A few months ago, our colleagues at Twaweza invited Elevate to participate on a panel during their Positive Deviance research seminar. Seated next to the Commissioner of Basic Education from the Ministry of Education, the General Secretary of the Uganda National Teachers Union, a Deputy Principal from one of Uganda’s Primary Teacher Colleges, and the Country Manager of Twaweza Uganda, we were humbled to be invited to such a prestigious stage. To guide the discussion, Twaweza requested that Elevate focus on parental engagement given the depth of our work in this space through our program—Village TEACH.
Decades of academic research illustrate that when parents are actively involved their child’s education, children are more likely to thrive academically, socially and economically. In Uganda however, there tends to be a disconnect between schools, parents and communities. Over the past several years, Elevate has been investigating why parents tend to be disengaged from education, and how we might amplify their involvement in their child’s education both at home and at school.
Why are parents disengaged?
Through our ongoing learning from program implementation, qualitative interviews, and a plethora of desk research, we have distilled our analysis down to four factors that cause parental disengagement.
- Parents—who have experienced very little formal education, themselves—are unsure of how to interact with the formal education system.
- Traditional school-based management structures are inaccessible for the majority of parents, excluding them from exercising voice and oversight at their child’s school.
- After many years of disappointing student learning outcomes, a blame game between parents and schools disincentives cooperation.
- Parents feel that they don’t have a say over a service they’re not paying for.
What can we do about it?
Elevate’s community and parental engagement program—Village TEACH—is rooted in the conviction that parents and local communities hold the keys to drive lasting, transformational change in their schools. Elevate’s role through Village TEACH is to provide a structure that equips communities with the tools, skills and knowledge they need to achieve this ambition.
So how do we catalyze parental engagement in education?
- Teach parents their roles and responsibilities. We cannot assume that parents who have very little experience with formal education naturally understand their role in their child’s education, what is expected of them and their child, and what they can expect in return. Elevate works to plug this gap by providing parents the knowledge and skills they need to productively engage in their child’s education—both at home and at school.
- Make sure parents have a seat at the table. To engage productively, parents must feel valued, included and listened to in important school governance conversations. Since the group of parents and community members participating in traditional school governance structures is quite small, Elevate creates a complementary space where parents who have traditionally been excluded from these important conversations can voice their opinion. Our goal through Village TEACH is to give parents a seat at the table, and set them up for success once they are there.
- Refrain from finger pointing. The challenge of improving the quality of education in local communities is complex and multi-faceted. The blame for education quality challenges cannot fall on the shoulders of one person or even one stakeholder group. Elevate works to overcome the finger pointing and blame game impulses by facilitating dialogue that evokes the community’s shared interests and common goals in improving children’s education.
- Share information widely. One of the challenges of giving parents a meaningful seat at the table stems from information asymmetries between teachers, schools and parents. Parents tend to be more out-of-the-loop on many important issues which has implications for power dynamics, and their ability to exercise voice and effect change. Elevate works to unclog information bottlenecks by ensuring that progress through Village TEACH program is shared back to the wider community several times a year. The free flow of information builds transparency, accountability, trust and a more amicable school-community relationship.