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Parental involvement in students' education has become a greater challenge in recent years and has posed a problem for educators in Jamaica. Parents have competing priorities which oftentimes reduce the quantity and quality of time available for their involvement with children's education. Now more than ever, mothers constitute a large part of the workforce which does not allow for quality time to be spent with children. Many children are living in low-income single female headed households without the basic necessities such as proper food, clothing and shelter. In spite of the Ministry of Education implementations of parenting seminars and workshops to help parents with the job of parenting, not much has change. In this paper I will write and premise my idea that parental involvement in schools is important, and have benefits for parents, students and the school, and can be improved with proper strategies.
In an article published in the Daily Gleaner dated May 26, 2008, Sylvester Anderson, president of the National Parents Teacher's Association of Jamaica stressed that there is a greater need for better parental involvement in student's educational development. He stated that some progress was made, but, there was still room for improvement as attendance at PTA meetings were pretty low with attendance rate of about 20 to 30 percent. This he emphasize, was not good enough for a partnership.
In addition, most parents attended the first meeting of the school year, but attendance fluctuated during the remainder of the school term, while others do not even bother to visit the schools or collect their children's academic report. Consequently, parents are reminded that their role as parents does not end with just sending their children to school, but they need to be involved in every aspect of their children's growth. However, as children's first educator, parents have the responsibility to ensure that they participate in their children's school life in order for them to reach, according to Vygotsky, their zone of proximal development (cited in Berk, 2006, p. 260).
In Jamaica, especially in the inner-city community, the high fertility rate resulting from teenage pregnancies has shown a marked difference between adolescent parenting versus adult parenting, as teenaged parents lack the resources and maturity to care for their children adequately. However the problem of poor parental involvement is not only seen in adolescent parents but adult parents too. This is oftentimes manifested in the interest shown in the activities at school. Many parents have lost interest or have little or no time to be involved in school activities which has affected their children's performance. Some however, are illiterate, lack training or skill and have not completed secondary education hence their inability to secure jobs to care for their children or assist them in their school activities. Despite being unemployed, some parents still do not go to meetings unless refreshment is provided or they can gain tangible rewards. This shows that parents places very little value on their children's educational experience. In addition, some mothers are oftentimes busy caring for younger children which resulted in their absence from all activities that takes place at their children's school.
In many of the homes fathers are absent leaving the responsibility of parenting on the mothers. Some are involved in gangs and show little inclination to participate in school activities although they are unemployed. Many parents do not seem to have their children's education as priority but instead are more interested in partying, fun and fashion than in the education of their children. This is evident in the small number of children registered at birth or fully immunize in spite of the service for the latter being free (taken from the school admission record for 2008-2011). As a result, these children are at a risk of not developing to their fullest potential. For example, there are some children who can perform well academically but display disruptive behaviours, while there are others who are socially competent but are academically challenged.
Through the many parenting seminars which are poorly attended, parents are informed that researchers of parental involvement in schools have stated definitively that parental involvement has direct and lasting impact on children's learning and academic achievement (Wishon, Crabtree & Jones, 1997). However this has not changed the action of many parents to become involved in school activities. From all appearances it seems that many parents of lower socio- economic status are unaware of the impact they have on their children's performance when they are involved.
Nevertheless, parents are their children's first and most important teachers. As they guide their children's behaviour, they teach and prepare them for school. Parents must realize that they need to have a connection with the school environment in order for their children to succeed and for the school to be a success. The school must also realize that this is a two way process and they need to work with parents and parents with the school in order for children to succeed. Lyons, Robbins, & Smith (cited in Wishon, Crabtree & Jones, 1997) stated that when parents provide supervision and support for their children they are more likely to succeed as teachers have high expectations of their children. Parental involvement in school activities also guarantee that teachers treat parents with respect and show interest in their children.
In an article written by The National Centre for Parents, Parental involvement is defined as the participation of parents in every facet of children's education and development from birth to young adulthood, recognizing that parents are the primary influence in children's lives (retrieved July 3, 2009, http:www.ctpta.org/parenting/parent involvement.htm). Parents in this context can be referred to as children's closest caregivers or members of their extended families.
