The popular notion that children from high socio-economic status (SES) are more intelligent and perform better at school is outdated. The relationship between socio-economic background, as measured by monthly or annual income of parents, value of total wealth, location of residence, etc. and academic achievement is not as simple as it has been talked about in the past. In fact, the simplistic view about the relationship between SES and academic achievement leads to difficulties in explaining why some children of poor families excel and succeed in life.
When parents are asked, “What are some of the factors that determine students’ academic success?” one could expect answers like, “good breakfast, exposure to education early in life, parents’ education, birth order, physical and emotional health, etc.” Unfortunately, there is a more important factor that skips our attention. This factor trumps all other factors because of the inherent impact it has on children’s psyche, their learning, and consequently, their academic achievement.
It is the parental involvement factor!
While it is true that there is a direct, strong relationship between SES and academic achievement, the relationship is mediated by parental involvement. In other words, it does not really matter whether a student comes from a high or low socio-economic background. What really matters is the sustained existence of active and visible parental involvement in children’s education. This explains why some children from poor families are academically successful while some children from wealthy families become academic failures.
The internationally acclaimed neurosurgeon, author, and inspirational speaker, Dr. Ben Carson, who at the young age of 33 became the director of pediatric neurosurgery at John Hopkins Hospital (18 times winner of the best hospital of the year award in the US), owes his success to his single mother. Dr. Carson is a specialist in the separation of Siamese twins and has pioneered work in radical hemispherectomies, which is the removal of half the brain to help seizure patients. Dr. Carson came from poor and broken home. His mother, although illiterate with only third grade education, worked multiple jobs to sustain the family. As they were growing up, Dr. Carson and his brother were strictly told that they would do more reading than watching TV. In fact, they were only allowed two to three TV programs every week. The rest of the day and night were spent in reading and studying. Dr. Carson’s mother was actively involved in his education, constantly reminding him about the value of schooling, and inspiring him to believe in impossibilities.
Have you wondered why a student’s behavior, motivation level and engagement in learning change for the better when his father or mother visits the teacher at school to talk about his education? Our natural tendency is to think that the student is “sorted out” because somehow his parents’ presence has instilled fear in him. However, I would like to think of it as stemming from something more positive. Students become genuinely interested in education when their parents get involved and pay attention to their school work, talk about their relationships with other students, teachers, etc., and motivate them to set high but realistic academic goals.
Talking to children about education, about schooling, about the future – all these serve as a springboard to enhance students’ learning that would subsequently improve academic achievement. In essence, parental involvement and participation are invariably appreciated and valued by students. Academic success of students is not the responsibility of teachers alone. Academic achievement is as big a responsibility of parents as it is of teachers.