On 24th and 25th April Prague hosted an EPA Conference on Supporting Parents to become the Best Primary Educators. EPA members were enjoying the possibility to explore the capital of the Czech Republic, a white spot on the map of EPA until now, but we also had an opportunity to learn about local and international initiatives aiming at supporting parents in their parenting roles. We were really honoured that the conference was attended and greeted by the Chairman of the Czech Parliamentary Committee on Education, Culture, Youth and Sports, the local mayor, high-ranking officials from the Ministry of Education and Municipality of Prague.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), the most widely ratified human rights document in the world, states that parents have the sole responsibility, basic rights and duties in giving directions and guidance to their children (Article 5). It is a big job and in most cases you are required to be ready for this job just by giving birth to or fathering a child. Of course this is an exaggeration but most parents do not get enough help and support to become real good parents although Article 18 of UNCRC obliges the states to give all support necessary to parents.
Supporting and training parents, more precisely two aspects - the substance of such training and the methods to involve as many parents as possible -, is a reoccurring topic. It is still not common practice that the communication between home and school, professional and parent is based on mutual needs. Timing is also often very crucial as parents’ work schedules tend to overlap with the schedule of events schools expect parents to be present at. There is a cultural aspect, too. Most parents replicate the role model of their own parents when communicating with the school or kindergarten – and they do not expect real involvement or to be treated as equal educators.
In the case of parents with low socio-economic status or parents of children with special needs there are more aspects to be taken into consideration. There are good practices on involving them as early on as possible to build trust and cooperation that EPA is trying to spread.
Parental involvement at school, if managed carefully by professionals, can help the parents and children alike. For many parents it has similar educational value to the education of their children to get to know people who are very different from them, to learn cooperation and thus build tolerance. EPA shares the view of many other experts and NGO’s that schools have to change to become community learning spaces, open 365 days, 6-22, that welcome all members of the community to be and learn together. In a rapidly changing world openness to learning and new things is crucial to achieve well-being for children and adults alike. Parenting is a period when you have to learn a large number of new skills to raise your children well. There is an added value of it, especially for parents from disadvantaged backgrounds, namely that these skills can become marketable, they raise employability, too. Learning together can also lead to a tolerant, open society.
EPA decided to take this topic as the focus of its first conference in the year of the 30th anniversary, a topic that has been important since EPA was funded and will remain so in the next decades.
After the official greetings local initiatives were presented to the nearly 100 participants. The work of Centres for Family and Community was presented by Nikola Kristek, Rut Kolinska introduced the job Maternity Centres are doing, a new initiative, Parents for Inclusion financed by the Open Society Institution was presented in both Czech and English and Magdalena Maresová presented her experiences from the Netherlands and the Czech Republic and also her methods in teacher training for parental involvement.
In the next session we first had the opportunity to listen to Aija Tuna who presented a Latvian example of saving rural schools by transforming them to Multifunctional Community Centres offering training to parents as well as extracurricular activities on top of regular school activities. Then Marina Robben introduced another approach to empowering parents based on case study analysis, not mutual communication between school and home, but preparing parents for the needs of the school. The last presentation of this session and a round table discussion invited all participants to influence the contents of an EU-financed training project being carried out by EPA, three of its members, two universities and a minority organisation.
The kick-off of the second day was done by two representatives of the Nordic Schools, Rasmus Schiellerup and Casper Rongsted. The participants learnt about the approach of Danish schools, based on the philosophy of Kirkegaard, that offers equal treatment for children and parents alike. You can learn more about their initiative from their Facebook page or you can read this short interview.
The conference continued with interactive workshops following up the various presentations.