In their definition of parental involvement Hoover-Dempsey & Sandler (2007) refer to two types of parental involvement activities oftentimes used by parents. One type is home-based involvement which includes activities that takes place between the child and parent outside the school setting. This entails helping child with homework, revising for test, monitoring of child's progress, providing enrichment activities pertinent to school success and corresponding with child's teacher on a regular basis. The other type is school-base involvement which includes activities wherein parents focus on their individual child in the school setting. These activities include parent-teacher conference, in-class observation of child, informal discussions with teacher, attending school events and volunteering to assist on class field trips.
Barriers to parental involvement
Although there are many benefits to parental involvement there are also some barriers. Some are attributed to parenting styles which have both positive and negative impact in the school and wider society. In assessing the different parenting styles and their impact on children Berk (2006) posits that authoritative parents are warm but firm, attentive and sensitive to their children's needs, while the authoritarian parents appear cold and rejecting and frequently degrade their children by mocking and putting them down. On the other hand the permissive parents are overindulgent, inattentive and have little control over their children's lives which is similar to the uninvolved parents who have little involvement in their children's lives, are emotionally detached and oftentimes depress. As a result of the above parenting styles it is indicative that the permissive and uninvolved parent would not be involved in their children's school activities.
The former Minister of Education, Andrew Holness, in an article entitled "Government to set up support group for parents", states that poor parenting is manifesting itself in children who are not socially well adjusted and who leave the private domain of the home and misbehave at school and in public. He further stated that the first strategy to solve this problem is education, so that parents can be introspective about their behaviour and reform achieved. Parents on the other hand have many problems that have prevented them from being involved in school. Some of the barriers to parental involvement are; parents being too busy, frustrated, too tired, having other siblings to care for, economically deprived, disinterested or too burdened by their own problems.
Parents also fear being involved, not fully understanding what they can do and how valuable their contribution is to their children's academic achievement. Parents also fear that they do not have the ability to help their children. Eldridge (2001) confirms this in a statement by parents that they believe that "their assistance is not needed by the schools or teacher" (p. 66). Some teachers do not help the situation either as they think parents have nothing to contribute. Becher (1984) opines that teachers fear that parents will take over their teaching responsibilities and be too critical of them. In addition, some teachers are also uncomfortable talking about issues in front of parents as they do not trust them. In order to alleviate parents fear, teachers must create an environment in which parents are perceived as partners in the educational process and not as adversaries.
Epstein (1995) opines that single parents have been identified as another barrier to parental involvement. This is as a result of single parents being poorer, less educated, and younger than is the case of two parents in two-parent homes. Despite their status parents play an important role in the life of their children even if they are single, uneducated or economically deprived.
Benefits of Parental Involvement
Parental involvement benefits children, parents, teachers and the school. Research has shown the positive impact that even the smallest efforts on the part of parents can have on children's learning. Education should be viewed as a shared responsibility and as a method of improving its outcome the school should reach out to the family. Furthermore, when children view their parents as a part of their educational journey, they feel motivated to achieve and feel justified in sharing achievement. As a result, when parents are closely involved with their children's pre-school programme, there is no doubt that children tend to bloom.
According to Pena (2000) increase communication, increase volunteerism, better school support and better attitudes are just a few ways that parental involvement benefit parents, children and school. Additionally, when parents take an active interest in their children's education, cognitive and physical development is enhanced; the child develops greater problem-solving skills and a significant increase occurs in the child's receptive and expressive language skills (Wishon et al, 1997, p.124). Several studies ( Berk, 2006; Wishon et al, 1997) concur that parental involvement in school benefits children as they demonstrate greater responsiveness to both school and home environments and achieve academic success and wellbeing. Additionally, students benefit by getting higher grades, better attendance, and getting more homework done which builds their self-esteem.
Parents also benefit when they participate in their children's education in many ways. They learn a great deal about child care from their early child care and education programmes as they learn their homes benefit tremendously as they become more intellectually stimulating. This is as a result of parents adopting activities and ways of interacting that they encountered at the schools their children attends. Parents can also develop more positive attitudes towards themselves including greater feelings of self-confidence, self-worth and competence if the programme embraces and works with them. As parents become involved with schools in parents related activities they develop a better understanding of child development which expands their understanding of the home as a place for learning. As a result of this parents are better able and more willing to help their children at home.
