After reading the first two articles in this series, one may ask how can parents and guardians support a lifestyle of lifelong learning for their children? The answer to cultivating lifelong learner characteristics with successive generations of students through their parent or guardian is parental engagement, which is cultivating relationships through collaboration.
There is substantial research supporting parent engagement as parents are the first educators of their children. Consider that each child is a member of a family, so within a learning family (crossing generations) every member is a lifelong learner. Consequently, the pedagogical approach to cultivating a stronger nation with lifelong learning as its foundation (a United Nations and Bahamas sustainable development goal) lies in the promotion of stable homes, schools and communities and the collaborative relationship between the three.
Lifelong learning is the ongoing, voluntary and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons. The term “lifelong learning” evolved from the concept of lifelong learners. The phrase characterizes learning as a continual process, going beyond the confines of the traditional brick and mortar classroom concept, and takes place throughout an individual’s lifespan and in a range of situations. Using existing resources of family and community for learning, developing partnership-oriented relationships enriches a child both within and outside of the school environment. Parent engagement with family, school and community – witnessed by the child – embeds the idea that learning is continuous.
There are several examples of parental engagement activities that connect parents to the learning environment. For instance, attending Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) meetings, being aware of your child’s academic standing, being activists for your child and or being a member of a school committee or board. As representatives, an engaged parent, through relationships, can affect or contribute to the decision-making of the school. Other forms of engagement include painting a classroom or planting a garden with peer-teachers and parents (and possibly the student) and using resources (financial and network-based) to benefit your child’s environments.
Another often-overlooked (existing) resource to embed lifelong learning as a habit is the extended family relationship; parents should recruit the support of as many people within the family unit as possible. The dawn of the enlightenment era, the transition to industrialization and now in the computer age, nothing has changed regarding the need for village support in raising a child. Today families must be involved in the goal of a child’s complete development because, as stated in the opening, children inevitably become lifelong learners when they are in learning families. Therefore, to achieve holistic development grounded in the principles or character of lifelong learning, families should establish the family culture, communicate and collaborate.
Establish the family culture. When you establish a family culture, success is achievable. The pursuit of knowledge and ethics should set the standard; a great tool to focus the family culture is a family mission statement. Home environments must be the support system on which children become student-learners. Very often, in situations where lifelong learning is not a priority, the desire to help children achieve can be motivation for parents to (re)engage in learning themselves. Promoting an atmosphere of learning at home by being an active part of your child’s homework and study process includes helping with their homework and connecting them with organizations or community clubs that offer homework assistance and or extra classes.
As much as possible, be involved in the curriculum-related decisions of your child’s school so that you know what they are learning in the classroom. Explore related activities for them and you, sparking the lifelong learner characteristic. Families can also stay connected to the process by knowing the homework policy and school assignment patterns at the school. Parents should share their child’s background, skills, talents, needs and culture with their teacher and, if possible, the school body.
Communicate. Communication is the bond that holds culture and collaboration together. The ability to listen for understanding, in the home environment and the school and community environment, is vital to the student-learner process, progress and success. Going to PTA meetings and parent-teacher meetings is a part of the communication process between home and school, along with connecting with their teacher or school administration regarding their progress. Parents can also strengthen their communication through advocacy by forming parent networks; WhatsApp groups can be of benefit and are great tools of communication.
Collaborate. When parents identify and facilitate relationships through the integration of resources and services, the collaboration strengthens family practices, school programs and community. Collaborative initiatives of the home with the school and community can include health-centred retreats or workshops hosted by a gym or insurance company (as is often done in workspaces). Synergistic relationships can also form around common goals such as conservation, supporting that learning can also be a service to the environment. Having students with their family plant trees or engage in a beach or park clean-up incorporates both learning and civic engagement; both show that learning occurs outside of the school environment. Expanding the tree-planting event to include organizations like the Bahamas National Trust and a funding agency like a civic group or corporation raises the level of collaboration to include all pillars. The activity supports the learning process and forms sustainable relationships that potentially increase the effectiveness of the project and the process of lifelong learning.
Collaboration and the stimulation and perpetuation of the lifelong learner process can also come in the form of training opportunities provided by schools. Parents can take advantage of an additional learning opportunity and enhance the link between learning skills or enhancing talents, and the process of lifelong learning. Other collaborative or relationship-building activities schools can facilitate are through their alumni community. Schools can promote programs and networking events, entrepreneurial kick-starters and mentorships that foster connections between alumni and future graduates and their family. Relationships of this nature often identify and can solidify the connection between classroom learning and “real-world” learning and their applications.
All families care about their children and want them to succeed. To achieve success, families must form relationships and seek to obtain better information from schools and communities that support the development of their child, creating a culture where learning is essential. Therefore, parents, do not just aim for a “good” school, look for a school that promotes connections and encourages/cultivates an environment where the culture, communication and collaborative process support your child’s growth, development and success, thus maintaining the lifelong learner trait.
Lifelong learning is the basis of personal development and self-sustainability. It stimulates one’s competitiveness and improves employability; it enhances family cohesion and social inclusion; and it encourages active citizenship. In an ever-changing world, lifelong learning is becoming increasingly important, not only as a fundamental principle but also as an absolute actionable necessity for everyone. When we promote strong ties (relationships) between home, school and community, a culture of lifelong learners and more civic-minded individuals can emerge; these individuals will create real and lasting goal-oriented transformative change.
• D’Ondré Miller is the development coordinator at Queen’s College Centre for Further Education. You can reach her at email@example.com.