Home-School Communication in the Early Childhood Development Phase, R Bridgemohan, N van Wyk, C van Staden

Tags: communication, Early Childhood Development, South Africa, learners, involvement, New York, educators, Parent involvement, parent, Epstein, Home-School Communication, JL, State University of New York, community partnership, Education and Urban Society, Parent meetings, Orientation meetings, The principal, school meetings, primary schools, qualitative research, effective communication, school building, University of South Africa, Scott Stein, Families and schools in a pluralistic society, community partnerships, Pretoria, Department of Education, Institute for Applied Social Sciences, SL & Epstein, illiterate parents, Pretoria Carger, Phi Delta Kappa, Intercultural communication
Content: HOME-SCHOOL COMMUNICATION IN THE EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT PHASE RADHIKE BRIDGEMOHAN, NOLEEN VAN WYK, CHRISTIE VAN STADEN School of Education University of South Africa Close contact and regular communication between the home and the school in Early Childhood programmes improve the way parents and educators work towards the goal of child development. Moreover, parent identification with parent involvement programmes is enhanced, which increases parents' satisfaction and children's success. Communication plays a key role in all parent involvement programmes. In the light of this, a qualitative investigation was conducted in the Reception Year (Grade R) of three primary schools in diverse socioeconomic communities in . South Africa to determine the type and extent of school-to-home and home-to-school communication in the Early Childhood Development phase. Findings suggest that most communication is school-directed and general in nature although communication concerning the individual child also takes place. Fewer opportunities are offered to parents to initiate communication. Reasons for this are discussed and recommendations to improve communication are made.
INTRODUCTION Effective two-way communication is the most important but least measurable factor in developing successful homeschool relationships. Where effective communication is established and sustained in a comprehensive parent involvement programme, there are many positive outcomes for early childhood learners as well as learners in higher grades (Christenson, Rounds & Gomey 1992:178206). Moreover, where parent involvement programmes are established in early childhood programmes, the benefits are apparent throughout the child's school career (Henderson 1989:38). These benefits include higher learner achievement (Davies 1999:7; Epstein 2001:221); lower dropout rates (Keith TZ, Keith PB, Troutman, Bickley, Trivette & Singh
1993:474-496); a decline in behaviour problems (Comer 1984:323-337) and academic initiative and persistence (Estrada, Arsenio, Hess & Holloway 1987:210-215). Moreover, parent involvement has the potential to decrease the gap in achievement between children from high and low-income families (Milnel989:32-65). Thus, Schleicher (1992:29) concludes that strong parent involvement and parent collaboration are indispensable conditions for educational progress and success. To realise this partnership, two-way communication between the school and the home is essential. This article examines the practices of home-school communication in the Early Childhood Development (ECD) phase in South Africa. Generally, ECD programmes are the type of services provided for children from birth to age nine (Gor-
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Home-School Communication .../61
don & Browne 1993:37) and may refer to any series of activities aimed at promoting the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, moral and social development of the young child (Department of Education (DE) 2001:8). The Recepdon Year (Grade R), which was introduced in South Africa in 1996 as a pilot project, forms part of the ECD phase and refers to thefiveto six year old child (DE 2001:18). In KwaZulu Natal, where this research was conducted, the policy is to locate all Grade R classes in primary (elementary) schools (with the exception of independent preschools) (Bridgemohan 2001:58). The aims of the research were to determine the nature and effectiveness of home-school communication practices and to make recommendations on how communication can be improved to facilitate better homeschool partnerships. COMMUNICATION The term communication covers a multitude of meanings ranging from, for example. Shannon and Weaver's (1949) linear model of communication depicting the recipient as passively accepting the message, to Cherry's (1957) view that communication is not merely the response but essendally the relationship determined by the transmission of stimuli and the evocation of responses. Berlson and Steiner (1964) describe communication as the act or process of transmission of information, ideas and skills by use of symbols. Communication may be verbal or non-verbal. The emphasis of this paper is, however, on verbal communication and written communication. In both the issue of language is of utmost importance as language is used
as the primary means to transmit beliefs, values, norms and world views (Samovar & Potter 1997:18). Language develops in the context of a particular culture and therefore reflects that culture. Language also transmits meaning and moulds patterns of thought (Parry 2000:67). In a multicultural country such as South Africa the understanding of language may differ. Asuncion-Lande (1990:213) agrees stating that language is often the biggest cultural barrier in inter cultural communication. This can be problematic when educators and parents need to communicate on matters relating to a child's education. COMMUNICATION AS AN ASPECT OF PARENT INVOLVEMENT PROGRAMMES Various studies have suggested that different types of parent involvement should form part of a comprehensive school programme (Gordon, 1977; Comer, 1984; Swap, 1993 & Epstein, 1995). In all these programmes, school-to-home and hometo-school communication are indispensable. Moreover, the extent to which the school communicates with parents determines their involvement in other activities in the school (Stein & Thorkildsen 1999:40). One model of family-school and community relationships which acknowledges the importance of communication is that of Epstein (1987, 1995, 1996 &2001). The external structure of the Epstein model consists of three overlapping spheres representing the family, school and community (Epstein 2001:27). In this article the emphasis will be on the two spheres representing the family and
