Absentee parents: How it affects your child’s studies

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A teacher helps children with a reading exercise. Parents also need to go through their children's homework to know how they are progressing academically. / Lydia Atieno

Parents have a major influence on a child’s achievement, more importantly in the field of education. Experts say the absence of a parent in a child’s academic guidance makes them insecure, which affects their well-being in general.

Sadly, today’s reality has accentuated absence of parents in their children’s upbringing, especially due to work-related commitments. Whether a parent’s absence is short-lived or long-lived, the fact remains that it negatively affects their child’s education.

Venuste Munyeshyaka, a final student in Education at University of Rwanda, College of Education, confesses that his father’s absence when he was in high school affected his academic performance.

“I used to score high grades while in primary and part of my high school. But the problem cropped in when my father got a job in Kigali. We were left in the care of our mother, who had to juggle work, home chores and other roles as a mother. Previously when dad was around, he would follow up closely on our class assignments and homework,” he says.

Impact on student’s education

Faustin Mutabazi, the chief executive officer at Educational Consultancy Bureau, an organisation that supports education and curriculum activities in Rwanda, says absence of either one or both parents has a big impact on a child’s education.

“First of all, children belong to parents, either biologically, emotionally or physically. The most important person in the well-being of any child is a parent. Being there for them at all times means they are secure in every aspect, including education,” he says.

Mutabazi says although we are in a time where we need to work to contribute to the country’s development, there is a need to ensure that children are not affected in one way or another.

“As an organisation, for instance, we are guided by three pillars; child, parent and school. All these are essential as far as education is concerned. Absence of one affects the education sector at large. We have observed that for various reasons including absence of a parent, a child’s education is jeopardised completely,” he says.

Mutabazi adds that in order to maintain stability between the three arms, there is need for support.

“For instance, when this gap of an absent parent accrues, a mentor can be identified to ensure the security and protection of the kids left at home in the care of house helps, which will help improve a student’s academic performance,” he says.

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A woman mentoring kids; looking for mentors who can help children while away is essential.

Paul Ogaa, the dean of students at Green Hills Academy, Kigali, believes that the failure or the success of any child depends on their parents.

“The fist educator is the parent. Teachers, mentors and other people from the community should come second to add to the foundation which the parent has laid. Definitely, when a parent is not around due to some reasons, the child’s academics will be affected,” he says.

Ogaa explains that the parent should be the one to follow up on their children’s homework, class assignments and even behaviour at school.

“If this doesn’t happen, there is high possibility of such kids failing in academics. The teachers always have a big number of students to handle, which becomes a problem to follow up very closely and effectively on each and every child in their classroom,” he says.

For Francine Gahongayire, a Kigali-based counsellor and tutor, a child and parent should have a strong bond, and this can only happen if a parent is close to their children physically.

“A teacher’s work is to ensure that these young people learn something at school. The big role remains a parent’s. He or she has to follow up on what their kids have learnt to make sure they have really understood what they have been taught,” she says.

How can this gap be bridged?

Education minister Papias Musafiri says, although it seems as an obvious thing for parents not be with their children due to work or studies, this should not be taken for granted and that there is a need to educate parents on how to cope with such pressures.

“Simple things like following up on children’s home work can actually make a big positive impact on children’s education. If parents don’t take up that role due to their absenteeism at home, it really contributes to the unseriousness of the children in their education journey,” he says.

On the other hand, as the ministry they are trying to encourage parents-teachers meetings so that parents are informed on the overall performance of their children.

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Students in a library reading. Parents should make an effort of finding out how their children are fairing at school.

In cases where students have specific problems, Musafiri says there should be one-on-one meetings between the student, parent and teacher if necessary so that they can be helped.

This way, he says, parents are helped to follow up on what they have been told concerning their kid’s wellbeing at school.

“Being absent as a parent means all this can’t happen, which leads to poor performance. Therefore, sparing time for the children matters a lot when it comes to education,” says Musafiri.

Claudien Nzitabakuze, the head of Teacher Education Management and Professionalisation Department at Rwanda Education Board, says absence of parents is a big problem today, especially in the cities where parents want to multitask. He, however, says this is a blow to children’s education.

“For those who are absent just due to their tight schedule, they should prioritise their children’s needs. They must devote a little time to find out how their children are fairing at school. For those who are absent permanently due to studies or working away from home, talking to their children more often using different platforms such as phones or social media to check how they are progressing in school work is vital,” he says.

Nzitabakuze also adds that, on top of that, finding a good guardian whom children will rely on for support in their education while they are away is also important.

However, Mutabazi says parents should understand that their absence has a big impact on their children’s academics, and he compares it to abuse to them.

He explains that leaving children under the care of maids who are just motivated by money is not enough as they don’t get the passion and love a parent would provide.

On the other hand, Mutabazi says giving the teachers the responsibility that could have be done by a parent is denying a child their right to be loved, which affects them academically as some of them find it hard to concentrate because they have something missing in their lives.

He advises that in circumstances where parents’ absence can’t be avoided, they should look out for a reputable organization to help with the management of such cases, where mentors can be provided to help out such children so that they are assured of a bright future in as far as education is concerned.

A recent study published by University of California found out that parental involvement, i.e checking homework, attending school meetings and events, as well as discussing school activities at home, has a powerful influence on students’ academic performance.

Collins Barminga, a teacher of biology and chemistry at Mother Mary Complex in Kibagabaga, Kigali, points out that problems faced by students at school such as not understanding specific subjects or not being comfortable with some teachers, can be solved by parents’ close involvement in their children’s upbringing.

“When a parent is not there to find out such issues, students will naturally work out quick fixes, which could impact their studies negatively. For instance, they are more likely to be duped by their peers that the best way to handle such cases is to use drugs or alcohol to keep their stress at bay,” he says.