The need to use maths concepts in their former work situations was a consistent theme behind their confidence. The finding emerged in a study about how unemployed fathers engage with their children’s education at three Cork primary schools in the Department of Education’s DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) scheme.
Dorothy Keane, a home school community liaison (HSCL) teacher at Scoil na Croise Naofa in Mahon, worked with 16 fathers for a masters degree dissertation to see what issues affected their involvement. “Even the father who was illiterate noted that when it came to maths with his child, he translated everything to money and then he could do it ‘in a flash’,” she said.
The fathers had very low aspirations for their own children’s educational prospects. But this was largely due to lack of knowledge about third-level access, as most did not know their child could get free higher education or grants.
Low literacy levels among the men — half had not progressed beyond primary school and only two had been beyond the equivalent of Junior Certificate — impacted how much they could support their children. But it did not totally impede their involvement, as some relied on their partner for help, and around two-thirds helped with homework regularly.
Nearly 40% helped with maths regularly, more again did so sometimes, and just over 80% sometimes or regularly listened to their child read. Fathers reported creative and fun approaches to helping their children but were also aware that literacy difficulties can hinder a child’s progress with numeracy.
“In the old days, maths was all figures — it’s the reading in the maths that catches her. When I put the sum on a page with no words, she can do it,” said one participant.
They also highlighted how modern technology helps them get involved, with one telling the ‘inroads’ personal development programme they took part in that using a computer has helped improve his own reading.
“This laptop is a great help with homework. When [the child] has work from ‘Spellbound’, I can pronounce the words but often I don’t know what the word means,” he said.
“The laptop gives you different options... if you ask anyone who can’t read and write ‘what helps?’ ... they are guaranteed to say, ‘It’s the laptop’,” he said.
But Ms Keane said the fact that two-thirds rarely sign off on homework indicates that their involvement in home activities might not always be evident in the school.
Her research for an education masters from University of Hull, aided by an Irish National Teachers’ Organisation bursary, earned her the Dr Concepta Conaty bursary award last night. It is named after the late founder of the HSCL scheme, part of Tusla children and family agency’s education welfare services.
World at their feet
Students will get a flavour of how world affairs are treated with the chance to do their transition-year work experience in a government department for the first time.
The Department of Foreign Affairs is to give the opportunity to 30 students, half of them from schools in the DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) scheme, from among entrants who submit a video or written essay about ‘Ireland’s Values’. Those selected for the Iveagh Scholars programme will meet diplomats on duty at home and abroad, visit the Dáil and foreign embassies in Dublin.
It is part of an outreach scheme by the department that will also see Irish diplomats visit schools next year to talk about their work promoting the country’s interests abroad, providing consular and passport services overseas, and the work of Irish Aid to eradicate world hunger and poverty.
Staff will also attend graduate and postgraduate events to highlight career opportunities in the Department of Foreign Affairs and other international organisations, as well as increasing student awareness of consular services and safety abroad.
‘Female teachers a barrier to men having role in kids’ education’
Too many female teachers, along with the lead taken by mothers in contacts with schools, may be barriers to men getting involved in their children’s education.
The study among unemployed fathers of children at disadvantage-scheme primary schools says the feminisation of the learning space was the biggest single issue deterring their involvement, as nine of the 16 men who took part cited it.
Their own lack of skills was an issue for half of them, and childcare issues for three of them.
Around 85% of Ireland’s 35,000 primary school teachers are women, just above the average in developed countries, and just below the average across 21 EU countries also in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Some men in the study said their child automatically goes to their mother to write school notes, and some saw communication with the school as the mother’s role.
One of the participants said there were gender differences in how teachers approach parents.
“The teacher may be afraid to approach a man — teachers can be more friendly with women and more inclined to call them by name. Mothers get all the chat. You have to push it yourself in a polite way to see how the child is getting on,” he said.
The personal development programme they took part in for the research also changed many of their attitudes, giving them confidence to take a more active role. A father with a strong interest in cookery attended a parent-child cookery session for the first time, having previously assumed the school would expect the mother.
Teachers acknowledged the lack of male teachers and a predominance of mothers at school activities hindered fathers from getting involved. But home-school community liaison teacher Dorothy Keane also found concerning teacher attitudes: such as nearly half not believing most fathers know how to help their child with homework, and another 43% being unsure.
“If teachers think that fathers can not support their child’s education, they may argue that it is futile to reach to them,” she said.