Opinion & Commentary

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Beyond the Classroom: How Parents Influence Their Children's Education

Alison Rich | 15 March 2000

In a society that demands a high level of education and skill for a successful and stable future, a decent education is becoming increasingly important. A child’s education is the shared responsibility of the school and the home. Outside the school, the home is the most salient source of learning, encouragement and support for a child. However, parental influences are often overlooked in discussions of a child’s schooling.

In this monograph, Alison Rich examines the different ways that parents influence their children’s education. The components of parental influence are discussed under three main headings: parental resources, parental involvement and parental support.

Parental resources refers to income levels, parental education and parental employment. A high family income can increase educational opportunities and means that there is more likely to be educational materials in the home such as books, computers and so on. Having a parent who has a high level of education is also an important factor. Research shows that children from highly educated families often follow in their parents footsteps and are more likely to complete high school and undertake further study. In addition, a parent’s employment may effect their children’s education. Children with unemployed parents are less likely to complete school and less likely to do well at school.

'A child's education is the shared responsibility of the school and the home'

While parental resources do have a significant influence on a child’s education, there are other facets of parental influence which play an equally important role. Parental involvement in a child’s education can be crucial in developing a child’s academic ability and confidence. Parents can actively contribute to the functioning of their child’s school by taking part on school committees, attending sporting and social events, attending parent teacher nights, volunteering and so on. By doing so parents positively influence their child’s schooling experience and children are more likely to see the importance of education if their parents are involved. Also, parents can influence their child’s educational outcomes by maintaining an interest in their child’s progress at school and their post-school plans.

Rich argues that the home environment should be conducive to learning. In the years prior to school, parents can do a lot to build strong foundations for a successful and positive school experience. In later years parents can continue to help develop their child’s skills and abilities, even if this means simply talking to their child about certain issues or school related topics.

If parents cannot invest time in active school participation, or cannot afford to provide educational materials, or lack the academic ability to help with schoolwork, they can at least provide support for their child. This can be done by making an effort to enforce good study habits and by holding high aspirations for their child’s progress. Parents who value education can win the fight against all odds to ensure that their children achieve academically.

'Any schooling reform that does not acknowledge the importance of the parent factor will fail'

Rich moves forward to discuss issues of family breakdown, and how this influences children’s education. It is clear that family life has a significant impact on children’s education in many ways. In light of this, family structure is a serious issue in education, especially given the increasing number of non-traditional families.

There is a growing body of evidence indicating that students from sole parent families do not perform as well as those from traditional families. Rich attempts to piece together the potential causes of this apparent educational disadvantage in sole parent families in the hope of broadening our understanding of how family structure influences education. While many sole parents do the best they can given their situation, there are consequences of not having a second parent in the home.

What emerges from this monograph is the need for greater recognition, from both parents and education authorities, of the potential of parents to enhance their children’s education. Any schooling reform that does not acknowledge the importance of the parent factor will fail to raise the educational outcomes of students. Rich outlines a number of initiatives that can be undertaken to increase parental awareness of their role in the education process, and bring them closer to school and their child’s education. The issue of sole parents is discussed separately, as programs and strategies that are effective for couple families may not work for sole parent families. Rich points out that schools need to understand the family situation of their students if they are to be successful in reaching all families and involving all parents.

About the Author:
Alison Rich is a Policy Analyst with the Taking Children Seriously research programme at The Centre for Independent Studies.