Parent Engagement Supports Language Learning

By Kathe Kirby, Director, Asia Education Foundation

The Australian Government is committed to trying to ensure that within a decade some 40 percent of Year 12 students will be studying a language in addition to English. At present only 11 percent of year 12 students are studying additional languages.

Drawing on the plethora of research affirming the importance of the parents role in their children's school education, the Asia Education Foundation recently conducted a project to find out from some school communities how parents can actively support their child's language learning.

The report focuses on 'what works' and 'what is possible' for schools to strengthen parental capacity to support successful Asian language learning.

The project surveyed eight diverse schools whose activities aimed to encourage and enable parents to support their children's learning Asian languages. Five key approaches were identified for schools to strengthen parental support:

  • Build and formalise leadership commitment to parental engagement;
  • Provide parents with practical tools to support their child's language learning;
  • Keep parents in the loop about the language program and their child's progress;
  • Build and sustain parent demand for Asian language learning (beyond compulsory years); and
  • Foster parents' awareness and positive views of Asian languages and cultures.

Research Base for Survey and Report

The research base used to inform the research, design and analysis of chosen schools and the identification of key approaches, was based on the research findings on the benefits and nature of parent engagement in their children's schooling.  The report summarises this research, starting with the current heightened emphasis on the potential of parent engagement strategies to contribute to improved learning outcomes for their children.

"Policymakers in Australia have acknowledged the active role parents can play to support their children's education. For example, one priority of the Australian Government's Students First policy is to work towards improved student outcomes through parent engagement.

"According to Students First, parental engagement encompasses several interconnected dimensions, such as:

  • Parental attitudes, values and behaviours;
  • Parents practical support of their children learning at home;
  • Active parental involvement in school communities, which is seen as making an important contribution to student success.

"This policy focus renews the commitment of previous Australian Government to encourage and enable parents to actively support their children's education both at home and through active participation in the school community.

The report canvasses the work of APC and ACSSO in the development of a national Family-School Partnerships Framework that was endorsed by the Education Council and distributed to schools in 2008. It also acknowledges the establishment of the Family-School and Community Partnerships Bureau in 2008, a further initiative of APC and ACSSO to share good practice, conduct research and provide practical support to parents, principals, and teachers on promoting family-school partnerships.

The report refers to international studies of parental support of children's school education, and explores the different forms of parent activities that can be differentiated as engagement, involvement or partnership.

"Parental engagement broadly refers to family-school partnerships that encourage and enable parents to take their place alongside educators to support student's learning and development (Emerson et al., 2012; Pushor & Ruitenberg, 2005). Conversely, parental involvement is narrower, and refers to school-based or school-related activities, such as volunteering, engaging in a parents' association, meeting with teachers, or attending school events.' (Emerson et al., 2012; Family-School & Community Partnership Bureau, 2011; Haris & Goodall, 2007; Fantuzzo, Tighe & childs, 2000)."

The report adapts a broad view of how parents can support their children's learning, regardless of whether the support strategies are more akin to engagement, involvement and/or partnerships. However, the report says that schools need to recognise, and address those factors within the control of the school, which may inhibit or mitigate against legitimate parent involvement and engagement in their children's learning.

For successful engagement of parents, the report says, schools should;

  • Proactively seek personal direct contact with parents and run smaller, more personalised activities, which tend to be more successful in engaging a diverse parenthood (Kim, 2009). Having only general polices can inhibit, rather than encourage, parental engagement.
  • Build trust and relationships with parents to support students' learning. Even though these take considerable time and effort to develop, they empower parents to see themselves as co-educators alongside schools (Emerson et al., 2012). The co-educator role not only encompasses parents' awareness and support of their children's learning, but also an understanding that their expectation alone can influence educational outcomes (Emerson et al., 2012).
  • Convey clear messages that parental engagement is desirable for achieving positive learning outcomes. Communicate to parents the variety of forms this engagement can take (Emerson et al., 2012). For example, schools can encourage and support parents to engage in daily conversations about their children's learning and aspirations vis-à-vis their own expectations (Emerson et al., 2012).

While these success factors are generic and the challenge to apply them in specific contexts remains profound, they reinforce the idea that schools are ultimately responsible for making parental engagement work (Kim, 2009). Furthermore, the role of the principal has been emphasised as particularly important, and parents are more likely to engage in their child's learning if they feel the principal encourages and enables their contributions (Barr & Saltmarsh, 2014).

Source What Works 8: Parents and the Learning of Asian Languages in Schools

This article was first published by the National Publication of Australian Parents Council Incorporated.

More Information

Renuka Rajadurai

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