Arab fathers play strong family role but have limited interest in homework, study finds

Research by Al Qasimi Foundation sheds light on dads' important role in Arab family life

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emitrates --- September 14, 2010 --- Parents keep their kids close as they navigate heavy traffic in front of GEMS American Academy-Abu Dhabi school. For the new school year, there will be increased traffic patrols at intersections and roads to ensure students' safety.    ( DELORES JOHNSON / The National )
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Arab fathers play a strong role in family life but have less interest in homework and schooling, a study has found.

Research by Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research showed the presence of a father figure in a child’s life increases their self-esteem and would raise their educational outcomes.

Researchers interviewed about 2,000 GCC, Arab and Western adults and asked them to reflect on the presence of their fathers while growing up.

They found that in the Arab world, and especially in the Gulf, fathers have a distinct and central role in the family. They are perceived by their children as the family’s “key bread winner” as well as role model.

When the father drops his children to school and participates with them in activities, their self-esteem is raised, and they feel more secure if they were facing challenges or being bullied

“Parents play an incredibly decisive role in the socio-emotional well-being and self-esteem of their children,” said Dr Natasha Ridge, executive director at the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research.

“From our research, we know that higher self-esteem is linked to higher educational outcomes.

“Despite this, there is limited research measuring the impact of parental involvement in children’s development and educational outcomes in the Middle East.”

The centre conducted the study to address the shortage of research on this topic, she said.

The findings, released during the Global Trends in Parental Involvement Symposium in Dubai on Thursday, showed that 83 per cent of father in Gulf countries are always present around their family.

While GCC fathers were found to be the most present at home, help in cleaning the house and to regularly cook meals, they were found to be the least to follow up with their children’s school work.

Only 49 per cent of GCC fathers showed a strong interest in their children’s schoolwork, compared to 56 per cent of other non-Gulf Arab fathers and 61 per cent of Western fathers.

Furthermore, only 28 per cent of GCC fathers attended school activities regularly, compared to 40 per cent of other Arab fathers and 55 per cent of Western fathers.

It found 33 per cent regularly help clean the house, compared to 28 per cent of Arab fathers who reported of doing so, and 25 per cent of Western fathers.

Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates - January 12, 2014.  Dr Natasha Ridge ( Executive Director, Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research ) formerly a high school teacher, now heads a research foundation.  ( Jeffrey E Biteng / The National )  Editor's Note; Mel S reports.

Furthermore, 44 per cent of GCC fathers reported to regularly cook meals, compared to 32 per cent of other Arab fathers and 28 per cent of Western fathers.

The traditional role of financial provider and role model of fathers in the Gulf changed since the discovery of oil and industrialisation in the 1950s, said David Dingus, research associate at Al Qasimi Foundation.

With the birth of new employment opportunities for both men and women, “the historically present father who was engaged in agriculture or trade soon became part of the newly formed civil service, often absent from the daily family setting.

"As gender roles continue to evolve, though, there are now more opportunities than ever before to play an integral role in the upbringing of their children,” he said.

According to the survey, Emiratis were more likely than non-Emirati Arabs to feel close to their fathers during childhood and adolescence. Emiratis also reported that their fathers took them on activities and to doctors’ appointments more often than non-Emirati Arabs.

“Scientifically, when fathers take part in their children’s schoolwork that raises the IQ level of the child,” said Dr Hanadi Al Jaber, an Abu Dhabi family counsellor, who was not involved in the study.

“Because when the father interacts it increases the tendency for the pupil to work harder in school.

“Also, when the father drops his children to school and participates with them in activities, their self-esteem is raised, and they feel more secure if they were facing challenges or being bullied, for instance.”

The same applies for teens, if they tend to neglect their studies, but they feel their fathers’ presence and observation, that could deter them from doing so.

She agreed that fathers have been less present in school-related activities in the past few decades and mothers have been replacing that role, however, there are potential signs of change.

For instance, last year the federal government issued a decision to allow public sector bodies to offer flexible working on the first day of school, in order for employees to be able to take their children to school in the morning, and pick them up in the afternoon.

“This was a great step; because by that employees were able to participate with their children on the first day of school,” said Dr Al Jaber.

Another example, is the RAK prisoner who was allowed out of jail to take his son to school on the first day on Sept 2.

“So such initiatives make it more feasible for fathers to take part in their children’s school life,” she said.

“It also raises awareness of the importance of fathers’ involvement.”

She suggested that education authorities spread more awareness — through films or lectures, to mothers and fathers on the importance of fathers being involved.

“I have been seeing a lot of mothers forcing their husbands to take part," she said.

She also suggested that parents are given permission to leave work on National Day to participate in their children’s school celebrations.