62/Education Vol. 126 No. 1 the school. The degree of overlap of these schools and families, namely (i) standard, two spheres is controlled by three factors: organisationally directed communication, time, experience and practices of educators and (ii) unique, individually directed comand parents. Time refers to the age and munications. Both levels of interaction are grade level of the child. Epstein (2001:29) dealt with in this research. Epstein's model argues that the greatest overlap of family of family-school relations explains the and school occurs during the preschool increase and decrease in parent involveand early elementary grades. This is a com- ment under certain circumstances. pelling reason why all aspects of However, it does not explain the types of parent-school relationships, including com- involvement. Epstein (1995:704) does this munication, should be firmly established in her well-known typology of parent during the ECD phase. The experiences involvement in which six areas of homeand practices of families and schools also school-community involvement are listed. affect the amount of overlap between the One of the areas is communication, which spheres of the school and the family. When is broadly defined as "two-way, three-way parents maintain or increase interest and and many-way channels of communicainvolvement in their children's schooling tion that connect schools, families, learners and educators make parents part of the and the community" (Epstein, Coates, Salichild's education, greater overlap of the nas, Sanders & Simon 1997:9). two spheres is created and an effective part- Communication, thus defined, includes nership between the school and the home both verbal and written communication. can be established. The internal struc- In short, it is clear that Epstein places a ture of the Epstein model depicts high premium on communication between interactions taking place among the vari- the school and the home and the home and ous role players. Two types of interactions school, making it central to the internal and influence are included, namely inter- structure of her theoretical model as well action within organisations and between as including it as one of the six types of organisations (Epstein 2001:30). Interac- involvement in her typology of parent tions within organisations refers to involvement. Although Swap's approach interactions taking place within the home to parent involvement (1992:57) differs between family members. It also includes from that of Epstein, she also emphasises interactions taking place between princi- the importance of communication in her pals, educators and other staff within the different models of parent involvement. school. Interactions between organisations Swap (1992:69) asserts that the key to are those taking place between the school effective communication is based on a relaand the home and the home and the school. tionship between parents and educators in These are the types of interactions which which each respects the other's contribuwere researched in this project. In addi- fion and expertise; boundaries are clear; tion to types of interaction, Epstein conflicts are dealt with openly and respect(2001:30) also differentiates between two fully; and contacts are rewarding. Since levels of interaction taking place between the most obvious reason for parents and
Home-School Communication .,,/ 63
educators to communicate is to nurture the growth and learning of individual children by sharing information, insights and concerns, parent communication must be viewed as a necessity and not an extra. Swap (1992:70) acknowledges that when differences of language, class or background exist, problems of communicating comfortably and unambiguously are usually intensified. This is of particular relevance within the context of the South African community. Wanat (1994:637) extends the discussion on communication by distinguishing between formal and informal communication. Formal communication informs parents of school activities and their children's academic progress whereas informal communication is more responsive to personal needs. Likewise, Katz, Aidman, Reese and Clark (1996:2) emphasise the importance of a two-way channel of communication, stating that "the foundation for good home-school relationships is frequent and open communication." Eccles and Harold (1996:26) add that an effective system of communication between the school and the home, depends on accommodating the variety of persons who today constitute learners' families. This means that schools must be able to work with different forms of families and families from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Benefits of improved communication between the school and the home, include the strengthening of social networks; access to information and materials; greater appreciation by parents of their own important roles and personal efficacy and motivation to continue their own education (Davies 1993:206). Likewise, the contact with other
parents experiencing comparable problems often has very positive results. Leitch and Tangri (1988:72) add that educators report more positive feelings about teaching and about the school where there is effective communication, whereas Swap (1992:58) observes that when parents and educators get to know each other through informal communication, shared projects or volunteering in the classroom, children's behaviour and learning problems tend to decrease. Although Epstein (1995; 2001) endorses the many benefits associated with frequent communication between the school and the home, she warns that research indicates low parent ratings of schools where communication from the school relates mainly to problems concerning their children. PARENT INVOLVEMENT AND COMMUNICATION IN THE EARLY DEVELOPMENT PHASE IN SOUTH AFRICA In South Africa legislation since 1994 has introduced important education reforms, which aim to improve the partnership between the school and the family. The South Africa Schools Act (SASA) No 84 of 1996 (Republic of South Africa (RSA) 1996) defines the concept of parent; describes basic parental duties; sets requirements for schools related to parents' rights to information; and provides for parent representation in mandatory School Governing Bodies. Moreover, recognition of increased parent involvement in Early Childhood education has received attention in recent legislation and policy documents, such as the Education White Paper 5: Early Childhood Development
