Education is a public good. All children should have access to education as a human right, regardless of their gender, socioeconomic or disability status.
This is reinforced and validated by countries’ commitment to Sustainable Development Goal 4. Its promise is inclusive and equitable education and lifelong learning for all children.
However, this right is not guaranteed. Around 303 million children and young people between the ages of five and 17 do not go to school.
Research studies have underscored that parental involvement and empowerment impacts educational outcomes and student well-being. There are five ways parents can improve their students’ academic performance:
Fulfillment of basic parental responsibilities
Involving the family in the home
Exchange and cooperation at community level
active communication between teachers and parents
Opportunities for parents to volunteer their services at school.
Over the past nine years, my research as part of the Advancing Learning Outcomes for Transformational Change (A LOT Change) program in Kenya has shown that when parents engage, students’ academic and psychosocial characteristics improve.
This study – conducted in Nairobi from 2013 to 2022 – showed that parents enable, motivate and support their children’s education at all school levels. This extends from the first years of life through nursing care to the completion of basic education.
To determine the impact of parental involvement in adolescents’ lives, the African Population and Health Research Center implemented the A LOT Change program at Korogocho and Viwandani in Nairobi, Kenya. Korogocho and Viwandani are informal settlements.
The community-based program was conducted between 2013-2015 among teenage girls and between 2016-2018 between girls and boys in elementary school. Between 2019 and 2022, a cohort of secondary school students was observed from the elementary school.
The program provided after-school support and mentoring in life skills. It also provided school transition grants and provided guidance and counseling to parents to support their youth’s education. Girls and boys were also given the opportunity to improve their leadership skills through training and motivational talks.
ALOT Change aimed to secure the future of children in urban informal settlements by improving learning outcomes, leadership skills and social behavior. It also aimed to improve the transition rate for girls and boys aged 12 to 19 to secondary school.
The initiative was shaped by the recognition that teachers – and schools in general – cannot do everything. They need the support of parents and communities to effectively foster the educational aspirations of adolescents.
Insights into the importance of parents
A LOT Change initiatives increased parental involvement in children’s education. This included encouraging parents to actively communicate with their children, provide assistance with homework, and track academic achievement. Parents also found out who their children were dealing with or where they were when the children were not at home.
Improved communication between parents and young people: Parents who participated in the program found that establishing open channels of communication bridged the generation gap between them and their children. This made her more useful to their children than her parents had been to them.
Evidence from the program strengthened the effectiveness of two-way communication – parents and child spend enough time together and express their opinions.
A father from Viwandani said this about his relationship with his daughter:
I can say that before this project she was not open, but today she is open and tells me what is going on in her life.
Progress control in school and homework supervision: My results indicated that one of the ways parents can monitor their children’s progress is by tracking their attendance at school. A prerequisite for this is a good relationship between parents and teachers. As one mother explained:
You have to cooperate with the teacher because sometimes some kids are walking around and when we as parents are called by the teacher, we refuse to go. So we must work together and become one.
On the subject of homework assistance, a father from one of the study locations explained:
When the child comes with the book, you as a parent don’t even bother to look at it at first. But when we attend the (MANY change) meetings, we’re told what’s happening so we know where to start or move on with our kids.
Knowledge of the whereabouts of young people: Knowing the whereabouts of young people and the friends who care for them is of paramount importance. A mother said:
The children could easily be pushed to participate in the many social ills around them…as parents we contribute because you look at the friends your children are out with…in this community, the friends are the ones who mislead.
When parents were asked about their obligations to young people, they prioritized providing basic needs such as food and shelter. As a mother said:
It is the parent’s responsibility to make sure they know the child’s progress, and it is also the parent’s responsibility…to provide them with food and shelter.
Driving success at the community level: Parents also reported joining forces with the larger community to be advocates for change. They shared the lessons learned from ALOT Change with community members who were not part of the program.
A mother from Korogocho observed the following:
If you see a child doing other things, just ignore them because they are not yours. That doesn’t help us or Kenya. Maybe that kid would have become a leader.
Keep it up
Parental involvement is a key factor in a child’s educational success. Parents are the leaders in the home and co-workers with the teachers. This means parents need to provide essentials, provide a safe environment for a child to learn in, and know where their children are when they are not at school. You must also offer assistance with schoolwork.
Overall, the school success of young people is a result of communication.