Parent Engagement Makes a Difference at All Ages

A new brief on the results from the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) shows that parent support of their children’s learning has a significant effect on school achievement for children at all ages.

Students whose parents reported that they had read a book with their child “every day or almost every day” or “once or twice a week” during the first year of primary school have markedly higher scores in PISA 2009 than students whose parents reported that they had read a book with their child “never or almost never” or only “once or twice a month”. On average across the 14 countries for which data are available, the difference is 25 score points, the equivalent of well over half a school year.

The performance advantage among students whose parents read to them in their early school years is evident regardless of the family’s socio-economic background. Differences in performance that are associated with parental involvement partly mirror differences in the socio-economic backgrounds of households, since, on average, students in socio-economically advantaged households enjoy an environment that is more conducive to learning in many ways. However, even when comparing students of similar socio-economic backgrounds, those students whose parents regularly read books to them when they were in the first year of primary school score 14 points higher, on average, than students whose parents did not.

Interestingly, different types of parent-child activities have different relationships with reading performance. For example, on average, the score point difference in reading that is associated with parental involvement is largest when parents read a book with their child, when they talk about things they have done during the day, and when they tell stories to their children. The score point difference is smallest when parental involvement takes the form of parents playing with alphabet toys with their children.

The results also show a strong association between some parent-child activities, when the children are 15, and students’ reading performance in PISA. For example, students whose parents discuss political or social issues with them either weekly or daily score 28 points higher, on average, than those whose parents discuss these issues less often or not at all. When socio-economic background is taken into account, the score point advantage drops to 16 points, but remains important.

The PISA findings also show that other parent-child activities are also associated with better student reading performance in school. These activities include discussing books, films or television programmes, discussing how well children are doing at school, eating main meals together around the table and spending time just talking.

It goes to show that it is never too late for parents to be involved in their children’s education, although it is better to start early. Children of all ages benefit from their parents’ active interest in them. It does not require specialised knowledge or unlimited hours for parents to make a difference. What it requires is genuine interest and active engagement.

Trevor Cobbold

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