Some two-thirds of schools in Abu Dhabi were recently rated as in need of improvement. What can parents do to enhance their child’s education? They would do well to take note of Amanda Ripley’s findings on South Korea, according to local education professionals.
In The Smartest Kids in the World – and How They Got that Way, Ripley, an American author, took a look at Poland, Finland and South Korea to see why their education systems were superior to those of countries such as the US and the UAE. While Ripley attributed Poland’s significant improvement to governmental reforms and an increase in the funding allocated to education, and Finland’s successes to its highly selective, top-quality teacher training colleges, she noted South Korea’s impressive results were, in part, a result of parents’ attitude to – and intense involvement in – their child’s learning.
Learning begins at home
“Parents are a child’s first and most enduring educator and what they do at home is very important,” says Sarah Rogers, the course director at Early Years Educational Services, which is based in Dubai. “Early support has a very long impact and parents who get involved in their child’s education from an early age are more likely to support their child as they progress.”
Ken Grocott, the headmaster at Abu Dhabi’s Brighton College, agrees that hands-on parental input is crucial and says parents must be an integral part of the learning triangle of children, parents and teachers. “It’s not like buying a car, where you can buy the best available product and then sit back and relax; you have to get involved,” he explains. “Integrate learning into the family environment, take an interest and show your children you support their learning.”
Talk, share, encourage
GEMS parents are encouraged to adopt the education provider’s “three-a-day” approach, whereby they engage themselves in their child’s education in three key ways: talking, sharing and encouraging. Nadia Petrossi, the manager of parental engagement at GEMS Education, explains: “Develop how to talk about what they’re doing and learning, get active and share learning experiences and, most importantly, be a constant source of encouragement of both their efforts and success.”
For younger children, talking about learning could be discussing what the child has done at school; or as simple as a half-hour discussion on current affairs with teenagers. Sharing learning experiences can include reading together – proven to be the best way you can have a positive impact on your child’s primary-years learning – or exploring and experimenting in the kitchen.
Rogers suggests some easy ways to become more involved with your child’s learning. “On a practical level, parents need to talk to their child, take time to listen and explain and spend time playing with them,” she says. “Sharing mealtimes, when families get together and talk, is an everyday activity that has great benefits for a child’s learning.”
Petrossi says the encouragement factor of home learning is the most important and should be in line with the coaching approach favoured by South Korean parents. Feedback needs to be specific and focused, and positive behaviours and attitudes towards learning and success should be role-modelled by parents. And, she says, research has shown that maintaining high expectations and being achievement-focused brings the best results.
Grocott suggests using failure – or what could be perceived as failure – as a learning opportunity. “We say: ‘Did you do your best?’ and if the answer is yes, that’s all we can ask. But we can then work out weaker points and can work on improving them,” he says.
Back to basics
Of course, parents need to ensure the basics are in place for their child to get the best out of learning at home. Grocott offers some simple, practical advice. “Make sure your child has a good working environment in the family home; a quiet, calm environment where homework can be done properly,” he says. “And ensure your children are getting enough rest, because not enough sleep undoes all the good work.”