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(DoE 2001); The National ECD Pilot Project Draft Qualifications Framework and Interim Unit Standards (DoE 1998b: 13); Assessment Policy in general education and Training Phase Grade R to 9 and ABET (DoE 1998a: 13) and the Language in Education Policy (DoE 1997:7). All these policy documents explicitly or implicitly acknowledge that parents play an important role in the education of children and that partnerships should be forged between the home and the school. In realising these aims, communication plays a central role. METHODOLOGY The primary aim of the qualitative investigation reported in this article is to describe communication as an aspect of home-school relationships in the ECD phase. The research was designed to be exploratory and descriptive and thus no attempts were made to establish cause and effect relationships under experimental conditions. Because two of the researchers' in this study are involved in the training of educators for the Reception year a decision was taken to conduct the research on home-school and school-home communication in the ECD phase within Grade R classes attached to primary schools. The research was conducted during a three month period in three multi-cultural public primary schools (which include Grade R classes) in an urban area in KwaZuluNatal. Methods of data gathering included observation and in-depth interviews with the principals of the three schools, as well as three focus group interviews with educators and three with parents. In total three principals, nine educators and nine parents were interviewed. The small sample is
common in qualitative research where the aim is depth not breath. Likewise, although the findings cannot be generalised, they do alert one to the practice of home-toschool and school-to-home communication within the ECD phase in a small sample of South African schools. All interviews were recorded on audiotape and the tapes later transcribed for closer examination. The data were analysed by repeated examination of the interview transcripts and field notes and identifying, coding and categorising the primary patterns in the data. In the final report, extracts from the raw data were selected and paraphrased or quoted to illustrate patterns. The context of the research The three primary schools included in the study differ in the types of communities they serve and the facilities available to learners attending the Grade R classes. School A is situated in a lower middle class community, which in the past was a designated residential area for Indian families. Most parents in this community are employed and live in small council houses and flats. The school is neat, the buildings and grounds are in good condition and a security guard was present at the entrance of the school. Approximately 80% of the learners attending the school are Indian. The 20% black pupils mostly come from families who have recently moved into the area. All educators at the school are Indian. The language of instruction is English. School B is located in a poor socio-economic community, also within an area previously reserved for Indians. About 60% of the learners attending the school are Indian, while 40% of are
Home-School Communication .../ 65
black, most of whom live in a township about 30 kilometres from the school and are transported to school by bus or taxi. The school building is very old and dilapidated and often vandalized by youths in the community. The school is not fenced. All the educators at the school are Indian. The language of instruction is English. In contrast to the other schools. School C serves a more affluent community and is situated in an urban area which in the past was a white residential area. The school buildings are in an excellent condition, the grounds and gardens are well kept and various sporting facilities are available in the school. The school is attended by children from all racial groups. With the exception of one black educator all staff are white. COMMUNICATION BETWEEN THE SCHOOLS AND FAMILIES OE GRADE R LEARNERS The findings of the research are discussed under four main headings: (1) general communication about the school; (2) school-initiated communication about the individual child; (3) parent-initiated communication about the individual child and (4) barriers to effective communication. Thus, section (1) coincides with Epstein's standard organisational communication while (2) and (3) deal with specific, individual communication (Epstein 2001:30). GENERAL COMMUNICATION ABOUT SCHOOL MATTERS Hallgarten (2000:34) contends that what schools call communication often stretches no further than the transmission of
information. In many cases this was found to be the case in the three schools included in the research. A variety of methods were used to inform parents. Written communication Although all three schools mentioned various forms of written communication, the quality and the frequency of the communication varied from school to school. Schools A and B send out newsletters once a quarter, whereas school C, serving a more affluent community, distributes newsletters once a month. The newsletters cover or highlight the most important events in the school and generally deal with issues affecting all grades. However, no specific effort seems to have been made to accommodate learners in Grade R and the newsletters viewed included mainly issues relevant to older learners, which makes it difficult for younger learners and their parents to enjoy 'ownership' of newsletters. Schools B and C also send out an official letter or brochure at the beginning of each year to remind parents of their roles and responsibilities. As the principal of school B explains: In the general letter... I remind the parents... that they should send their child neatly dressed to school, that they come with lunch, that they develop a sense of responsibility in their children, give them tasks at home and check out their homework. In addition, all schools frequently send circulars which provide information to parents on general issues such as forthcoming meetings, reminders of outstanding fees or planned field trips. In addition, each
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child in Grade R in school C has a message book, which parents sign whenever a message is sent home (almost daily) to indicate that they have read it. On rare occasions the teacher will write personalised messages in the book, for example that the child complained of feeling unwell or was reprimanded for pushing another child. In very few cases did teachers write positive messages concerning the child in the book. One innovative Grade R educator observed used a system of flags in the message book to indicate that there was a message and encouraged parents to make use of the same system when sending a message to the educator. This was one of the infrequent practices of two-way written communication between the school and the home. Educators interviewed, particularly those in school C, had reservadons about the number of notices which were sent to parents. This clearly irritated one teacher who complained about "... all sorts of little notices going around" and the problem presented to the younger learners who had to remember to give these notices to parents. In spite of this acknowledgement, educators often complained to the researchers that children 'forget". All messages sent home by schools are in English and no attempt has been made to accommodate other language groups. Although written messages are an accepted way of bridging the gap between the school and the home, and conveys a sense of authority and permanence when issued by the school (Hanhan 1998:45), the effectiveness of its distribution depends on the leaner as a reliable 'messenger' (Stein & Thorkildsen 1999:41). However, when the learner is five to six years old, schools
