Amplifying the Space of Parents in Learning

By Virginia Wanjiru Ngindiru, Senior Manager, Zizi Afrique Foundation. 

Five years ago, representatives from diverse organizations in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania converged in Nairobi to launch a collaborative learning community, the Regional Education Learning Initiative. This community of education practitioners came together to advance their shared goal of improving learning outcomes for students around East Africa.  

One emerging area of intervention within the RELI community is Parental Empowerment and Engagement (PE&E). This focus area acknowledges parents’ significant role in supporting learning and the overall wellbeing of their children. As Emerson, L., Fear, J., Fox, S., & Sanders, E. note in their report, ‘Parental Engagement through learning and schooling,’ it is parental engagement in learning, rather than schooling, that yields the greatest positive impact on learning outcomes. Effective PE&E positively impacts the test scores, enrolment, progression, and retention rates. It also yields strong sense of self efficacy for learning.  

PE&E is broad. But at RELI, we have chosen to focus on determining the critical levers that need to be activated to achieve effective PE&E. The question guiding our inquiry is: What sort of interventions translate to empowered and engaged parents, whose support yields improved learning outcomes?  

The past five years have allowed RELI members in Kenya to establish relationships with actors in the PE&E field, to not only understand what interventions are already in place to support PE&E, but also to jointly plan and fundraise to support further work in the field. 

To date this collaboration has generated two large scale research efforts. In 2020 RELI members carried out research on learning outcomes that culminated in the report, ‘Each Learner Counts: Evidence on Improving Learning Outcomes in Kenya’ which shares evidence from eight programmes which reached over 24,000 children in twelve counties. In 2021, RELI members contributed to another study led by KICD.   

At the height of the covid-19 pandemic and the school closures that followed, our work highlighting the importance of PE&E supported quick adaptations to ensure learning continuity over the nine-month period when in-person learning was disrupted. This impact of RELI members PE&E interventions has been well-documented by national and online news outlets – from a Citizen TV feature on Population Council’s efforts to improve teen mothers’ school retention in Homa Bay county to a short online documentary recording Africa Education Trust’s work to improve literacy amongst both children and their parents through the Manyatta Learning Centers (MLC).  

“I used to be completely illiterate before I joined the Manyatta classes. Now I can read text messages on my phone. I can also go through my children’s schoolbooks and check on their progress and even ask why they got some questions wrong,” said Mrs. Kisini Meruma, a student at MLC who has been profoundly impacted by Africa Education Trust’s work.  

To mark RELI at five, we celebrate three key lessons and achievements.  

  1. We have learned that collaboration works to influence policy. Twelve RELI members in Kenya contributed to finalizing the PE&E guidelines and developing a popular version of the Competency Based Curriculum (CBC), therefore making the new curriculum more accessible to children and their parents.  
  1. We have learned that it is important to document RELI-wide PE&E approaches. To date, we have profiles of over 22 innovative approaches to PE&E from Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania.  This archive proved to be a key resource during our recent co-creation workshop, providing useful insights while defining the core elements of the regional framework.  
  1. We have established strategic partnerships with key institutions, beyond RELI. This project has built important working relationships with over 15 institutions, among them UN organizations, associations of parents, religious, academic and media networks. The most recent being the national PE&E study executed jointly with the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) and UNICEF. This joint execution continues, as recently witnessed during the co-creation workshop, in which KICD was represented, alongside other civil society organizations active on PE&E in Kenya.  

The foundation we been building together since 2017 has propelled us far and the process of documenting these achievements has been gratifying. We reaffirm our commitment to contributing to the PE&E discourse by generating an evidence-informed regional framework for use by government and civil society practitioners.  

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