Columnists Features

Communities key to children’s education

A WRONG notion is created that the government is solely responsible for ensuring that all children have access to education.
While this is true, it must always be remembered that parents and other community caregivers have key responsibilities in supporting and facilitating children’s access to education.
In the Zambian context, caregivers include grandmothers, uncles and aunties including all siblings who remain to look after the school-going children after the death of their parents.
In a framework for the realisation of children’s right to education and rights within education published by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 2007, parents and community members are cited as being instrumental in ensuring that children’s right to access education is guaranteed.
It is documented that in many societies, particularly those with large populations of orphans like in the Zambian situation, extended family members are the ones who take care of children. And whoever decides to adopt another child must realise that they have obligations to safeguard the child’s right to access education.
Without parents’ engagement, chances of children having access and sustaining commitment to education are significantly diminished. Often children who have no one to tell them to go to school end up dropping out of school.
Parental responsibilities to ensure children have access to education are many. Some of these include the provision of an environment in the early years that ensures the child’s preparedness to start school. So when parents queue up outside schools to register children for entry into grade one, they are executing their responsibility.
It is also a responsibility of parents and caregivers to support and recognise the value of education for all their children. Parents should therefore ensure that children are not overburdened with domestic and other chores such as selling vegetables and begging for money from the streets.
If they are overburdened, children can be denied space and time for them to attend school and do their homework. This also entails that children must be helped to get ready in good time and arrive at school before sessions begin. It is irresponsible for parents to allow their child to arrive late for lessons at school.
It is a responsibility of caregivers to get involved in school activities by supporting its work, through participation in fundraising ventures, meetings with teachers, committees, consultations, governing evenings or open days? At home, parents should show encouragement and support for their child’s work and, where necessary, help with school homework.
Parents must be children’s advocates for quality education and must monitor a child’s progress and ensure its safety at school.
A responsibility that continues to be seriously abrogated in rural communities is that of ensuring that local traditions and customs, such as child marriage, do not prevent children from going to school. Community members must not turn a blind eye to an illiterate couple that decides to marry off its little daughter for perceived ‘social benefits’.
Parents and community members can be strong advocates for bringing about policy change and development in education.
An example of parents’ advocacy is a case of what happened in Jordan, where a meeting of mothers who were concerned about the lack of secondary education for their daughters led to the preparation of a petition and a meeting with the education ministry. This resulted in the establishment of three fully equipped girls’ secondary classes within six months.
But a prerequisite to ensuring that communities appreciate their responsibility to children’s access to education lies in the education of parents themselves. Where parents, particularly mothers, have not been to school, the likelihood of such parents pushing for their children’s right to education is significantly reduced.
This can be taken care of through provision of adult education. Children need to be coming from homes where parents and guardians are literate and appreciate the value of children’s education.
If parents acquire skills in reading and writing, they can effectively communicate with their children, help them with their school work and better understand what their children are doing at school. With education, parents can have greater capacity to support their children’s education.
Educated parents and guardians can also possess greater understanding of their children’s needs and become more confident in collaborating with schools to help improve the quality of education offered to their children.
Many parents lack the skills, knowledge and resources to interact effectively with teachers and school authorities, while on the part of schools, there is often a lack of commitment to reaching out to parents.
It is unfortunate for parents to feel that teachers are doing them a favour and for school authorities to project an attitude that they are the ‘masters and they know it all’.
Whatever the case, parents, guardians and communities have the responsibility to ensure that children have access to education by encouraging them to go to school.
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