should consider more innovative ways of ensuring that written communication reaches the homes of the learners. Formal meetings In all the participating schools parent meetings are an important means of communicating with parents. The agenda and the frequency of the meetings differ from school to school. The principals, educators and parents of school C indicated that they hold a general meeting once a year and a meefing to discuss school fees at the end of every year. In addition they have special meetings once a term. In schools A and B meetings were less frequent and used mostly to illuminate issues the schools wished the parents to take note of. As the principal of school B explained: " We have parents' meetings ... if we know that parents would need to ask questions and will need clarifications, a letter or circular won't suffice then we will call the parents." This is commendable as it can assist caregivers who are illiterate. The principal of school A explained that meetings at that school are based on the needs of the school, such as school fees and other school policies. The principals and educators of all three schools complained of poor attendance at most meetings regardless of the topic of discussion. Moreover, many parents who they felt should attend meetings do not do so. An educator explained: "We get only those that are interested, you know those children that are doing well. But the ones who are abused, there are problems at home, broken homes; we need to see them, they never come." However, other than trying to change the time of meetings to accommodate parents, no other steps
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were taken to determine why certain par- child attends school B claims that parents
ents did not attend school meetings. are not allowed to attend all meefings, but
Moreover, the principal of school B when invited, it is always the same parents
claimed that meetings which are held on who are present. She said, " if you look at
Saturdays to accommodate working par- the register for the parents who signed,
ents are still poorly attended and concluded you will find that the same parents come
that this was because parents are "disin- all the time." The reason offered by edu-
terested". In school C attendance seems cators is that parents from low socio
to be related to the issue to be discussed. economic grouping tend not to be involved
The principal commented: "When we have in school activities. However, no attempt
a meeting, which has something to do has been made to determine if this is true
directly with the children then we have or whether there are other contributing
excellent attendance..." She explained that factors. Moreover this attitude ignores the
this did not apply when school governance fact that communication is of particularly
or any other administrative matter are dis- importance where children come from
cussed. A parent agreed stating "Sometimes homes which differ culturally and social-
parents look at the topic and then decide ly from those of the educator (Konzal
whether to attend or not ". In an attempt to 2001:113). Parents in the same school also
address some of the reasons parents give seem to be ill-informed regarding the pur-
for not attending meetings. School C is pose of meetings and claim that if one
now providing child care facilities for par- abides by the school rules, there is no need
ents during school meetings. This is greatly to participate in meetings. A parent
appreciated by parents:
explained, "They ask you at the meeting
They often have baby sitters for important meetings when they want parents to come. One of the teachers or one of the teacher's older kids watches over the children. They are in the media center and generally there is a moviefor the kids. And we have car guards when there is a meeting in the evenings. In contrast, no assistance was available to parents of schools A and B to make their attendance at meetings easier. Parents from these schools admitted that although they are invited to meetings and given the opportunity to participate, they do not do so. As one explained, "Some (parents) are shy, some are illiterate." Another parent whose
who wants to talk, and you are free to talk about anything ... But you see we do our things right so we don't have to talk." Communicating with the family is considered a Developmentally appropriate practice in Early Childhood Programmes ( Bredekamp 1992:65). The findings show that the schools employed a variety of methods to communicate with parents. However, the communication is based mostly on the needs of the school. Cochran and Dean (1991:267 warn that schools tend to involve parents in one-way communicafion rather than in a partnership "where each partner is truly respected as having something valuable to contribute." Likewise, if parent meetings are always based
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on routine matters, parents may not be suf- partnership. Orientation meetings for new
ficiently interested to attend. Hamby parents are also initiated by school C and
(1992:65) advises schools to alternate are valuable in establishing two-way com-
meetings and workshops between topics munication. An educator explains: "The
parents have identified and those consid- principal interviews all parents... and they
ered important by schools.
have a tour of the school, she introduces
them to the prospective teachers, gives the
SCHOOL-INITIATED
child a sticker, and asks the child to draw
COMMUNICATION ABOUT THE
a picture. We then explain everything to
INDIVIDUAL CHILD
the parents." Although schools A and B
Verbal communication with parents complain about illiterate parents and care-
builds relationships and can be more effec- givers, neither have devised ways of
tive than written communication. It allows, explaining school procedures to the chil-
in theory at least, a greater opportunity for dren's care-givers at the beginning of the
educators to listen to parents' views. The year.
fact that this did not take place in all schools
included in this research is cause for con- Contact regarding problems
cern.
When educators were asked how often
they contact individual parents, the gener-
Parent evenings and orientation meetings
al response was "when there is a problem ".
