petrossi.

Those who survived the 2009 financial crisis with their wits intact no doubt understand the value of learning new skills and reinventing themselves. It is no wonder that the market for graduate degrees and professional training continues to boom as people seek to keep up with technology and innovation.

But for parents, those hard-learned lessons must now also be handed down to our children. In other words, it is our job to instil a desire to adopt new skills to thrive in the 21st century and instil the belief that we can learn new things. Traditionally, we’ve expected schools to do this for our children and to prepare them for the world of work. That has to change.

The fact is parents, schools and children are partners in cultivating a “can-do” mentality in young people, but that partnership is increasingly strained by busy lifestyles.

It’s also not always easy to tap into that almost magical influence of parent approval, and balance it with a teacher’s guidance. Schools and parents must see themselves as partners in a long-term effort. That’s where the “parental engagement effect” comes in.

Research into the parent engagement effect, a phrase coined by Professor John Hattie, of the University of Melbourne in Australia, is the combination of parental encouragement and high expectations from students. Prof Hattie found that when pursued consistently throughout a child’s development, parental engagement could amount to the equivalent of an additional two to three years’ schooling for a child, adding massively to their overall achievement.

Prof Hattie’s exhaustive 15-year study remains the most in-depth statistical analysis of the impact of parental influence on student achievement. Basically parental engagement is defined as: setting goals together; displaying enthusiasm for learning; encouraging good study habits; asking questions; valuing experimentation and learning new things; and enjoying reading. The net result of all this was greater success in school – higher grades, better attendance and more homework done. It also resulted in more positive attitudes and behaviour, higher graduation rates, increased enrolment in postsecondary education and greater achievement in life generally.

An OECD study also found a strong correlation between test scores and parental involvement with students. It is called the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), and is one of the most influential assessment tests given to 15-year-olds around the world in reading comprehension and problem-solving.

To understand the outcomes of the 2009 results, the Pisa team interviewed parents of 5,000 students on how they raised their children and set those answers against student test results. There were three profound discoveries.

The first was of the importance of early reading. Fifteen-year-olds whose parents often read books with them during their first year of primary school had higher scores than students whose parents did not. On average, the score difference was equivalent to well over half a school year.

The second finding was that a family’s socioeconomic background did not play a factor in the performance rating of a student who was read to. Rich or not, children whose parents read to them at an early age consistently do better.

The last finding may be no surprise. The more involved parents were in their 15-year-olds’ lives, the better their results. More specifically, when they discussed life and talked about learning regularly, test results were better.

So the research is clear. When parents are actively engaged in their child’s learning, in how they learn, what they think about various topics and how they arrive at those conclusions, there is a tremendous impact on their achievement.

Parents can be involved in the learning environment by attending back-to-school nights, parent-teacher conferences, science fairs or concerts, volunteering to read with or speak to a class, participating in recycling drives and so on. Such activities help parents become familiar with school routines and daily life, and to feel more comfortable in the school environment. It also sends a profound message to the student, that “school is important in this family”.

But parental engagement does not mean that parents are expected to teach the curriculum. Rather, they should work in partnership with teachers to support learning and encourage student progress. Any parent can do this in their own language, way or style.

At Gems Education, our advice is a simple “three-a-day” approach. Parents can do three simple things daily: talk about learning, share learning experiences (like reading in any language) and, most importantly, encourage learning through positive honest feedback. In turn, Gems teachers use the same strategies to give families content to talk about, experiences to share and direction for encouragement, all linked to things being discussed in the classroom.

Parental engagement opportunities are facilitated year-round and are celebrated for a special week every year. Gems’ annual parental engagement week has drawn over 50,000 parents per year to school events, proving that parents want the opportunity to be better engaged in their children’s learning.

Of course, sometimes, kids aren’t always receptive to our attempts to engage. But no matter how it feels when a child throws a tantrum or a teenager is more interested in their iPod or friends, the influence of parents is powerful. This is why engagement is so crucial and the partnership so effective for instilling the skills and desire to thrive, which cannot be fulfilled entirely by the school alone.

Nadia Petrossi is manager of the parental engagement programme at Gems Education

Updated: March 10, 2014 04:00 AM

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