One of the most significant benefits to parents partnering with schools is that teachers develop a greater understanding of parents, their challenges and their cultural heritage. However, parents sometimes can be difficult to deal with and as a result they put a strain on the parent-teacher relationship. This often become a barrier and hinders the parent-teacher relationship. Evidence of this is seen when they ignore all attempts at communication by not reading letters sent home or answering calls from school. Despite this Pena (2000) recommends that teachers do not give up as it is the challenging parents who most need the teacher's attention and resources. Therefore, with a better understanding of a family's situation, teachers are more likely to be more supportive of the parents and less likely to be judgmental of them.
According to Epstein (1995) children are motivated to learn when parents are involved in their education. Motivated students are oftentimes more involved in class, are more concerned about homework and more successful academically. In addition, children's success in school will be dependent on the level of involvement of parents in the process. As a result, I am in agreement that schools need to keep parents involved so they will better understand the importance of their role in the educational process. For parents who are illiterate, invite them in and explain work child is presently doing, so they can provide assistance at home.
She further asserts that parents can be valuable resources in the classroom if they are provided with continued education by the school, consequently, the school will increase and enhance its resources. The school can also provide on the job training for parents who work as volunteers in the classroom. The school should established proper communication with parents frequently and not only when child is giving trouble. An increase level of parent involvement is critical to children's educational success, so, schools must involve parents as early as possible. When schools facilitate better parenting, parents will develop greater awareness as to the importance of school. This will help them to pass on and enhance positive values and attitudes in their children.
Another beneficiary of parental involvement is the school, as there is improve morale among teachers, higher ratings of teachers by parents and more support from families. Wishon et al (1997) agreed that when parents become involved with the school they develop a better understanding of the goals set for both the school and students and the plans for achieving those goals.
Strategies for improving parental involvement
Epstein (1995) posits that schools should promote and support parenting skills and make communication more meaningful and regular between the home and school. Parents should be welcomed as volunteers, and their advice sought, since they know their children better than anyone else. The school can also help parents to understand the educational process and their role in supporting student's achievement. Parents should help with decision making as they are full partners in their children's education, and have many ideas that can be shared with the school.
She further states that schools should host grade level meetings for parents to learn parenting skills and child-rearing. This can be done through workshops, use of video tapes and phone voice messages. Parents can also be provided with suggestions on how to improve home conditions that support their children's learning. The school can also help by; providing training or educational courses for parents that will help them to get jobs, direct parents to support programmes for health, nutrition and other services, assist parents in establishing home environments to support children as students, teach parents activities that build self-esteem and competence in their children, encourage parents to give children responsibility, so children can take responsibility for their learning, host grade-level parenting workshops to discuss children's progress, conduct home visits as this is an effective strategy for involving parents especially in inner-city communities where parents hide from the school.
In addition, the school can initiate community meetings to help families understand the purpose and goals of the school and for the school to also understand families and their challenges, teach parents about child development and what to expect from children at different age and stage of development, teach parents behavior modification strategies so they can discipline their children without force, help parents to develop ways they can stimulate their children's intellectual and emotional growth, while parents are waiting to collect their children show videos about how children learn and how to work with children with special needs, help parents educate their children by ensuring that parents understand concepts being taught, offer parents opportunities to acquaint themselves with classroom materials and curriculum and parents can also be provided with upcoming topics to be taught, so they can prepare their children for that learning or activity.
In conclusion, it is evident that, parental involvement is important to the school, parents and the child. There can also be definite improvement in children's academic performance if parents are involved in the process. Despite the obstacles, the parents and school should ensure that they each do their part in promoting parental involvement. It is also important that the school take the initiative in developing a positive relationship with parents. The key to removing the barriers to effective parent involvement is the teacher who can achieve this before school begins and foster it throughout the school year. Parental involvement can benefit the school to a great extent which will in effect benefit the student's academic performance.