Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 23 November 2014

Education is about more than just lessons at school

Education does not stop at the school gates.There is much parents can do to help teachers as well as their children, says John O'Dowd

I have just launched a new advertising campaign aimed at raising the value we as a society place on education. This is significant as it is the first advertising campaign here focussed on education and the important role it plays in our lives. It initially targets parents of young children.

Education is of vital importance to the individual learner and our society as it is recognised as an economic driver.

Good attainment at school can open up a world of opportunities for a child later in life, will improve feelings of self-worth and makes it easier for the child to continue with their studies, or to find work.

Good educational outcomes are even linked with increased life expectancy.

In too many of our communities the value of a good education is not recognised, or those communities feel ill-equipped to support children and young people through education. While our schools' central function is to educate our children and young people, they cannot do this job alone - education does not start and stop at the school gates.

Teachers will develop and nurture children, but without the support of parents and communities it is harder for children to fulfil their potential. The first people children learn from are their parents and families. What the advertising campaign will aim to convey is that, by taking an interest in their child's education and by doing some simple things with their child, a parent, or family member, can have a dramatic impact on their child's achievements at school.

Research has shown that children provided with good opportunities to learn in the home before they started school were more than five times more likely to score well in English/Irish assessments at the end of primary school than those who were not.

A recent study of 15-year-olds found that those whose parents had read to them often in P1 did much better at school than those whose parents did not. The simple act of reading a bedtime story at age five can lead to improved outcomes a decade later. This same study found that the more books that young people have in their home, the better their assessment results.

Therefore, the message is clear, parental/family involvement and encouragement can have a direct and long-lasting effect on a child's educational achievements.

One of the key messages of this campaign is that parents don't need to go to great lengths to make a difference for their children. Some simple activities can make a huge difference.

Reading a bedtime story is an obvious example, but asking what your child did at school, taking an interest in their homework, counting everyday objects, teaching nursery rhymes, or telling them stories all help.

Another key message is that it is never too young to start helping your child. Children start to learn well before they begin school and there is so much that parents can do to help them get off to the best start.

To help support the campaign, a new website has been set up - www.nidirect.gov.uk/education-works. This site provides advice and guidance for parents on the simple games and activities that will help their children with structured play and to develop their talking, reading and counting skills.

The website will be developed to provide more advice and ideas not only for younger children, but also those well into their school careers.

Something that I hope is also made clear to parents and families is that your own background need not get in the way of your child doing well at school and in life.

Many people will have had negative experiences at school; however, by taking some simple steps from an early age, they can ensure their child has a head start.

I would encourage all parents to check the nidirect website, or speak to their child's teacher for guidance on how they can play their part.

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