February 2010

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The announcement that steps are being taken by the Minister of Education with the National Parent-Teacher Association to meet parents and other relevant parties to discuss current Ministry initiatives to enhance the schooling process is a very welcome one. This move signifies the belief that a collaborative effort between the home, community and school would benefit our students. This belief has long been held, but the results of a recent research project have provided some empirical evidence for it.

The study, using data from the 2006 National Test, was conducted by a consortium of researchers from the School of Education, UWI, St Augustine, Canada, and the Ministry of Education. Strong positive relationships were identified between student perceptions of parental engagement in school-related activities and student achievement in both Language Arts and Mathematics at the Standard 3 level. Not only that, but students who reported higher levels of teacher engagement and caring, tended to have higher levels of achievement than students who reported lower levels of teacher involvement in their learning at school.

Further, higher levels of adult engagement with student learning were related to more positive student views of themselves—they felt more competent and also tended to have higher levels of achievement. The bottom line is that adults can have a substantial positive role in a child’s success in school.

We found that both student and parent attitudes and perceptions predict achievement in both Language Arts and Mathematics.

Although these findings may not be surprising they are important, particularly since they focus on student performance in the early years of schooling in the foundational domains of Language Arts and Mathematics—which will have a lasting influence not only in school but life chances in general.

These results suggest that by knowing something about a student’s self-concept and perceptions of parent and teacher engagement we can better predict success in school. This can lead to informed policy initiatives and instructional enhancements developed and implemented to improve student achievement and overall school performance. By knowing about relationships of parent encouragement and parents’ attention to the academic performance of their children, schools could encourage parents to attend to their child’s reading and other school-related activities, and even encourage positive parental attitudes towards reading in general. Through the development of better communication between schools and parents these attitudes and activities could be enhanced, leading to improved achievement by the students.

Given that these findings were obtained for students at a very early stage in their school career (Standard 3), it is possible that a significant impact can be made on student achievement in the long term if attention is paid to the factors identified above as contributing to student achievement. Further, enhanced focus on the affective dimensions of schooling (teacher care and encouragement, parental support, attitudes) could also lead to better perceptions of the value of education in later life and decrease the current levels of drop-out and under-performance, particularly by male students in Trinidad and Tobago.

In summary, many of the factors significantly related to student achievement in this study have a fair degree of commonality in that they are centred on the attention given by students and parents to what could be termed the general elements of schooling: reading engagement; student self-regard for their own abilities; parental encouragement of student engagement with their studies; student perceptions of teacher caring and encouragement; and parental perceptions of feeling welcomed to and engaged with the school. Steps could be taken that would help build positive influences on student achievement. These would include helping students attend more closely to school-based learning activities, promoting teacher behaviours that are likely to be viewed by students as caring and encouraging, and having the school consciously take steps to further parental participation in the child’s school life.

The adoption of an evidence-based approach to policy development and curricular implementation could be a positive step toward better education in Trinidad and Tobago: higher achievement, more equitable schooling, and more enhanced access and engagement by students, teachers and parents are some of the likely outcomes. The full report on this research can be found in a recent edition of Caribbean Curriculum, an academic journal published by the School of Education at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine campus.

For students the following traits are positively related to their academic achievement:

  • Teacher engagement and care – the extent to which students perceive their teachers as engaged in their school work.
  • Reading self-concept – students’ perception of self as a reader.
  • Parental involvement – the extent to which students report that their parents care about their school-related activities.
  • Attitude towards school – students’ interest in school.
  • Writing activities – the extent to which students report that they are actively involved in writing in school.
  • Reading engagement – students’ reported levels of being engaged in reading activities.

–This article was written by Professor John Anderson of the University of Victoria, Dr June George (Senior Research Fellow) and Dr Susan Herbert (Head of Department) of the School of Education, UWI, St Augustine, the three researchers engaged in the project.