"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Finding Space and Time to Learn at Home



Providing a child both space and time to read and learn is one of the suggestions made by Harris Cooper, a professor of psychology at Duke University and a leading researcher on homework. It is widely accepted that factors outside school can affect learning and at times, these external factors may have a heavier influence than teachers do. Growing up, I did not have a room of my own, but my parents made sure that I had enough space and opportunity to go over my studies. In fact, my mother sometimes would wake me up as early as four in the morning to study and review. I got also excused from household chores like washing dishes or cleaning the floors if I had an assignment to finish.  School supplies were limited but I managed by not wasting. Books were limited and of course, there was no internet then, but I managed by copying what I read from books that I could find in libraries or in my friend's homes. I used to envy those homes that had an encyclopedia. Without copiers and permission to take out books on loan, I had to copy manually the text that I saw in those books and even tried to draw some of the figures I thought were important. In spite of not having all the resources, it was made clear to me by my parents that studying was a priority. I felt not just encouraged but actually obliged to study.

Studying at home, whether it is doing a homework, reviewing for an exam, or simply reading or exploring, can be a major part of learning. The question is how much should parents be involved. My parents did not take advanced science courses so when I was taking calculus, I was already very satisfied that they at least gave me the space and time to do my calculus homework assignments. I was involved in a school project in high school where we were trying to extract methane from the algae spirogyra and my parents simply watched what I was doing while I tried to dry the algae on the rooftop. My parents were equally curious when I was trying to use various tropical fruit rinds to repel mosquitoes. There was no question that I had their support eventhough they could not really do my homework.

My son in the above video is just reading  "The Cat in the Hat", so I could certainly read the entire book for him. I certainly do not know what would interest my son later on, but I am hopeful that it would be more advanced than simply reciting a first grade book. How much a parent should do is really an important question. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal tries to address this question:
"Homework can be as monumental a task for parents as it is for children. So what's the best strategy to get a kid to finish it all? Where's the line between helping with an assignment and doing the assignment? And should a parent nag a procrastinating preteen to focus—or let the child fall behind and learn a hard lesson?"
The questions above are being addressed by education research, and as cited by the Wall Street Journal, work at Johns Hopkins University tries to elucidate how parents influence student learning. The following was a recent webinar held at the Center on School, Family and Community Partnerships at Johns Hopkins:

Downloaded from Joyce L. Epstein's Presentation
The first slide of the presentation, I think, summarizes the important elements for an excellent education:
Downloaded from Joyce L. Epstein's Presentation
According to Epstein, there are six ways through which parents can be involved in their children's education:

  • Parenting (Parents provide time and space for learning at home while schools assist and guide parents as well as understand the conditions at home),
  • Communicating (Schools and parents establish and maintain a way of sharing information regarding the progress or challenges both at home and in school),
  • Volunteering (Parents participate in school programs and activities),
  • Learning at Home (Includes homework and projects), 
  • Decision Making (Parents Teachers Organizations allow parents to be part of school governance, decisions and advocacy), and
  • Collaborating with the Community (Involves a larger outreach, not just parents of schoolchildren, but the entire community).

Doing homework is only one of the six. And for homework, the best a parent could do is to provide ample time and space, and instilling a positive attitude towards learning. My parents did exactly just that.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention of the United States also highlights the importance of health to the success of education. In this area, the role of parents is also important. The following links to a brief presentaion from the CDC.

Click Parental Engagement Slides to view the presentation
Bringing quality to Philippine basic education requires so much more than just a new curriculum. A new curriculum by itself simply cannot promise quality education without addressing these external factors.

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