MYTH: 'My child's success at school all comes down to him working hard, not my attendance at parents' events.'
REALITY: Behind every successful child is a super-involved parent.
MANY parents who volunteer at schools to get ahead of others in the Primary 1 registration queue often stop getting involved once their children secure a place.
But education researchers say that parents should, ideally, continue to be closely involved in their children's schooling all the way through their education. There are many benefits to be reaped from this.
Three decades of research overseas and locally have shown that the more parents are involved in their children's education, the better their children perform in school.
Children with more involved parents enjoy school more and have better school attendance. They are also more emotionally and socially well-adjusted and better able to handle stress. A National Institute of Education (NIE) study here of 150 high-income couples published in 2001 found that it is not money, but active engagement in their children's education, that made a difference in how well their children performed in school.
NIE Assistant Professor Lana Khong Yiu Lan found that children of parents who do not leave everything to tutors, or who give up their jobs for their offspring's sake, often do well in examinations.
WHAT RESEARCH SHOWS
Such parents are often seen in or around school, trying to keep informed about the latest developments in education from the principal and other parents.
At home, they chat up neighbours whose children have good grades, seeking their advice on tutors and what enrichment programmes their children should take.
By comparison, the children of parents who are focused on their careers and who rely on tutors, family members or even maids to help their children cope with school, do less well.
Prof Khong chose to study high-income families because she wanted to see how well-educated parents in the top 20 per cent of earners allocate resources and time to their children's education. Her aim was to find out whether the way they help their children could be applied to the less well-off.
She concluded that the most important ingredients for good school performance are family involvement, sacrifice and awareness of educational matters, and that the less well-off who put in the same effort should not feel deprived in any way.
Parents can use community libraries and subsidised tuition programmes run by community self-help groups to give their children that extra edge.
All parents should also invest in spending quality and quantity time with their children, building good relationships with them. This will go a long way in helping their children.
'In the end, doing well in school and in life is not about money,' she said. Much research has also been done on the importance of the role of fathers. Again, research has shown that children with involved fathers are better academic achievers. They are more likely to get As, and have better numeracy and verbal skills.
WHAT PARENTS CAN DO
There are many simple, everyday things that parents can do to become more engaged in their children's learning, according to Prof Khong.
For starters, parents can ask their children about their day in school.
'It signals the fact that you are interested in his schooling and think it is important,' she explained. 'Unfortunately, the only thing that some parents inquire about is their child's marks in school tests or exams.'
At home, parents can provide an environment that encourages learning and school activities. They should ensure there is some quiet time spent without the TV and other distractions when homework can be completed.
Parents are also advised to visit the school early in the year to meet the teachers and principal so that they can establish a mutual relationship of respect and trust.
Unfortunately, said Prof Khong, many parents turn up to meet their children's teachers only when their children perform poorly or misbehave. She also advised parents to make friends with other parents. The parental grapevine is very useful for sharing information and ideas.
And one of the best things any parent can do is to become a volunteer in school.
A mother's or father's presence in school conveys an important message to the child about the value placed on schooling.
It also gives parents a good understanding of what the school community is like, the specific context that their child operates in every day, and the challenges teachers face.
But, if that is not possible because of work or commitments, look for other ways to help out at home.
For example, parents can make phone calls to other parents to help arrange school-related activities or assist in editing the school newsletter.
This article was first published in The Straits Times on February 07, 2009.