Writing for Brookings, Rebecca Winthrop explores the power of parent engagement in the transformation of schools. Excerpts from the piece appear below:
School closures and remote learning have propelled children’s ability to learn independently to the forefront of every busy and stressed out parent’s wish list. This ability, often described by education experts as “student agency,” has long held a privileged place in a range of reform movements aspiring to help students develop the breadth of skills needed for a fast-changing world. When young people are actively engaged in what they are learning, they develop a stronger mastery of content and become more creative and critical thinkers. For one thing, learning how to learn is fast becoming an essential skill for any young person—regardless of socioeconomic background—who will need to enter the world of work and navigate multiple shifting jobs over the course of his or her life.
But the ability to learn independently, as many parents around the globe found out amid pandemic-schooling, is not necessarily a skill that every child brings to his or her schoolwork nor one that every school purposefully cultivates. For starters, schools need to give students the space to practice self-directed learning, which is difficult if every minute of the school day is scheduled and directed by adults. The trick is for schools to find teaching and learning approaches that channel students’ natural capacity, using innovative teaching and learning approaches that make lessons relevant to students’ lives, afford them the ability to apply classroom content to the real world, and iterate and experiment with others.
Will parents’ recent insight into their children’s learning be a new driver for change? Until the novel coronavirus pandemic, the global education community spent comparatively little time thinking about the role of parent engagement in education, but in March 2020—the month when almost all of the world’s countries shut their school doors—engaging parents moved quickly to the top of the agenda. It is in this context that the Center for Universal Education (CUE) is delving deeply into the topic of parent and family engagement in education. This work is an important contribution to the global effort to transform education so it can provide all young people with the skills they need to thrive in work, life, and citizenship in the 21st century.
In the long term, the impacts of this project could help enable parents to better support their children’s learning, teachers and schools to better understand the perspectives of parents and develop effective ways of collaborating, and policymakers to transform education in their jurisdiction to more effectively work with parents. In the long run, demand from parents and their children for the types of teaching and learning experiences that characterize a 21st century education is one of the best ways to enable sustained system transformation in education.