It’s All About Partnerships: Perceptions of Family and School in the U.S. and the U.A.E.

It’s All About Partnerships: Perceptions of Family and School in the U.S. and the U.A.E.

I’ve spent a good bit of time studying cultures in the Middle East, and I’ve spent many days at conferences and workshops in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the U.A.E. But when I was first asked to write a post about parent involvement in schooling in the Arab world, I was a bit taken aback. What do I really know about how Arab families can support their children’s education? To keep this challenge manageable, I decided to focus on a comparison of parent involvement between the United States and the United Arab Emirates.

I was intrigued to find that there are a number of similarities in the challenges that American schools face and the challenges facing schools in the U.A.E. Take, for example, Annette Lareau’s (2000) groundbreaking study of family-school partnerships. In one school, Lareau found a significant disconnect between how parents view their role in their children’s education versus how teachers see the parents’ role. For these parents, school is where the experts work. Parents work hard, pay their taxes, and expect that they will drop their children off at 8:00 every morning and pick them up at 3:00 every afternoon. That is the extent of their responsibility. The responsibility for teaching children, according to these parents, lies with the school. Many of these parents lack the education or self-efficacy to work with their children directly (or so they feel), and so they leave the work squarely with the teacher. In another school, parents are the opposite – they are so involved, they become a bit overwhelming for the teachers, with parents second-guessing teacher decisions and challenging teachers on how to work with their children.

Compare those perspectives to information gathered by Baker and Hourani (2014). Here, the authors interviewed parents and school administrators in Abu Dhabi to determine each group’s perspective on the role of the family in education. “Fundamentally,” say Baker and Hourani, “parents considered their role as recipients of information from the school” (p.192). “[T]he school administration perceived parents as deflecting their parental responsibilities onto the school” (p.194). And on the other side of the coin, one school administrator noted, “There were parents who viewed their role as being critical and becoming adversarial to the teachers and school” (p.194). Sound familiar? Further, Al-Taneiji (2001) found that “schools communicate with parents, but few parents respond to them. Only a few parents help their children with learning at home, mostly because parents’ level of education does not help them work with their children” (p.vi).

In short, we can draw two conclusions here: 1) Parental involvement in schooling is an issue that spans the divide between American and Emirati schools; and 2) Parents, particularly those with lower educational attainment, lack the self-confidence needed to adequately support their children’s education at home. What to do?

Studies spanning several decades highlight the importance of parental involvement in the educational success of children (for example, Swap, 1987, Reitz, 1990, Henderson et al., 2007). Research has linked parent involvement to improved student attendance, promotion, graduation, positive behaviors, and postsecondary education (Henderson & Berla, 1994, Henderson & Mapp, 2002). Key to this relationship is that parents and teachers establish a partnership (Lareau, 2000, Henderson et al., 2007). But, as we have seen both in the U.S. and the U.A.E., parents with educational levels that are lower than the teachers who serve their students may be less likely to establish such a partnership with the school. Such parents are more likely to feel disconnected from the educational process and are therefore passive actors in their children’s education (Lareau, 2000).

Al-Taneiji (2013) followed up her aforementioned publication with a study of leadership in schools in the U.A.E. School leaders do report making a concerted effort to reach out to parents of the children they serve. But, parental involvement, she says, is often more in an advisory capacity and pertains “more to student activities than behavior” (p.162). So, while the disconnect between parents and schools may be similar between the U.S. and countries like the U.A.E., solutions in U.A.E. schools are often limited to what I will call “FYI Behavior” (i.e., this is “for your information”), but not actively embraced for the betterment of academic achievement and student growth. Al-Taneiji (2013) makes four recommendations that can help:

  • Involve parents in activities that support learning at home and help parents assist their children with their education
  • Train school leaders in how to involve parents more effectively
  • Support policies that encourage parents’ knowledge of what types and level of involvement is expected from them
  • Target different parent involvement strategies depending on the age and grade level of their children (p.163).

I would characterize these kinds of involvement as a partnership between home and school. Rather than parents viewing the school as a “consumer good” (i.e., “I paid for this, now you teachers provide it”), parents need to understand that student success depends on modeling positive behaviours, helping with homework, actively participating in school activities, and encouraging students to see the benefits of schooling. Teachers and administrators, meanwhile, need to recognize and appreciate the value of parents’ experiences and knowledge of their own children. In learning to appreciate the contributions that each group – parents and educators – can make to children, educational success can flourish.

References

Al-Taneiji, S. (2013). The role of leadership in engaging parents in United Arab Emirates schools. International Education Studies: (6)153-165. http://dx.doi.org/10.5539/ies.v6n1p153

Al-Taneijij, S. (2001). The relationship between successful schools and parental involvement in the United Arab Emirates. (Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation). University of Colorado at Denver, USA.

Baker, F.S., & Hourani, R.B. (2014). The nature of parental involvement in the city of Abu Dhabi in a context of change. Education, Business and Scoeity: Contemporary Middle Eastern Issues: (7)186-200. http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/EBS-05-2014-0023

Henderson, A. T., & Berla, N. (1994). A new generation of evidence: The family is critical to student achievement. Washington, DC: Center for Law and Education. ED375968.

Henderson, A. T., & Mapp, K. L. (2002). A new wave of evidence: The impact of school, family, and community connections on student achievement. Austin, TX: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory.

Henderson, A.T., Mapp, K.L., Johnson, V.R., & Davies, D. (2007). Beyond the bake sale: The essential guide to family-school partnerships. New York: New Press.

Lareau, A. (2000.) Home advantage: Social class and parent involvement in elementary education. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.

Reitz, R.J., Ed. (1990). Parent involvement in the schools. Bloomington, IN: Center on Evaluation, Development, and Research, Phi Delta Kappa.

Swap, S.M. (1987). Enhancing parent involvement in schools: A manual for parents and teachers. New York: Teachers College Press.