Education starts and continues at home
By: Adam Focht
Over the last few decades, the Western World has experienced many educational reforms – some of which have included limiting the number of students per class, raising teachers’ salaries as well as distinguishing and evaluating ineffective teachers and replacing them with good ones. While all of these educational reforms have certainly been moves in the right direction, they are, nonetheless, only partially effective in the bigger picture.
The driving purpose behind most of these educational reforms has been to raise students’ scores on standardized tests, the plum line through which most educational systems around the world utilize to properly evaluate themselves. Among these tests, perhaps the most important is the PISA test, instituted internationally among the nations of the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development).
What is interesting is that Israel and America seem to consistently fail to achieve their desired goals, resulting in their educational systems receiving a lower rating than other OECD countries, such as Singapore, Finland and Shanghai, China, which consistently finish at the top.
We live in a fast food society which affects all aspects of our lives, including our unrealistic expectations for fast fixes and solutions to problems. We want it here and now – with minimal or no waiting time.
In a relatively short period, over the course of the past few years, our society has evolved into a microcosm of specialized fields where we expect our educational systems to teach our kids all they need to know while parents busy themselves in the course of their own daily jobs. After all, it is the job of teachers and educators to be comprehensively taking care of our children’s educational needs.
This may explain why many of the recent educational reforms have focused on the role of today’s teachers, but is this type of thinking fair or even realistic when it comes to fulfilling our kids’ massive educational needs? Can we really drop our kids off at school and expect them to learn everything that they need to know – not to mention values such as mutual respect, integrity, honesty and the good work ethic?
“Of course not,” you might say. We can’t expect school educators to teach the exact same values that we would seek to teach at home. But even putting values aside, what about conventional academic subjects such as math, English, sciences, and social sciences? While we may not need to teach our kids these subjects from scratch, we still need to take an active interest in what they are studying, make sure they are studying (i.e. doing their homework), and help to provide them with resources so that they don’t feel as succeeding is an insurmountable task.
So many studies have shown that parental involvement in their children’s education can bring about a significant improvement in their academic achievement, even on the PISA tests. One recent study reported the results of 5,000 interviews with parents of children taking the PISA test. The children’s results on the test were compared with the way the parents raised their kids. This study found that “fifteen year-old students whose parents often read books with them, during their first year of primary school, revealed markedly higher scores in PISA 2009 than students whose parents read with them infrequently or not at all.
What is also interesting to note is that the enhanced test score performance among students whose parents read to them in their early school years is evident regardless of the family’s socioeconomic background. The bottom line is that parents’ engagement with the 15 year-olds is strongly associated to better PISA test scores. The researcher leading this study suggested that simply asking your child how their school day went and showing genuine interest in what they learned that day can have the same impact as hours of private tutoring. It is something that every parent can do regardless of their own educational level or social background.
A similar study conducted by the American National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education reported that the following tactics were fruitful and effective in the overall enhancement of child education:
- Monitoring homework
- Making sure children get to school
- Rewarding their efforts
- Talking up the idea of going to college
Such parental actions are strongly linked to better attendance, grades, test scores, and preparation for college. The study further went on to say that getting parents involved with their children’s educational process at home is a more powerful driver of achievement than any other parental involvement at school.
There is, clearly, no substitute for a good teacher. We all, undoubtedly, want our children to have the best teachers, but we also have to realize that we cannot lay all the responsibility of our child’s education at the feet of their teacher. We, as parents, have to be involved on a daily basis with our children’s learning process.
I personally think that the findings of these studies are fascinating, largely because they reinforce what I have seen in my own children’s lives. I can remember our first parent/teacher meeting involving my oldest daughter when she attended first-grade. The teacher told my wife, in the presence of our daughter, that she was doing very well in all of her subjects but struggling in math. The teacher attempted to encourage us, saying that this was normal and probably something that would continue her entire life (For the sake of this discussion let’s ignore the fact that despite this teacher being a seasoned veteran with 37 years’ teaching, it’s something which should never have been said in front of a child). I can remember our response as parents.
Our first reaction was the need to explain to our 6 year-old that the teacher whom she so adored was wrong about her math abilities. In our mind, if she was having a hard time in math it just meant that she would need to try harder and, most importantly, that we would help her with her homework until she was able to handle it.
As things have turned out, our daughter may still not be at the top of the class in math, but she is no longer struggling either. We were, of course, advised at the next parent/teacher conference that our daughter had greatly improved in math. This came about not due to educational reform or tons of money spent on tutors but rather as a result of spending a little time helping her with her homework.
I am reminded of an old saying that goes, “Learning begins in the home.” My personal experiences as a child, and now as a parent, reinforce this truth, but I would like to add that not only does learning begin at home, it also continues at home. If we want our children to care about their studies and to excel in order to achieve their greatest potential, we need to take an active interest - showing them that we care about their studies, inquire about their day at school, make sure that their daily homework assignments are completed, that they have well-prepared for upcoming tests, that they are investing adequate time and effort into their studies and, most of all, that we are present and ready to help them when they need it.
This post is also available in: Hebrew