When children begin school, ideally, their parents and educators enter into an ‘educational partnership’. International studies have shown that parental involvement has a positive impact on children’s academic progress. Therefore, it has long been recommended that schools and preschool facilities encourage these partnerships with families. However, there are significant barriers that need to be broken down so these partnerships can thrive.
Parents have considerable influence on children’s educational outcomes, as well as teachers, since parents are responsible for the education that takes place in the home. Whether it’s helping their children manage their time as they do their homework, discussing topics of relevance to the material covered in school, motivating a child to learn, or communicating with a child’s teachers, all families can be involved at various levels in supporting their children’s educational development.
“For an educational partnership to be successful, it is crucial that all parents contribute their expertise.”
However, the degree to which parents feel able to participate may be affected by many factors, including their personal levels of education or their level of fluency in the local language. This has become a focus of education research lately. For an educational partnership to be successful, it is crucial that all parents contribute their expertise, no matter what their family backgrounds, and work together with teachers in shared responsibility for children.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected educational partnerships?
During the COVID-19 pandemic, students have spent considerably more time learning at home, due to school closures – and in certain cases, quarantines. This has meant that more often than ever, parents are finding themselves in the role of a ‘substitute teacher’ as they support their children. In addition, it has highlighted the need for efficient communication channels and trust-based relationships between schools and families, to ensure a student’s successful education.
Challenges within the partnership between teachers and parents can occur on a regular basis. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, teacher training and professional development programs were often criticized for failing in their effectiveness, and as a result, teachers lacked the skills they needed to work with and advise parents. Studies have also shown that parents are often hesitant to help their children, as well as to seek direct contact with teachers.
“In terms of education policy, schools bear a particular responsibility for reaching out to families and forging successful educational partnerships.”
There may be several reasons for this hesitancy from parents; perhaps they are unsure of their own knowledge and capabilities, perhaps there are language barriers, or perhaps parents are reluctant to get involved because of what they perceive to be an “expert-layperson” hierarchy. Our working group’s survey of parents’ experiences and attitudes toward distance learning while schools were closed has also revealed that overall, the frequency of communication between parents and teachers was low, while the perceived quality of communication differed between parents.
Once again, the current situation demonstrates how important it is to raise the awareness of teachers, through training and professional development, of the needs of their students and students’ parents. In terms of education policy, schools bear a particular responsibility for reaching out to families and forging successful educational partnerships.
Manuela Ulrich is a member of the Education Science working group at the University of Konstanz, Germany, and collaborates with Axinja Hachfeld on research that examines cooperation in the context of education, for example in the “Family Life During School Closures“ project.