It is widely understood that parents play a pivotal role in a child’s education – research suggests that parental involvement in a child’s education boosts well-being and confidence and is important for academic progression. With school closures due to the global COVID-19 pandemic affecting an estimated 1.58 billion children in more than 180 countries, the importance of parental involvement in education has suddenly and dramatically increased.
Internationally comparable data on parental involvement and its impact on children’s education is extremely limited. To address this critical gap, round 6 of the UNICEF supported Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS6) includes a new module on parental involvement. It assesses two types of parental involvement – home-based and school-based – using a questionnaire devoted to collecting information for children aged 5-17 years at the household level. A selection of preliminary findings from this module are discussed below.
How does parental involvement in school differ between and within countries?
One finding from countries with available MICS6 data is that there are large variations in levels of school-based parental involvement, which depends largely on whether schools have governing boards in which the parents can participate. In countries like Zimbabwe and the Kyrgyz Republic, almost all children attend schools with governing boards, whereas in Punjab (Pakistan) and Tunisia, fewer than 20 per cent of children attend schools with governing boards.
However, the presence of a governing board does not translate into participation by all parents. In countries with similar percentages of children attending schools with governing boards, participation of parents in governing board meetings varies considerably. For example, although about 50-60 per cent of children in Mongolia, Georgia and Iraq attend schools with governing boards, parental involvement in board meetings is vastly different between these countries. Only 26 per cent of Mongolian children have parents who attended governing boards meetings compared to 33 per cent of Georgian children and 44 per cent of Iraqi children whose parents attend the meetings.
Whether a child attends a school with a governing board is also closely linked to household wealth. In only four of the 13 countries analyzed – Zimbabwe, the Kyrgyz Republic, Lesotho and The Gambia – do children from the poorest quintile attend schools with governing boards on par with the national average. In the remaining countries, the percentage of poorest children who attend schools with governing boards is below the national average.
Moreover, poorest parents participate in school governing boards at rates lower than the national average in all countries except in Zimbabwe, the Kyrgyz Republic and The Gambia. In summary, while the existence of school governing boards is important to school-based parental involvement, household wealth is also an important factor.
What are the differences in home-based parental involvement across countries?
Similar to school-based parental involvement, the share of parents engaging in home-based parental involvement varies greatly between and within countries. For example, the share of children who receive help with homework is more than twice in Zimbabwe (89 per cent) than in Madagascar (42 per cent).
MICS6 data show that household wealth is a major determinant of home-based parental involvement. Across all countries except Georgia, fewer children from lowest quintile received help with their homework than their peers from wealthier quintiles. In some countries, such as in Madagascar, Punjab (Pakistan) or Sierra Leone, the difference is quite large.
Another determinant of home-based parental participation in education is the availability of books for children and household wealth. Here too we see wide disparities among countries – for example, most children in Georgia live in households which have child-oriented books, but more than 90 per cent of the poorest children in Punjab (Pakistan), Iraq, Madagascar, Lesotho and Zimbabwe live in households with not even one child-oriented book.
What can we do to ensure that all children, including the poorest, have educational support from parents at school and at home?
The MICS6 Parental Involvement module provides important new insights into critical factors associated with children’s education. As revealed by these preliminary findings, parents from the poorest households may not be able to fully participate in, and help advance, their child’s education.
New insights like this and others provided by MICS6 equip policymakers and researchers with powerful tools to better understand the nature and impacts of factors like parental involvement in a child’s education, and will be more thoroughly explored in the upcoming series of articles on the COVID-19 pandemic. By informing the creation of data-driven policies that direct support to the poorest families, MICS6 helps to give every child an equal opportunity to participate in education, even during times of crisis.