Parent meetings during which the As one educator explained: "If there is a
school formally reports on the child's problem we send for them, we phone them
progress are held twice a year at school C. or send a note or a message." Parents also
An educator in school C explains that par- tend to contact the school about problems,
ents are given the option of choosing a time as the principal of school A explained:
most suitable for them. The principal "But let there be complaints! ...each par-
emphasises the value of these meetings: ent is concerned with his or her own child,
"A lot of things that come out of those the teacher must make sure their child is
interviews are not necessarily school relat- comfortable, another child cannot touch
ed but they have a huge impact on the him or do anything". The principal
child's development and how they are cop- explained that should anything go amiss,
ing at school." Parent-teacher interviews "we will get a call or the parents will
as a method of home-school communicat- come." An educator in school B added that
ing are not new, especially in Grade R. parents were often reluctant when called
Thus it is surprising that just one school upon to come to school to resolve a prob-
uses this type of communication. Setting lem, "yet if there is a problem with the
up the interview requires planning and teacher, they are too ready to come and
effort by educators. Reporting on the complain." The principal in school B made
child's progress during an interview is a the same observation and concluded that
useful way to encourage parents to visit parents show concern only when they have
schools and to establish a parent-school cause to complain about something. Prob-
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lem-oriented contact with parents is not limited to these schools. Epstein (1996:226) warns that the good intentions of educators may not produce positive results, if the only communication between the school and the home concerns problems. Educators should conduct positive communication to establish a basis for good relationship which they can draw on if they need families to help learners solve learning or behaviour problems. Home-visits None of the schools included in the inquiry mentioned visiting the homes of children. This is in spite of the fact that the literature suggests that parent involvement programmes offering home visits are more successful in involving disadvantaged parents than programmes requiring parents to visit schools (Henderson 1987:60-61). In school A educators indicated that they drop the children off at home when they have not been fetched by their parents by late afternoon but did not visit the parents when they did so. PARENT-INITIATED COMMUNICATION ABOUT THE INDIVIDUAL CHILD Parents in the participating schools do have opportunities to initiate contact with the school, although not as frequently as opportunities for school-to-home communication. Informal meetings with educators Many occasions of informal discussion with parents when they come to drop off their children or pick them up in the after-
noon were observed in all three schools. Parents seem to find early mornings a convenient time to ask educators about the child's progress or discuss problems. Although some educators find this dialogue time-consuming, they endeavor to accommodate parents. As one educators observed: "Parents come in every day, so there is discussion every morning; normally this follows like half an hour in the morning." She admits that this infringes on the time used for class preparation, but considers it worthwhile. In particular, fathers, who tend to be less involved in school activities, consult educators when dropping off their children. The educator elaborated, "there are dads, who actually want to talk to me and they are thrilled that they can have a conversation with me, otherwise you actually miss those parents." Although all educators agreed that it is important for parents to be interested in the child's progress, most indicated that parents could, at times, be unreasonable. An educator in school B explained: Then, as we said, there is no fence they (mostly mothers) just walk in whenever theyfeel like. Because it is so open they can come in from any side they want to. They are in and out the whole day, they walk around and there is no privacy. In contrast, parents of school B view their visits as beneficial to educators as it helped them understand what was happening at school. As one parent put it: "... if you sit at home all day you wouldn't know what's going on", while another claimed: "We are free to come to school whenever we feel like". However, these
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sentiments are not shared by educators and many feel that parents come to school to see whether they are doing their work. Furthermore, they contend that frequent visits by parents disrupt their day's work. Parents seem unaware of this problem and continue the practice. This is mainly because none of the schools have a policy on parent-teacher contact time which could possibly resolve current problems. Meetings with the school principal Two tiers of communication are found in the three schools. Firstly, parents communicate with educators; secondly, they communicate with the principal. The discussion with educators focuses on the child and problems concerning the child, whereas the communication with the principal focuses on the parents' problems as individuals, which may or may not be school related. The principals of all three schools indicated that they make time to listen to and assist parents. In the case of school A the principal claims solving problems and assisting parents takes up much of her time. She elaborates: We have good communication at school. I think it is because of my attitude, I know every parent, I have been here, this is my seventh year, and I think I have this relationship with them ...I know about the parents 'problems, I counsel them and help them. The principal of school B states that he often has to cope with parents who "are cross and upset about something". He feels that he then needs to make a special effort to deal with them, adding " So I listen to them and then I try to encourage
them." The principal in School C, which serves a more affluent community, is less occupied with problems of parents. Possibly, the more affluent and well-educated parents of that school are more able to access a variety of support structures when they have problems. However, the principal stressed that she considered meeting parents an important aspect of her work, adding: "/ try to be available to parents as often as I am able to. If they need to see me I willftt them in". Although all three principals have the greater responsibility of managing the school, they all consider assisting parents as one of their essential functions. There also seems to be an acceptance that both the parents and the school have a vital role to play in the education of the child. As one principal stated: "We cannot do it alone, the parents cannot do it alone, it is a joint venture ". However, in spite of this claim none of the schools have an official policy of parent involvement. Recording meetings with parents Only school C records all contact with the parents. These records are kept up to date until the child leaves the school. The principal explained the rationale: They have a green card in which the teacher notes every time she has contact with the parent - just a brief summary of what was said, because you know what happens at the end of the year, when you recommend they (the children) need more time, then the parents say they have never heard this before, it's the ftrst time this is being told to them. The teacher then brings out the green card and says "actually we had an
Home-School Communication .../71
interview in April, then in June ". Although the practice of recording communication between the school and parent appears to be motivated by preventing problems with parents, it is commendable and acknowledges the important role of communication between the school and the parents. BARRIERS TO EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION While admitting the importance of a two-way communication between the school and the home, many participants mentioned factors which serve as obstacles to effective communication. Distance between home and school In school B approximately 40 % of the learners attending the school travel to school by bus or taxi. According to the principal, parents chose to send their children to this school as it has a good reputation and uses English as the medium of instruction. However, the fact that children do not live in the vicinity presents problems for home-school relationships. Likewise, communication is cited as a grave problem. An educator at the school commented: "/ suppose with our black parents they work and stay far away and our messages don't get home, so parents do not come to school. The problem is a lack of communication" This school has, however, made no attempt to accommodate parents who have to travel long distances to attend meetings such as holding some meetings in the vicinity of the children's homes.
