Twenty-eight-year-old Anne Mbabazi is a parent residing in Kimironko, Kigali. Her five-year-old daughter is in top class at a nearby school and only reunites with her mother later in the evening. Immediately, after coming back from work, Mbabazi asks her daughter for her books and for about an hour or so, they go through all pending homework. Mbabazi, who holds a degree in finance, indeed contributes to her daughter’s academics through this daily routine.
“I offer assistance mainly with mathematics and writing. I help her with letter construction and spellings. We read together and when she performs well, I don’t hesitate to buy her some ice-cream,” she explains.
Keeping in touch with the teachers at her child’s school is another thing she considers crucial, and indeed she regularly calls for updates on her daughter’s performance.
In this neighbourhood, not all parents have the ability to assist their children like Mbabazi. Some parents have not been to school at all and can barely read or write. During reading time, for instance, Joanne Uwimana, a mother of two, struggles with simple phrases and it is clear she cannot do so much to help her son. Reason? She did attain an education growing up, yet she has to guide her school-going son.
The two parents present common scenarios of parental involvement in education. While Mbabazi can single-handedly assist her daughter at home, Uwimana is less likely to have direct impact on her child’s education. But the question remains, how can illiterate parents contribute to the performance of their children?
Stakeholders speak out
Dr Celestin Ntivuguruzwa, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Education, believes that both educated and illiterate parents have a duty to ensure that their children obtain the right values of discipline in addition to academic performance.
“Educated or not, parental contribution towards learning should not stop at paying school dues. Things like discipline require some form of involvement and dedication,” says Dr Ntivuguruzwa.
For homework and unfamiliar assignments, he suggests that illiterate parents need to entrust someone with basic knowledge of the topics to guide the child.
“Homework requires minimum knowledge, especially that equivalent to advanced level. Some topics may be challenging and you wouldn’t want to misguide your child. You can entrust this role with someone but ensure to do follow-ups,” he adds.
Solomon Mukama, a teacher at Kigali Christian School, believes that illiterate parents cannot directly contribute to academic performance, but can foster punctuality and follow-up for regular attendance of their children at school.
“If you can’t help your child with homework, at least ensure that he makes it to school early. Going to school early means that he won’t have to miss in any of the school activities and in case there is pending work, he can use morning time to consult,” he says.
Mukama also suggests that illiterate parents should encourage group discussions by students both at home and school.
“Students may be at the same level of education, but engaging in group discussions widens their understanding. This is the time when they get to reflect on the hard topics, especially if the discussions are guided,” he adds.
However, Martin Masabo the headmaster of Lycee de Kigali, believes that illiterate parents need to do more through maintaining close relationships with school authorities.
For instance, he points out that those who cannot understand school publications such as circulars have the option of getting information directly from those in charge.
“Other discussions could be centered around performance and assessing how the child has been coping with other school activities. This kind of engagement can greatly contribute to academic welfare of the child,” explains Masabo.
Parents on the spot
Currently, law no 23/2012 of 15/06/2012 governing the organisation and functioning of schools compels all parents to engage in school activities through attending the parents and teachers committees (PTCs).
However, a report published last year, commissioned by Fight Illiteracy Youth Organization (FIYO) to assess the impact of PTCs in ensuring quality education in Rwanda showed that most were unaware of their obligations.
The survey carried out in five districts in 9-year Basic Education, 12-Year Basic Education, technical vocational education and training (TVET), also found out that only 48 per cent of male parents attended the school general assembly meetings, while the rest were female, but overall, parent involvement in school activities was low.
In addition to such findings, Masabo emphasises that illiterate parents should endeavour to attend all school activities in order to engage teachers in academic debates.
“Some may afford to miss, but illiterate parents should make it a point to attend all parents’ and teachers’ meetings. This is the best way they can contribute to academic discussions meant to help their children,” he adds.
Parents speak out
While all parents agree that limited involvement in their children’s academics is a challenge, most illiterate parents say their tedious work schedules determine how much they can contribute.
“I enjoy being part of all the discussions or facilitating my child do his assignments effectively, but the challenge is sometimes you leave work very late,” says Florence Mugwaneza, a parent in Kicukiro, Kigali.
Like Mugwaneza, Cedric Butera, a parent in Remera claims that some school programmes clash with his normal work schedule.
“If I am summoned by the school on a week day it is almost impossible for me to attend. The other issue is that most schools have limited or no activity over the weekend,” he argues.
However, Ronald Wandira, a teacher says those who cannot make it to school should make follow-ups through phone calls.
“It is important to have the phone contact of a class teacher or the school head. In case you are too busy, dropping a call can help in providing updates about your child,” he says.
Currently, there is no standard policy to assist illiterate parents by the ministry. However, projects such as ‘Mureke Dusome’, loosely translated in English as ‘let’s read’, are some of the initiatives in rural areas.
Under this the programme, the United States Agency for International Development, in partnership with the Save the Children and Rwanda Education Board, encourages education officials at the district and sector level, head teachers and parents, to acquire training on how to work together to facilitate the children to have reading sessions.
PARENTS HAVE THEIR SAY
Eddy Mutavunika,a Kigali resident
Keeping in touch with your children’s teachers is very important. For instance, finding out how your child is fairing in certain areas where they are weak helps in knowing how to help them at home. A good parent should make time for their children to assist with their homework and guide them.
Manzi Sibomana,a resident of Kicukiro
Making sure that your child has everything that is required at school is necessary; it boosts their confidence in class which leads to success. However, finding out how the school rules work is vital as it will help you guide your child better to excel academically.
Manasseh Niyonzima, a father of one
I think the best approach is to give them a relaxed schedule when they are home. For instance, giving them minimal time to watch TV is essential since it helps them to relax their mind from class work. I believe this contributes a lot to their academic excellence.
Lionelle Mukashema, a parent from Nyamirambo
The only time I get to advise my children is when they come home with poor grades. Here, I create more time to talk to them and come up with strategies that will help them improve. This is because of my tight work schedule. But ultimately, setting time as a parent to guide your child boosts their performance.
Susan Mbabazi, a parent
In order to help children be successful in their education, parents should create a conducive environment at home. For instance, they should avoid family conflicts in front of children as this may affect them emotionally and psychologically, lowering their concentration at school.