Parental involvement in children’s education can take many forms and can be experienced differently by each parent. The benefits and advantages of parental involvement are unquestionable.
I have been working as a primary school teacher for twelve years; ten of those have been in a school setting with a high population of EAL (English as an additional language) families. As part of my recent master’s studies, I undertook a research project to investigate the reasons why EAL parents get involved in their child’s education, with a specific focus on the benefits for the parents. I interviewed five EAL parents in my school and my findings are summarised below.
Language is a major barrier for many immigrant parents who want to play an active role in their children’s education. The parents who did not speak English as their first language had a fear of not understanding what was said to them and vice versa: that they themselves would not be understood. It was mentioned that being unable to read English was part of this barrier. Parents who did not understand some of the formal communications sent out by the school could miss out on opportunities to become involved.
Cultural differences: as the Irish schooling system was different to that in their home country, the parents did not understand how it worked. This led parents to miss out on opportunities to become involved.
Being time-poor: if parents worked or had other children at home to care for, they would not have the time to attend in-school events during the day.
A sense of belonging and the opportunity to build a community were major benefits identified by interviewees, as well as the opportunity to meet people from different cultures, to socialise and to make friends. By becoming involved in the school community, the parents were able to learn new skills such as improving their communication in English.
A number of parents interviewed mentioned how becoming involved had increased their confidence. One parent, in particular, noted how she found it very difficult to adjust to life in Ireland after having had a career in her home country; she was now working as a housewife. Getting involved in school life helped her to build a community around her, and she spoke of this community as her new family.
All parents interviewed mentioned the significance of celebrating their home languages because this showed their children (some of whom were embarrassed to speak in their own language) the importance of celebrating the many different languages and cultures within the school. It is invaluable to use parents and members of the wider family as a resource to share their language and culture with the wider school community.
The school can provide many opportunities for this. They can increase teacher awareness around the benefits of inviting parents into the classroom to share their knowledge, host different events that celebrate the many different languages spoken in the school and impress upon the parents the importance of the mother tongue as an aid in the development of their children’s second language.
Finally, one of the key learnings from my study was that it is through an understanding of parents’ experiences that it is possible to drive their engagement with the school community. When parents feel understood, they are more likely to cross the school threshold and engage i.e., pick up the phone or drop into the school when they have questions or something to discuss.
Chakrabarty, N. (2017). Barriers to parental involvement in schools and what PTAs can do about it.
Chávez-Reyes, C. (2010). Inclusive approaches to parent engagement for young English language learners and their families. Teachers College Record: The Voice of Scholarship in Education.
Gibbons, P. (1993). Learning to learn in a second language. Heinemann Educational Books.
Gonzales, S. M. & Gabel, S. L. (2017). Exploring involvement expectations for culturally and linguistically diverse parents: What we need to know in teacher education. International Journal of Multicultural Education.
Linda has worked for over 13 years in education ranging from Montessori and mainstream primary education to teaching children with additional needs and lecturing in oral Irish. She is currently in her 4th year as Home School Community Liaison in Esker Educate Together working to build and maintain positive lasting relationships with all parents in the school, and encourage their involvement in school life. Linda is passionate about Diversity & Inclusion and has just completed an MSc in Education and Training Management (Leadership) in Dublin City University.