Negative perceptions of parents Educators and principals feel that some parents are not interested in the education of their children. One educator at school B remarked that parents see the school as a creche: they leave their children with the knowledge that they will be taken care of. In the words of an educator: "... they (parents) don't even try, like when you give them something they either bring it back or they don't. They don't attend meetings, they don't collect resources." An educator in the same school stressed that: "Especially with my black parents, we have to phone them to say look your child is still in school. Those are the ones who come to school without consentforms ". School A links the parents' disinterest with their economic status, arguing that parents from low socioeconomic groupings are generally not involved in their children's education and "don't care" . The principal in school B agrees: "This is largely a low socio-economic environment and I don't want to generalise or come to any conclusions, but from my experience it seems that people living in that kind of area generally seem to be disinterested." Such attitudes or stereotyping can have negative consequences for the child and his/her family. As Parry (2000:68) rightly points out, beliefs or generalisations about people "ignore or give insufficient attention to individual differences", rather accepting that all people belonging to a specific group (in this case a low socioeconomic grouping) will behave in a certain way. The principal of school A feels that "it is apathy and some of them just don't care, they know their children
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are bad and theyjust don't want to do any- prevent even interested and concerned par-
thing about it". To deduce that parents are ents from participating in school activities.
disinterested because they are poor is an Konzal (2001:113) agrees adding: "When
incorrect assumption and characteristic of educators really listen to parents they can
stereotyping that exists in schools. Like- learn much to help shape what goes on in
wise, the assumption that parents belonging their schools in ways that meet the needs
to a specific racial group tend not to be of parents and children."
interested in their children's education is
most upsetting and needs further investi- Parents 'fear and negative perceptions of
gation. As Epstein (1995:703) rightly school
points out that irrespective of parents'
According to the educators in schools
socio-economic status, all parents want A and B some parents do not interact with
their children to succeed.
the school or become involved because
they are afraid. The principal of the school
Dual career and female-headed families
A concurs: "Some of them could be scared,
In all three schools the educators and they have to come and talk to the princi-
principals indicate that where both parents pal, some of them are very simple, they are
are working, or in female-headed house- afraid". A parent agreed adding, "Also
holds, communicating with parents and some parents are poor and are embar-
establishing effective parent involvement rassed and they don't have transport, they
is difficult. Often parents do not have the are not well educated and don't come for-
time to assist their children with school- ward to help because they are afraid". This
related activities. The principal in school is supported by research conducted by
C, which serves an affluent community, Strauss and Burger (2000:41) in eighty
explains: "... there are very few mothers four primary schools in KwaZulu-Natal,
who are not working any more and parents where it was found that more than 45% of
are under huge stress just to support their parents had not completed primary edu-
families, you knowjust to keep them finan- cation. Likewise, Carger (1993:38) points
cially supported. I think that it is just out that parents who have had limited
another stress when they have to come to schooling themselves will generally have
school." An educator at the same school difficulty helping their children with their
adds that working parents generally only homework. However, in spite of acknowl-
get involved "via a phone call". A col- edging this problem, neither schools A or
league supports this, but shows compassion B have strategies to address the problem.
for the dual role played by mothers. She
said, "It must be quite difficult, especial- Grandparents as care givers
ly when they come home, they bath their In schools A and B many parents leave
children, and not everybody has a family their children with grandparents. An edu-
support system where their grannies are cator in School B describes the situation:
involved." Jackson and Cooper (1989:31) "The children are dropped offat the grand-
concur that time and circumstances may parents in the morning and they go back
Home-Schooi Communication ...172
to their homes in the afternoons or they Differences in language and culture impedes
are dropped off on a Monday and picked effective communication
up on a Friday." The principal of school South Africa has a long history of cul-
A identified similar circumstances, adding tural separateness and many people tend to
that many parents "depend on their par- categorise themselves in their religious,
ents for help and support." Although the cultural and language domains (Malan
grandparents are willing to care for these 1992:1). This is also true of parents and
children, their own background and age educators which makes communication
often prevents them from playing a more between these groups difficult. None of
active role at school or even informing the the schools visited made allowance for this.
school of problems children may be expe- No newsletters or circulars are translated
riencing. Moreover, the illiteracy level and no translators are available during
among older people is high. As one edu- meetings and parent evenings. Underlying
cator complained: "The grandparents this practice may be the fact that English
cannot read the notices we send home." is often seen as being of upmost impor-
tance to all who want their children to
Laek of teacher training for home-school succeed later in life and that this language
communication
should be used exclusively in all commu-
When asked if teacher training had nication. This is not necessarily true and
helped educators cope with parent involve- needs to be considered by schools when
ment, educators remarked laughingly "Oh, communicating with parents.
that was a long time ago ". Where aspects
of parent involvement were dealt with in
GUIDELINES FOR IMPROVING
pre-service teacher training, the emphasis HOME-SCHOOL COMMUNICATION
was, according to the educators, on theo-
A review of the literature shows that
ry. As one educator complained: "/ was many useful ways in which schools can
trained through a correspondence college, improve written and verbal communica-
we did the course but there is nothing you tion with parents have been recorded.
can use and apply in your classroom. The While this may be useful, long term
work done was just a piece of paper." improvement are best served by a more
Although this criticism may not be well- strategic approach.
founded it does illustrate that many
educators feel that their training has not (1) Working with parents should be seen as
fully prepared them to work with parents. part of an educator's training
This was supported by educators in school
C who felt that they had learnt to deal with There is a dichotomy between theory
parents mostly through " maturity and
and the practical situation with regard
experience" and not through their train- to parent involvement. According to
ing.
