Johannesburg, 26 June 2021: The benefits of parent or, in non-traditional household situations, family involvement in a child’s education have been well documented and include improved “academic performance, attitudes and behaviours, attendance, school adjustment and engagement, and graduation rates”. But, families in South Africa’s poorest communities often don’t have the opportunities or the means to play an active role in their children’s education. We spoke to Mabel Sikhakhane, Head of Department of pre-primary and Chairperson of the School-Based Support Team at Nokuphila Primary School, about the challenges families in the townships face and how The Love Trust is helping them overcome these barriers.
Barriers to parent involvement
Sikhakhane identifies five major challenges that parents in the townships face: time, space, illiteracy, hunger, and a lack of resources. All of which are symptoms of their pre-existing condition: poverty.
Parents often need to leave for work before their children wake up, sometimes as early as 4am and come home well after their children have already gone to bed. So, finding the time to help children with their homework is nearly impossible for many. Should the child then try to complete the homework on their own, or if the parent is home while the child is still awake, they often don’t have space at home to do so. Many families can often only afford to rent one room that they share with multiple family members, so finding a quiet time during the day, because at night there’s no guarantee of light to work by, where they have space to sit and complete their homework can be just as difficult.
Also, many of the children at Nokuphila only receive meals while at school and go hungry at home as there’s just not enough money for three square meals a day. Having to cope with hunger pangs while trying to do homework is not conducive to academic success, yet that’s exactly what many children have to try and do.
Even if a child is fed, has space to do their homework, and has their parent to assist, some parents are illiterate and unable to read the assignments. To top it all, often children in the townships are unable to complete their homework for the simple reason that they don’t have the stationery (such as pencils, pens, rulers, scissors, glue, etc.) necessary to do so because their parents can’t afford it. Now with the pandemic, teachers and schools have had to rely heavily on technology to conduct their lessons and communicate with parents. Specifically, through the use of smartphones, a luxury that not all households can afford.
How Nokuphila and The Love Trust are helping parents
Sikhakhane and her team are empowering parents through a series of workshops because they understand these parents in their community lack the psychosocial support and skills desperately needed to participate in their child’s education. One such training was to teach parents to use the eLearning tools accessible via their smartphones that learners from grade four and up will be doing on tablets at school. By teaching parents how to use the tools they’re empowered to help their children with their homework. Another example is a workshop they hosted for parents with children in the ECD (early childhood development) phase where the parents were given Lego block sets and “are taught how to teach their children at home using those Lego blocks.” They were given a set as a present from generous donors so their children could continue to play with the Lego when they got home from school.
Should a parent be unable to assist because of their work hours, Sikhakhane suggests an older sibling or family member assist where possible so that the children stay motivated.
Sikhakhane and her team, thanks to the wonderful support from their donors, also send food parcels home for the families they know to be struggling so they know that the learners will have a full belly when they do their homework and go to bed at night. They even continued this initiative through the lockdowns knowing families will be suffering even more because the children wouldn’t have the meals they normally enjoyed at school.
Teachers at Nokuphila, Sikhakhane states, also make sure to ask learners whether they have the necessary stationery to complete their homework and if not, provide the learner with the needed stationery to take home with them.
Unfortunately, there are limitations to what Sikhakhane and her team can do although they are constantly brainstorming creative new ways to assist parents. There are however a few things parents can do to help their children. They could ensure that their children are provided with the needed space and environment, sometime during the day, so that their children can complete their homework without interruption or distraction. Also, if a parent has certain limitations, for example, they’re illiterate or don’t have a smartphone (or phone for that matter) that they make the teacher aware so that Sikhakhane and her team could devise a strategy to meet the specific needs.
To date, Sikhakhane and the school-based support team’s efforts have been greatly rewarded. Sikhakhane believes that the confidence and trust the parents have in Nokuphila and the efforts by The Love Trust to help provide the best quality education for their children is reflected in the often-repeated request for a Nokuphila high school: “so that our children can have this good education going forward.” They’ve also received a number of queries from parents wanting to enrol in the ECD teacher training programme. “Parents are interested,” she states, “they want to be educated, and they take an interest in the school. If you call them they respond. If you write letters, they reply.”