Innovations in Education

To help children learn, programs invest in educating parents

Experiences demonstrate the importance of offering spaces where families can learn within schools

by Marina Lopes 06/08/2016

When the CAP Foundation, created by the executives and employees of a Chilean mining group, noted that the involvement of the family was important in boosting the academic performance of students and thus contribute to the socioeconomic development of the country, the institution decided to create a systemic strategy to bring parents and schools closer together. The Aprender em Familia (Family Learning) program was founded in 2010 with the goal of maximizing the positive impact of families on the learning and development of students. Initially installed in 12 partner institutions, today 60 public schools in 10 Chilean cities participate in the project.

An initial diagnosis, carried out after the creation of other teacher training and institutional management programs in public schools, revealed a sense of guilt on both sides. “The teachers said they did not have the preparation or tools to involve the family in school. On the other hand, the family felt distant from teachers,” recalls project coordinator Teresa Izquierdo. “We realized that if we did not engage families, results would not continue to improve. An interest in reading, for example, is supported by parents,” she noted.

To develop a collaboration strategy between schools and families, the Family Learning program is based on three pillars. The first phase aims to train principals, teachers and volunteers to open the doors of their schools, including ideas such as the preparation of an action plan to the delivery of tools to improve the spaces used for school meetings.

“First of all we carry out a diagnosis of each school, and then develop a policy and an action plan. If we want to work with parents, teachers need prior training. This is one of the problems of many programs. They begin to work with parents without involving the whole school,” explains Tereza.

Credit: Aprender em Família
 

After preparing school staff, the project focuses on training the family. The Escola de Pais (School for Parents) creates a space within the school for families to share experiences about the challenge of educating their children, and participate in training programs aimed at family identity, learning support and the development of children. “We also qualify family members as volunteer monitors for activities with other parents from each course,” Tereza adds.

The School for Parents training uses manuals prepared by a team of sociologists and educators, based on diagnoses carried out in schools and the subsequent recommendations of the institutions. Monitors of the program receive material describing activities and educational games and including support materials and fact sheets to assist them when working with families. Another training strategy is the Ler em Familia (Family Reading) project, which seeks to involve parents in strategies that encourage students to read.

Credit: Aprender em Família
 

The third stage of the program features actions to strengthen the bond between families and the community. Each year, two major events are held, the Festival of Arts and the Family Olympics, with the backing of the departments of culture and sport of each municipal district.

Schools that participate in the program receive monthly consultations with the CAP Foundation to accompany their preparation, says Tereza. “We are heavily involved in the first year, less involved in the second year, and by the third year we are ready for the program to be incorporated in the school in a sustainable manner,” she says.

After six years of the project, the Family Learning coordinator says significant results are already being achieved in schools. “We noticed a change in the culture of the school’s relationship with the family.” To evaluate the program, the foundation relies on J-PAL (Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab), and a network of academics from around the world, created by MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), which seeks scientific evidence of the effect of programs developed in different areas.

According to the results of a partial impact assessment study, 77.5% of teachers in schools taking part in the program say parents work together with them, while only 58.1% of teachers in non-participating schools feel the same. The perception is also different among families, with 42.5% of parents from Family Learning schools feeling that the school considers their participation important, compared to 33% of parents from non-participating schools. “Parents say they are more satisfied with the school and the working meetings,” says Tereza.

Learning Community
Another experiment in Brazil focuses on parent training and the involvement of the whole school in building strategies to work more closely with parents. The Comunidade de Aprendizagem (Learning Community) project, developed with the support of the Natura Institute, is based on a set of actions that help to integrate the school with its surroundings. The initiative originated in 1990 at the Centre of Research in Theories and Practices that Overcome Inequalities (CREA) of the University of Barcelona. From a scientific basis, it identifies educational strategies to improve impacts on learning and overcome inequalities.

“The project has a strict implementation proposal. When we met in 2013, the Natura Institute was researching the concept of a Learning Community. After talking to a number of authors who had dealt with the concept, we came to the University of Barcelona research group,” says Fernanda Pinho of the Instituto Natura, which coordinates the Learning Community project. “The Learning Community transforms forms of interaction between the people in a school,” she argues.

The program is implemented through partnerships with education departments. Once a school network decides to adhere to the project, presentations are given, and the school then decides whether to participate or not. Overall, the project has different phases: school awareness; making the decision to become a Learning Community; bringing together the educational community to reflect on its dreams for the future; choosing the priorities of the school and surrounding areas; and, finally, the moment of planning actions to be put into practice.

Credit: Comunidade de Aprendizagem
 

As a strategy for achieving the dreams of the school community, the program suggests a set of actions known as “Successful Educational Performances,” which are put into practice by schools, based on their needs. These include the Tertúlias Dialogical, where people gather to share ideas about literature, art and music, and the Tutored Library, which opens the library space outside school hours so young people can have a free learning place.

One of the suggested successful educational performances is the training of families, offering a range of learning situations for parents within the school environment. The institution performs a survey of issues of interest to parents and organizes courses for them, which can include literacy and vocational courses and even issues related to the development of students.

“For a long time, studies have indicated that the success or failure of the student in school is related to the educational level of parents. If the parent has a higher level of education, the child is a good student. If the father or mother is illiterate, he or she will be a bad student,” Fernanda says. However, she mentions that, according to research by the Centre of Research in Theories and Practices that Overcome Inequalities of the University of Barcelona, the most important thing is that the family is in a learning situation to support the child in his or her studies. “It doesn’t matter if they’re doing an adult literacy course or post-doctorate research. The important thing is that parents are going through a process of education,” she explains.

Translated by James Young

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family engagement