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Keeping Kenya Learning: The importance of caregiver engagement in supporting learning beyond the classroom

Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, parents, teachers, students and policymakers have been exploring how to support students to learn at home. The emphasis on education at home has made evident the need to better equip caregivers to support their children’s learning. 

The Keep Kenya Learning (KKL) initiative is helping parents and caregivers build their capacity and confidence to support learning at home. In this blog, we highlight the importance of parental engagement in learning, and outline lessons we’ve learnt about how to increase parental engagement during the pandemic and beyond.

Why is parental engagement important? 

Research points to a clear conclusion: parental engagement has a significant and lasting impact on student attendance, behaviour, and achievement. Repeated studies have shown that students make greater progress when caregivers are actively engaged in their learning (Desforges and Abouchaar, 2003; Goodall et al., 2011). At all ages, parental attitudes can strongly predict student achievement. In particular, caregivers’ self-efficacy — their sense of their own ability to support their child’s learning — is a significant predictor of a child’s achievement.

How can caregivers best support their children?

Caregivers can support children by encouraging them to learn from everyday activities and helping them with their homework (Redding, 2000). Schools can encourage these interactions by setting homework activities that encourage collaboration with caregivers, and briefing caregivers on how to complete these activities with their children. 

Even when parents have low education levels themselves, they can support their children by engaging in one-to-one interactions with them, which encourages them to develop their dialogue and vocabulary. Parents can also help their children by being supportive, building their confidence, and encouraging them to focus on the importance of education. By engaging with schools, parents can keep up to date with how their children are progressing, and know when to help by providing additional support.

What barriers do caregivers face with engagement?

Despite the importance of parental engagement, caregivers can face significant barriers in engaging effectively with their children’s learning (Harris and Goodall, 2007). Some common barriers are:

  1. Time. Caregivers often struggle to find the time to engage with children academically.
  2. Academic skills. Caregivers may lack the academic skills to support their children with their learning.
  3. Language. Some children go to schools where teaching is in languages different from the caregivers’ primary language. 
  4. Understanding and navigating school systems. Caregivers may find it difficult to navigate the school system, presenting a barrier to effective engagement.

Effective interventions that support parental engagement address these barriers, and typically:

  1. Take a whole-school approach, including training teachers on how to effectively engage caregivers (Goodall et al., 2011).
  2. Target particular groups of caregivers, for example, disadvantaged caregivers, or caregivers of students with behavioural difficulties.
  3. Facilitate confidence, by increasing caregivers’ self-esteem and confidence they become empowered to enhance the role they play in their child’s development (Evans, 2000).

How is KKL supporting parental engagement in Kenya?

Keep Kenya Learning was born in response to national school closures during the Covid-19 pandemic. The KKL team, disturbed by low participation in distance learning during school closures (24.6% according to the Kenyan National Bureau of Statistics), and the resulting inequity in learning, saw a need to build new mindsets, habits, and tools to empower caregivers to be more involved in their children’s learning. 

The KKL team embarked on a journey alongside community partners and caregivers to increase learning at home. The team had three objectives:

  • Build awareness of the importance of learning at home.
  • Provide guidance on caregivers’ role in supporting students to learn at home.
  • Increase access to resources to promote learning at home.

With the support of EdTech Hub, KKL conducted a ‘sandbox’— a process used to support programme implementation and generate new evidence of what works — to guide the design of outreach and resources to drive shifts in caregiver engagement. The process helped the KKL team to refine the objectives, challenge assumptions, and uncover complex barriers to caregiver engagement. 

The KKL team asked themselves: What would it look like to empower Kenyan caregivers to lead learning at home more effectively?

Early evidence from our first round of testing, which included mapping caregiver behaviour in partnership with the organisation Busara, suggested that KKL should work with communities to strengthen engagement, bolster caregiver confidence, and build the digital literacy of caregivers. In response, KKL designed community meetings for caregivers, onboarding, and digital literacy training. Participating caregivers also accessed resources via SMS — a talk-based curriculum designed to build the foundational relationship between caregiver and child, and high-quality learning resources. Finally, KKL curated resources, including a video produced in partnership with the children’s TV station Akili, that modelled caregiver support for learning at home. Caregivers and community partners were both co-creators of these resources, with 350 caregivers also involved in testing the resources.

Preliminary findings indicate positive results. Ninety-one per cent of caregivers said they would recommend KKL to their peers. Caregiver confidence increased by 23%. Yet, interestingly, belief in parent’s knowledge and skills being relevant for children’s growth did not change. In addition, 92% of caregivers were able to access all or most educational resources on their phones and more than 70% correctly recalled both phone safety tips and most best practices.

“This has been my go-to method of teaching my kids. I have downloaded Akili Kids videos and I’m now using them to teach my kids.”

Next steps for KKL

These preliminary findings present critical areas for further investigation.

Two-thirds of caregivers identified schools as the best option for receiving information in the future. With this in mind, KKL are now considering school partnerships and resources, with the relevant government stakeholders also engaged in the process.

Further, consultation with key government actors has revealed two core goals that may well drive the future shape of KKL:

  • Clarify and create a shared understanding of the value of caregiver engagement: perhaps through multi-stakeholder advocacy campaigns.
  • Make caregiver engagement practical: offer capacity building and easy-to-use tools and resources to key stakeholders who can drive change at community level. 

We are now working closely with the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) to co-create capacity building resources that build on the learning from our campaign and on KICD’s own evidence and research.

What does this mean to you, the reader?

The Covid-19 pandemic has emphasised the importance of ensuring caregivers have the confidence to support their children’s education. Recognising this, it is imperative that we — the global education community — continue to design initiatives that build the capacity and confidence of caregivers to extend learning opportunities well beyond the classroom. 

The work done by the KKL team has helped to identify effective approaches to caregiver engagement. Some of the lessons learnt along the way include:

  • Co-creating learning-at-home outreach and resources with caregivers and community organisations can help pre-empt challenges.
  • It is possible to increase caregivers’ self-efficacy regarding learning at home, even if they come from humble academic backgrounds.
  • Thoughtful digital literacy guidance can effectively increase caregivers’ access to Open Educational Resources. 

We are now actively collaborating with the government, development partners, and NGOs to continue to drive change in this space. If this is something you or your organisation are interested in learning more about or collaborating with us on, please contact either the KKL or EdTech Hub team. You can also hear directly from the KKL team on our podcast.

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