Davies (1999:5) teacher development
programmes need to provide educators
74 / Education Vol. 126 No. 1
with skills that will assist them in working with parents if educators are to break the traditional separation of schools from the families and communities they serve. Cochran and Dean (1991:264) suggest that in-service training programmes should also be given in communication so that educators know how to empathise with parents and recognise their strengths, make the most of parent-teacher conferences and find creative ways of involving parents in school activities. (2) Educators' attitudes need to change
and the school. In short, teachers need to be made aware of their negative perceptions of certain categories of parents and trained to communicate and involve parents from different language, socioeconomic and racial groupings. This is important as Epstein (1987:131) maintains that regardless of their family arrangements or characteristics, most parents care about their children's progress in school and want to know how to assist them. (3) Schools should have a policyfor involving and assisting parents
Educators' negative attitudes towards low socio-economic backgrounds prevent effective parent involvement programmes and effective communication between the school and the home (Chrispeels 1992:367). In addition, educators need to be taught not to view parents of learners belonging to different racial groups as incapable of assisting in school related maters. Swap (1993:16) agrees, adding that children who are racially, linguistically or culturally different from their educators may experience discontinuities in values between home and school or may lose self-esteem as they see little of their own culture in the curriculum. This means that educators should not only view all parents as important partners in the education of their children, but should create opportunities for such parents to communicate their customs and values to the school so that there is a greater continuity between the home
Epstein (1993: 61) found that a policy on parent involvement as well as school and teacher practice, are strong predictors of parent involvement in school and at home. This policy needs to be communicated to parents. Likewise, schools need to plan how to assist parents in their parenting tasks. For example, schools should endeavour to link families in need to the relevant support services like social welfare, rehabilitation centres and employment agencies and to communicate this information to parents. Moreover, schools should develop a repertoire of parent involvement activities that emphasise personalised attention and interaction with parents rather than relying exclusively on traditional outreach methods that have proven effective for only a limited number of families (Moles 1999).
Home-School Communication ...175
(4) Strategiesfor communicating with parents In ECD programmes personal interviews between educators and parents are considered crucial communication strategies. Thus, there is a need for schools to develop strategies of communicating with parents. Such strategies should be tailored to suit the needs of parents they serve. This means that schools should familiarise themselves with the cultures represented in their schools and frame how these differences might affect communication with children's parents. Moreover, educators should be reminded that personal communication creates an openness between educator and parent. If parents and teachers do not talk to or do not know each other, they may wrongfully see each other as uncompromising and not even try to engage in a dialogue to discover mutually beneficially opdons (Me Dermott 1997: 33). In addifion, it should be emphasised that culturally based differences in communication styles, expectations for educators, parents and children, and views on the best ways to raise and educate children can create discontinuities between families and schools (Moles 1999: 33). This should be addressed in training courses to improve school-to-home and home-to-school communication. Finally, schools should heed the advice of Stein and Thorkildsen (1999:51) namely that: 'Communication is most effective when it is positive."
CONCLUSION Good school-home communication is critical to good school-home relationships. Moreover, parents make inferences about the extent to which schools want parents to be involved by the ways in which they reach out to families and parents in the community (Scott Stein & Thorkildsen 1999:39). Catron and Allen (1993:51) and Kostelnik, Soderman and Whiren (1993:375) agree and argue that in Early Childhood programmes, close contact and regular communication between the home and the school improve the consistency with which parents and educators work towards the desired goal of promoting the child's development. In addition, it promotes parent identification with the learning programme, which increases parents' satisfaction and children's success. This success should be available to all children irrespective of the racial group or socio economic grouping they belong to. BIBLIOGRAPHY Anderson, J (ed.) 1988. Shaping education, Victoria. The Australian College of Education. Asuncion-Lande, NC 1990. Intercultural Communication: an enquiry into research directions. In Nimmo, D (ed). Communication Yearbook 4, New Brunswick: Transaction. Berelson, B & Steiner, GA 1964. Human behavior. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World. Bredekamp, S (ed.) 1992. Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs serving children through eight, Washington DC. NAEYC.
76 / Education Vol. 126 No. 1
Bridgemohan, RR 2001. Parent involvement in Early Childhood Development in KwaZulu Natal. DEd thesis. University of South Africa: Pretoria Carger, CL 1993. Attending to new voices. Education Leadership, 54(7): 39-43. Catron, CE & Allen, J 1993. Early childhood curriculum. New York. Macmillan. Cherry, C 1957. On human communication. Cambridge: Mass: MIT Press. Chrispeels, JH 1992. Effective schools and homeschool community partnership roles: A framework for parent involvement. Madison: Occasional Paper, National Center for Effective Schools Research and Development, University of Wisconsin. Christenson, SL, Rounds, T, & Gorney, D 1992. Family factors and students achievement: An avenue to increase students' success. School Psychology Quarterly, 7:178-206. Comer, JP 1984. Home-school relationships as they affect the academic success of children. Education and Urban Society, 16:323-337. Dauber, SL & Epstein, JL 1993. Parents' attitudes and practice of involvement in inner-city elementary and middle schools, in Chavkin NF (ed) Families and schools in a pluralistic society. Albany. State University of New York. Davies, D 1993. Benefits and barriers to parent involvement from Portugal to Boston to Liverpool, in Chavkin, NF (ed.) Families and schools in a pluralistic society. Albany. State University of New York. Davies, D 1999. Looking back, looking ahead: reflections on lessons over twenty-five years, in Smit, F, Moerel, H, Van der Wolf, K & Sleegers, P (eds) Building bridges between home and school. Nijmegen: Institute for Applied Social Sciences. Department of Education (DoE) 1997. Language in Education Policy. Pretoria. Government printers. Department of Education (DoE) 1998a. ment policy in General Education and Training Phase Grade R to 9 and ABET. Pretoria. Government printers.
