Using parents’ clubs to bring the school and community together: Experiences from Gaza
Dr. Amjad Joma
A quality education system uses the best techniques and a stimulating teaching and learning environment to enable all children to learn, regardless of their cultural, economic or social backgrounds. A quality education system also aims to build educational, social and communication bridges between parents and the school on the one hand, and between the students and their parents on the other hand. In this article, Dr Joma explores how parents and their children can collaborate and be empowered through involvement in parents’ clubs in schools in Gaza, Palestine.
This article looks at the experiences of parents’ clubs in 12 schools across the Gaza Strip from 2011 to 2014. The project was delivered under the umbrella of the “Our schools, Our Communities” programme funded by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). It involved engaging parents in different school activities by establishing parents’ clubs. The project was important because of the reluctance of many parents to communicate with schools, and because of the lack of genuine participation between schools and parents.
Nature and role of parents’ clubs
Each club includes around 30 parents. Participation is voluntary and at no cost to the members. Typically schools have two parents’ clubs; one meets on Sundays, the other on Tuesdays. Two teachers and the school principal co-ordinate parents’ club activities in the schools. These staff attended a 5-day training on skills for communicating with parents, leadership skills, planning and training-of-trainers skills, before they established the clubs.
The parents’ clubs aim to reinforce collaboration between schools, parents, and the surrounding communities. They support parents to acquire skills which will eventually help the school to deliver good quality education for their children. The experience also aims to develop children’s skills in various, educational, psychological, social and health aspects.
Child and parent during a doll-making activity at a parents’ club
The parents’ club activities have two main components:
1) Joint activities
- making dolls for play and educational use
- making a ‘library’ from boxes, etc, into which children can put stories they have collected or written. They keep these at home, as an encouragement to read or tell stories
- building a puppet theatre and developing and performing dramas
- literacy activities through which parents can support their child’s literacy development
- ‘bag of dreams’, an activity through which parents and children discuss the children’s future goals, dreams, hobbies, etc. The child writes positive, encouraging statements and puts these in the bag, along with his/her photo
- creating simple teaching aids from everyday/recycled materials
- conducting simple scientific experiments at home
- volunteer work through which children and parents support others, e.g. helping with the olive harvest, arranging day trips or visits to concerts, etc.
2) Seminars and workshops in childhood and parenting
A range of seminars is run by school counsellors, NRC staff, teachers, people from the community, and parents with particular skills/qualifications. Topics include: learning about behaviour modification techniques, stages of growth, nutrition, dealing with psychological stress, supporting children to cope with exams, home first aid, nutrition, dealing with domestic accidents, and life skills.
Developing the clubs
The experiences in Gaza show that to facilitate successful parents’ clubs the school administration must first be persuaded that such clubs are feasible and necessary. The school management then needs to advertise the clubs, through the children, and invite parents to join.
Meetings should be scheduled at times that suit as many parents as possible. Sessions should be informative, and include a wide range of workshops and joint activities that are interesting to parents and that meet their needs for information or action to support their children’s education. The activities need to be planned jointly with parents. Teachers have a role to play in the clubs and in communicating with parents through the clubs. The clubs are also responsible for ensuring the activities are implemented at a reasonable/sustainable cost.
The impact of the parents’ clubs can be seen through the experiences and opinions of participating parents who attend regularly and work with their children to implement activities.
For example, a mother of two young siblings noted that after attending the club her behaviour changed when dealing with her children. Another mother felt that the school-based library and home-library activity helped her children to read stories and also to borrow books that she can read with them while at home. In addition, the ‘bag of dreams’ activity motivated children, especially during the exam period.
Other mothers and fathers said:
“My communication with the school has increased. Previously I rarely visited the school. My presence has reassured my children that I am following their school performance, which actually increases their motivation to do better at school.”
“I’ve learnt about the negative impact of physical punishment on children. I have stopped all forms of punishment and have become more aware and tolerant, and am more patient with them and their problems.”
“I have learned a lot from the activities I attended in parents’ club. I learned different techniques for dealing with my children [without using punishments] as well as the psychological techniques [for managing stress]. The parents’ club has also provided me with different activities, which helped me to become closer to my children and other family members. Activities have supported me to reinforce my children’s learning and give them psychosocial support.”
“The instructions and advice I received from the parents’ club have given me the skills to deal with and overcome different problems. I have become calmer in dealing with my children’s problems. I also have given them space to express their opinions and feelings which eventually increases their own confidence.”
While the parents’ clubs have been successful, the following could also be tried in future:
- Social media could be used to communicate with parents, and share the school’s messages and information about available services and activities.
- Other media and satellite channels, especially the channel broadcast by the United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA)1, could be used to enhance communication between schools and parents through programmes targeting families.
- The role of parent councils and other school committees could be strengthened to help mobilise parents to communicate with the school and share activities.
- Parents’ clubs should be established in each school to promote participatory activities between children, parents and teachers.
- The link between schools and local community institutions could be reinforced so that schools can call for more support from communities.
- Training courses could be held to help education staff further develop communication skills needed to promote contact between schools and community institutions.
- More attention could be given to participatory activities in which parents can be involved (such as visits, tours, open days, etc.) to further strengthen the family-school partnership.