Words by Doris Kiogora, Cohort 4 fellow
What’s the most important thing you could do to influence the life of a child? There are a lot of things that we think of as important for a child’s success. Of course, there is no single thing that would be the only important. It has to be a combination of things with parental love and support prioritized on that list.
In Kenya today, parental participation has not received much attention leaving most passive as they are unaware of what to do. Education and learning have been left for teachers and schools, with undefined roles of parents in their children's education. Based on observations, reports and research, parental participation remains low especially in the rural areas and fast-paced urban settings. Most parents/caregivers have made the assumption that if they provide shelter, food, clothes and send the child to school then they are set to succeed. But that’s not enough because that is not all that’s needed. There’s still a gap. It has taken Covid 19 pandemic for both parents/caregivers and teachers to understand the critical role that the other plays in advancing the child’s learning.
When teachers reach out to parents and parents reach outback, that connection makes a whole difference in the kind of support a child has access to. Regardless of the economic background or the kind of school a child goes to, when they have great support at home from the parent /caregiver and in school from a teacher, they develop holistically. It’s the network of schools, parents/caregivers and communities that make the difference in the life of a child. Teachers help build the bridge across the education gap by creating opportunities for a child to succeed but they can’t solely do this and most times even with all the hard work in the classroom, they are left feeling the weight of this responsibility.
Imagine if the teachers worked with individual parents and students to get across this gap? Last year Jane was in grade 6 in one of the most populated public primary school in Nairobi. She is a bit shy, an average performer and does especially well in English. Halfway through the second term, her English Mr. Mwangi realized that Jane wasn’t as active in class as usual and even after talking to her he was worried. Mr. Mwangi took a step of reaching out to Jane’s mother and after a bit of a chat, she revealed to him that there had been kids from church who attend more affluent schools that Jane had been comparing herself with. This had really affected her self -esteem and confidence over the holiday despite her mother’s effort to help.
Together Mr. Mwangi and Jane’s mother decided that for the rest of the term they will work at providing Jane with various opportunities to build her self-esteem including connecting her with good friends at school, complimenting her and Mr. Mwangi gave Jane’s mother ideas on practical ways she could create a supportive environment at home. They checked in with each other weekly for the rest of the term. By the end of the term not only was Jane back to her usual self even more outspoken than she’s ever been, she was also top 10 in her class and continues to do well. There was a positive turnaround for Jane because her teacher reached out to her mother and together they figured a way to help her. It took collaboration and initiative from each of them to see this through. What if this was a reality for each child throughout their schooling?
So here’s one way to build a bridge across the education gap. The teachers can structure a way to work closely with the parents/caregivers to help the child succeed. They can provide a clear understanding of what can be done at home to reinforce the great work they are doing in the classroom. If each week the teacher sent a message to the parent saying I really like how your child participated in school this week, here are some ways you could engage them to help strengthen this or would you be able to come to school to speak about your child? On the other hand, parents/caregivers reach out to teachers with details of how the child is doing outside of school that could help them best support them while in school. At the end of the month, we have 40 of these positive conversations that reveal to both parents/caregivers and the teacher details that they need to help a kid and make a difference in their lives.
As American historian & social activist, Howard Zinn said “We don't have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.” Yes the economic backgrounds may not be great, the school might not have enough resources but the way parents/caregivers and teachers choose to engage, even in what may seem like small ways changes quite a deal. They have a powerful opportunity to make decisions that impact their chance of being successful. What a powerful gift for the student to know that my teachers and parents/caregivers are working together. They want the same success for me. When we combine the power of parental love and the professional expertise of a devoted teacher we can get our children across the gap. We can create a collaborative community that transforms our schools and put the child’s success at the heart of all that we do.
Through the METIS fellowship, my team atPACEMaker international and I are working on a strategy to facilitate opening these lines of communication as well as amplifying the need and role of this critical area of collaboration in bridging the inequality gap in education. Every child deserves the right to be supported to thrive both in school and at home.