Department of Education (DoE) 1998b. The National ECD Pilot Project Draft Qualifications Framework and Interim Unit Standards. Pretoria. Government printers. Department of Education (DoE) 2001. Education White Paper 5: Early Childhood Development. Pretoria. Government printers. Eccles, JS & Harold, RD 1996. Family involvement in children's and adolescent's schooling, in Booth A & Dunn JF (eds.) Family-school links: How do they affect educational outcomes. Mahwah. Lawerence Erlbaum. Epstein, JL 1987. Parent involvement: What research says to administration. Education and Urban Society, 19(2): 119-136. Epstein, JL 1995. School/family/community partnerships: Caring for the children we share. Phi Delta Kappan, May: 701-712. Epstein, JL 1996. Perspectives and previews on research and policy for school, family and community partnership, in Booth A & Dunn J (eds.) Family-school links: How do they affect educational outcomes? Hillside: Lawerence Erlbaum Associates. Epstein, JL, Coates, L, Salinas, KC, Sanders, MG & Simon, BS 1997. School, family and community partnerships: Your handbook for action. Thousand Oaks. Corwin Press Inc. Epstein JL 2001. School, family and community partnerships. Preparing educators and improving schools. Boulder: Westview. Estrada, P, Arsenio, WF, Hess, RD & Holloway, S 1987. Affective quality of the mother and child relationship: Longitudinal consequences for children's school relevant cognitive functioning. Developmental Psychology, 23:210-215. Gordon, IJ 1977. Parent education and parent involvement: Retrospect and prospect. Childhood Education, November/December: 71-79. Hallgarten J 2000. Parents exist, OK!? London: Institute for Public Policy Research. Hamby, JV 1992. The school-family link: A key to dropout prevention, in Kaplan L (ed.) Education and the family. Massachusetts. Allyn & Bacon.
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Hanhan, SF 1998. Parent-teacher communication: Who's talking? In Fuller, ML & Olson G (Eds) Home-school relations: working successfully with parents and families. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & bacon. Henderson, AT 1988. Good news: An ecologically balanced approach to academic improvement. Educational Horizons, 60-62 Henderson, AT 1989. The evidence continues to grow. Parent involvement improves student achievement. Maryland: National Committee for Citizens in education. Katz, LG, Aidman, A, Reese, DA & Clark A 1996. Preventing and resolving parent-teacher differences. ERIC Digest, November: 2-3. Keith, TZ, Keith, PB, Troutman, GC, Bickley, PG, Trivette, PS & Singh, K 1993. Does parent involvement affect eighth-grade student achievement? structural analysis of national data. School Psychology Review, 22: 474-496. Kostelnik, MJ, Soderman, AK & Whiren, AP 1993. Developmentally appropriate programs in early childhood education. New York. Merrill. Leitch, L & Tangri, SS 1988. Barriers to homeschool collaboration. 'Educational Horizons, Winter. IQ-IS. Me Dermott, M 1977. Parent and teacher plan for the child. young children. 52:32-36. Milne, AM 1989. family structure and the achievement of children, in Weston WJ (ed.) Education and the American family. New York. New York University Press. Moles, OC 1993. Collaboration between schools and disadvantaged parents: obstacles and openings, in Chavkin NF (ed) Eamilies and schools in a pluralistic society. Albany: State University of New York. Moles, O 1999. Overcoming barriers to family involvement in low-income area schools, in Smit, F, Moerel, H, Van der Wolf, K & Sleegers, P (eds) Building bridges between home and school. Nijmegen: Institute for Applied Social Sciences.
National Academy of Early Childhood Programs, 1984. Accreditation criteria and procedures. Washington. NAEYC. Parry, L 2000. South African women: An intercultural perspective. Communication, 26(2): 65-72. Republic of South Africa (RSA) 1996. The South African Schools Act. (Notice 84 of 1996). Cape Town. Government printers. Shannon, CE & Weaver, W 1949. The Mathematical Theory of communication. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Schleicher, K 1992. Cooperation between school and family: Prerequisites-implementationsproblems. European Education, 24(2): 25-49. Stein, MR & Thorkildsen, RJ 1999. Parent involvement in education: Insights and applications from the research. Bloomington: Phi Delta Kappa. Shimon, R & Ferguson, B 1992. Rethinking parent involvement in childcare programs. Child and Youth Care Eorum. 21:105-118. Strauss, JP & Burger, MA 2000. Results of the monitoring learner achievement project in KwaZulu Natal. Bloemfontein. University of the Orange Free State. Swap, SM 1992. Parent involvement and success for all children: what we know, in Christenson SL and Conoley JC (eds.). Home-school collaboration: Enhancing children's academic and social competence. Maryland. The National Association of School Psychologists. Swap, SM 1993. Developing home-school partnerships: Erom concept to practice. New York. Teachers College Press. Wanat, CL 1994. Effects of family structure on parental involvement: Perspectives of principals and traditional, dual-income and single parents. Journal of School Leadership, 4, November: 631-648.

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