Parents and education: the benefits of getting involved

Helicopter parents who hover over their child's every move or tiger parents who push for top marks in every subject have become widespread objects of derision. But a new report has underscored the importance of getting parents actively involved in their child's learning.

A parent's active role in their child's education, building a relationship with their school and encouraging learning in the home has overwhelmingly positive effects on a child's wellbeing, academic achievement, whether they stay in school and whether they will get to university.

Lance Emerson, from the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth, said changes to improve education outcomes tended to focus too heavily on teachers and what happened inside the classroom, and not enough on parental engagement.

''I do think it's the missing piece of the jigsaw in the education reform agenda,'' Dr Emerson said. ''There are more gains to be made by implementing strategies that foster effective parental engagement, and strengthen the link between the home and children and community.''

One study cited in the report found the economic benefit of increased effort by parents in supporting their children had the same effect as spending an extra $1000 a year in school resources.

But while the report is positive about parents who encourage their children at school, it draws the line at overly-demanding, pushy parenting, which it says can have negative effects and foster low self-esteem.

''[What's important] is allowing the child to build a sense of self-reliance, which is what 'helicopter parenting' doesn't do,'' Dr Emerson said.

The report suggests strategies for schools such as assigning homework that requires interaction with parents, having positive teacher-parent meetings - not just when a child is in trouble - and using social media.

Australia lagged many countries in legislating and developing programs to foster parental involvement, Dr Emerson said.

In the US, Parent Information Resource Centres had been established in some areas off the school grounds to provide assistance to parents. In some low-income neighbourhoods, they included facilities such as laundromats to make it easier for parents to integrate their activities with their child's learning.

The federal School Education Minister, Peter Garrett, launched the report at Glebe Primary School in inner-city Sydney yesterday. He said the school showed the positive effects of engaging with parents and the community.

''Here's a school where you've got 25 per cent or so of kids of Aboriginal background and they are performing well above the national trends,'' he said.

Glebe parent Anna Playford has taken a hands-on approach with her daughter Jessica's education, getting involved with the school's P&C and helping out in class activities such as reading and maths groups.

''Her education is so very important, for her to see me wanting to contribute to it, it gives her a more positive feeling about it,'' Ms Playford said.

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