Research indicates the positive effects parental involvement can have in reinforcing learners' beliefs about their ability to succeed. In this article, the author explores the nature of parental involvement in children's education in the Republic of the Gambia. The Gambian example reemphasizes the value of parent-school partnerships as a constant and relentless process across cultural and national boundaries. It is an example of official mandates in education that are based on traditional practices of involving the community at the local level for improving the quality of education and care in schools.
In this article, the story of how parents in the Republic of the Gambia are involved in their children's education is told in their own voices. In the late 1990s, the country moved from an education system based on the British model of basic education to a K-12 American system. The British system referred to grade levels as forms, but in the new millennium The Gambia follows a system of preschool, elementary, junior high, and secondary schools. During a recent visit to the country, I interviewed 10 parents and the Minister of Education to construct a picture of how parents involved themselves in their children's education and the role government played in that process.
In The Gambia, in urban centers and rural areas alike, family and community participation has always played an important role in children's education and social development. In 1999, the Government of The Gambia mandated that parent teacher associations (PTA) be established in all schools. Parents are to take part in managing financial resources and have a say in decisions regarding school development projects, such as school gardens and fundraising activities (Colley, 2005). According to the Parent Teacher Association Constitution published in the School Management Manual (Government of The Gambia, 2011), parents also have a say in the recruitment of staff, such as cooks, watchmen, and caretakers, as well as in the general maintenance of school buildings and grounds.
In addition, according to a 2012 interview with the Minister of Education (2012), parents are also included in the bimonthly regional meetings. From within the PTA, members are elected to serve on a subcommittee called the School Management Committee (SMC), made up of students, parents, and faculty. This committee works to ensure efficient management of all school activities and reports back to the larger PTA about issues that need to be resolved (Government of The Gambia, 2011). In this way, parents are connected directly to the school, and also to officials from the Ministry of Education. This approach avoids situations as outlined in an article in the Ghanaian Chronicle ("Ghana: Parent Involvement," 2012), in which teachers and parents are pitted against each other. The article described parents being asked to monitor teachers' activities, and being accused of verbally and physically attacking teachers. For Gambians, the government's formal mandate for parental involvement officially acknowledged what they engaged in from a traditional standpoint.
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