Positively engaging parents and the community in children’s learning

Enrolment for both boys and girls has significantly improved in Uganda since the introduction of UPE in 1997. However high drop out rates, poor learning outcomes and performance levels still exist in the education system more so in rural areas. Nevertheless, the education system has not focused enough attention on the contribution of community based initiatives in improving learning outcomes and there is limited school/community level research in Uganda.

A key non- school factor that influences learning outcomes is the parental and community participation in children’s learning Recognising this gap in need, a team led by Mrs Alice Ndidde a lecturer with the School of Distance and Lifelong Learning conducted a project to enable parents and the community to understand, appreciate and act upon the issues which prevent children (girls and boys) from achieving the desired learning outcomes. The Strengthening Parental/Community Participation in enhancing quality Education in Primary Schools in Uganda (SCOPPE) project funded by the Development Partnerships in Higher Education (DeIPHE) was conducted in two pilot districts of Nakaseke and Mayuge in partnership with the Ministry of Education and Sports and the Department of Education Open University, UK. A formative study to gauge the perceptions, level and kinds of involvement in primary education by parents, guardians including care givers and representatives of the community in the pilot districts was undertaken.

Consequently a community based intervention to sensitise parents and the community to play a more proactive role in their children’s education was developed from the study findings and successfully implemented in six selected primary schools in the pilot districts. “We developed six simple messages that parents and the community would easily understand and remember,” said Mrs Ndidde. “We used training workshops alongside information education communication materials to sensitise people to the six messages. For example, we held two training workshops for 60 area education officers, school level managers and teachers and six training workshops for 189 community level facilitators.

A household level mapping tool was also developed and community leaders were trained on how to use it prior to it being piloted. Five school level monitoring tools were developed and head teachers and teachers of the intervention schools were trained on how to use them,” she added. The materials developed and distributed included a training guide for school level change agents for use by district level trainers, a training guide for community level change agents for use by the school and community, 350 booklets outlining the six key messages and translated into Luganda and Lusoga, 1680 copies of six posters with key messages translated into Luganda and Lusoga. “The evaluation conducted showed that the intervention schools are transforming their methods of work and are putting in place mechanisms for mutual collaboration with community structures,” she said.

Overall there are indications that there is a gradual process of change in attitude and values, knowledge and skills of school communities towards children’s education reflected in thefollowing; monitoring children’s attendance, organising productive parents’ general meetings, seeking out to understand the special needs of the pupils and their parents, following up parents concerns with regards to problem teachers, sensitizing parents and other community members about their roles and responsibilities through different forums within the community and improved skills in school data collection, management and utilisation. Furthermore at community level community leaders; • have a full record of all the children in their villages, those at school and those not attending school and could confidently talk about this • with this knowledge they now use different forums in the community to sensitise parents on the importance of not only sending their children to school but also supporting them at school • they follow up parents whose children are irregular at school •

parents have started requesting community change agents to counsel their children who are losing interest in going to school, • the children have started approaching change agents mto intervene where their parents and guardians fail to provide the necessary scholastic materials “This project has showed that community members can be empowered to be proactive in their children’s education. A welcome impact is that parents and change agents reported how they now appreciate their roles in the education of their children unlike in the past when they referred to their children as ‘Museveni’s children’,” Mrs Ndidde said. The six key messages are • Parents ensure that children attend school regularly • Parents provide adequate scholastic materials • Parents attend school meetings regularly • Parents visit children’s school regularly even when • uninvited • Parents participate in other school activities • Community members take part in supporting • education in your community

By Sheila Mwebaze Tindi