Educational parent support to Xhosa speaking learners: exploring the potential of WhatsApp as support platform
Even though children’s development happens in various systems, such as the school, home and community, educational research shows the greatest influence on children’s development to be the home environment (Coleman 1988; Rathus 2003; Jeynes 2010; Hummel 2014). From the birth of their children, parents act as facilitators of their children’s emotional, social and cognitive development (Patrikakou, Weissberg, Redding and Walberg 2005). However, many factors impede on parents’ ability to be effective in their support of their children’s educational development. One of the biggest challenges for parents to render effective educational support to their children is language. International and national research shows that parents’ illiteracy in their children’s language of learning poses the biggest threat to the parents’ role as educational collaborators (Singh, Mbokodi and Msila 2004; Martinez 2011; Daniels 2017; Slinger-Steenberg 2018).
Due to globalisation, and the continuous migration of people, communities have become culturally, ethnically and linguistically diverse. In South Africa, rural people are constantly migrating to urban areas in search of a better life and opportunities for their families. South Africa’s urban schools are now multilingual spaces where, in addition to the 11 official languages, many other unofficial languages are spoken. However, despite South Africa’s multilingual educational environments, English and Afrikaans continue to be the dominant languages of teaching and learning in most of its schools (Department of Education 1997). Many learners are thus being taught in a language that is not their home language. Research further shows that cognitive reception, development and expression are optimised by education in the mother tongue of a child. Thus being educated in a language other than their own could lead to exclusion and negative educational outcomes for such learners (Hooijer and Fourie 2009). This problem is exacerbated when parents are unable to provide the necessary educational support because of their limited literacy in that language. This gives rise to educational challenges for the child and additional responsibilities for teachers.
A current trend in the Western Cape is for Xhosa-speaking parents to enrol their grade 1 children in Afrikaans-medium schools, even when they lack literacy skills in Afrikaans. When enquiring as to the reason behind this decision, we found that the parents that we spoke to seem to hold the view that people who become literate in Afrikaans enjoy better work opportunities in the Western Cape and have a better future. These parents appeared to not be aware of the negative consequences that being educated in a second or third language has on the cognitive, psychological and social development of the child (Hooijer and Fourie 2009; Basson and Le Cordeur 2013). Present-day educators expect parents to collaborate with educators and to actively, engage with their children in the completion of homework and projects (Constantino 2003). These Xhosa-speaking parents are, however, illiterate in the language in which their child is being educated, and lack the necessary literacy skills to provide academic support to their foundation phase child. Their inability to communicate in Afrikaans, the language in which the homework is to be done, prevents them from overseeing their children’s homework tasks. Their lack of involvement then leads to many educational challenges for both the child and the child’s teachers.
In the multicultural classroom teachers often struggle to teach effectively, due to the diversity of their learners’ language competencies. These teachers often do not have the experience or the training to deal effectively with the challenges of the multi-linguistic classroom. Furthermore, schools seldom have support programmes in place to address such linguistic challenges. In this article, we propose that teachers, parents and students should unite as collaborators of education and that they should seek solutions for such educational challenges together. We explore how parents can be actively involved in their children’s homework.
This article draws on data from research conducted on parent support at a peri-urban Afrikaans primary school in the Western Cape. The overall aim of the study was to promote parent involvement in their children’s learning. We identified grade 1 parents as the population for the study because of our resolve to get parents engaged from the child’s first year of formal schooling. We selected the potential participants based on their children’s performance in the national curriculum and assessment test for Afrikaans. The parents of six learners who scored 3 and lower on the 7-code assessment test were asked to participate in the research project, which was tied to an after-school learning support programme for their children. The parents, with support from the teacher, had to supervise the homework assignments. The parents and the class teacher became members of a WhatsApp group through which all communication about the homework assignments was conducted.
Our decision to use participatory action research as the study’s design was motivated by the emancipatory potential of the design. Participatory action research allowed for a process through which parents and teachers could come together in the spirit of “masifunde” (Singh et al. 2004), which means “let us teach together”, to aid the grade 1 learners’ scholastic success. The study’s design created the opportunity for parents to collaborate with the teacher by actively participating in their children's homework assignments. It also created the opportunity for these parents to gain literacy skills in Afrikaans, the language of teaching and learning at the school. The communicative instrument that the researchers used to facilitate effective communication between the participating parents and their children’s educators was the popular social media platform WhatsApp. The data consisted of transcripts of the interviews with the participating parents and the teacher, WhatsApp text messages from the communications between the participants and the teacher, and artefacts from the classroom and after-school programme.
During the introductory session between the researchers and the participants we found that the parents did not understand that their decision to educate their children in Afrikaans, a foreign language to them, held grave consequences for their children’s cognitive, social and emotional development. In addition, the parents’ lack of Afrikaans literacy skills prevented them from engaging in their children’s homework, and discouraged participation. We realised that parent involvement in their children’s schooling would not be an automatic response, and that planning, and intervention was required to address this problem. We developed an after-school homework programme that required teacher- parent collaboration to provide learning support to the six Grade 1 learners.
The homework programme led to a collaborative relationship between the teacher and the parents. Even though the homework was in Afrikaans, the WhatsApp communication between the parents and the teacher was in English. We found that with the growth in the parents’ confidence, the communication between them and the teacher increased and expanded. The teacher modelled successful facilitation by constantly encouraging parental participation. The parents experienced the WhatsApp platform as a user-friendly and non-threatening tool. The homework, reminders and tips that the teacher sent were accessible to them at all times, and could be referred to whenever the parents were assisting the child with homework. Although the WhatsApp group was established to facilitate communication between the parents and the educator about the homework, it led to the formation of communication channels between the home and the school as well. WhatsApp gave these parents virtual access to the school and its resources, without their having to visit the school physically. Although the study did not research the grade 1 children's academic achievements, all six learners’ academic performance improved. We attributed this outcome to the teacher-parent collaboration in the after-school programme.
Keywords: Afrikaans; communication; multilingual; parental involvement; WhatsApp
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