The importance of parents’ involvement in their children’s education is well substantiated. A substantial body of research has indicated that parental involvement is correlated with positive school outcomes, such as fewer discipline problems and higher school attendance.
Moreover, parents’ involvement in their child’s school sends strong and consistent messages to them that education is valuable. These messages, in turn, have a positive influence on the child’s learning and social development. However, most researchers have focused on the mother’s contribution to the child’s well-being, downplaying the role fathers play in the development of the child.
The authors of the study aimed to find out what impact father involvement in school settings had on children’s academic achievement. Specifically, the purpose of the study was to discover whether father involvement provided any additional benefits to the child’s academic outcomes of beyond what was accounted for by mother involvement.
The researchers collected data from a large, nationally representative database of children and their families. This database included information about parenting, children’s development and schooling.
1334 children (655 boys and 679 girls) between the ages of 5 to 12 took part in the study. Only children who lived with their biological or adoptive father, step-father or father-figure were included in the study.
School- level resources
They included the teacher-student ratio at the children’s school and teacher’s report of the frequency of children’s computer usage at school.
Neighbourhood- level resources
These were represented by the caregivers’ rating of the quality of child’s neighbourhood, proportion of people in the neighbourhood who own their home/apartment, and how easy it is to tell the difference between a resident and a stranger in the neighbourhood.
Parental involvement in school
These included frequency of fathers’ and mothers’ school-related communications with the child, parents’ physical involvement at school (e.g. volunteered in school), and the extent to which parents met and talked with teachers and other school officials.
Child achievement in school
The child’s achievement in school was measured using the child’s score on standardised reading and Math tests. Teacher’s ratings of the child’s reading and Math ability were also considered.
• Children whose father figures were their biological fathers had more school-related discussion with their fathers and had mothers who were physically more involved at school.
• Parents who reported being more involved in their children’s school activities perceived their neighbourhoods as more close-knit and better suited for raising children.
• Greater family income was associated with greater involvement in all aspects of children’s schooling for both mothers and fathers, as well as with greater academic achievement in children.
• Greater physical involvement in school activities by mothers and more frequent talks with school officials by both fathers and mothers were associated with children’s academic success.
Results suggest that when the father takes on an active role in their children’s education, there is a positive impact on student achievement. This impact is in addition to the impact of the mother’s involvement on the children.
The relationship between student achievement and school and family level resources is also partially mediated by fathers interacting with teachers and school officials. This means that the relationship between student achievement and school- and family-level resources, to some extent, depends on the amount of time fathers spend interacting with teachers and school officials. Specifically, when fathers are more involved in their children’s school, the relationship between family income and student achievement (i.e., lower income tends to be related to poorer achievement) becomes less important.
The authors explained that fathers play an “additive” role in educating children by enhancing the resources available to their children as they cope with the negative impact of risk factors associated with low family income.
In other words, especially for low income families, fathers play a crucial role in their children’s academic achievement. The implications of these findings are that schools need to actively engage fathers in their children’s education, especially since father’s involvement may help children to overcome the negative impact of poverty on children’s academic achievement.
One of the main limitations is that majority of the respondents in the study were Caucasian and African-American, with only a very small percentage of Asians represented. Moreover, there are substantial differences in the US and Singaporean educational systems. Hence, the findings from the current study may not be completely generalised to the Singapore context.
Furthermore, parental involvement is difficult to measure, and may incorporate components other than what was measured in the current study. It would be worthwhile to study other aspects of father involvement in future studies.
Fathers play an important and valuable role in positively impacting the academic achievement of their children. Findings from this study underline the importance of actively involving fathers from low income families in their children’s schools, providing valuable insights for educators and policy-makers alike.
1. McBride, B.A., Schoppe-Sullivan, S.J., & Ho, M.H. (2005). The mediating role of fathers’ school involvement on school achievement. Applied Developmental Psychology, 26, 201-216.
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First published on 24-05-2011.