Rural parents’ engagement in education in Bangladesh: problems and possibilities
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis explores the engagement practices, understandings and experiences of parents and teachers in the rural context in Bangladesh. It investigates the underlying factors that create blocks to engagement. It examines the complex interplay of expectations, blame-giving, financial constraints and pervasive social problems within the context, and how that interplay both calls for and yet inhibits engagement. The thesis also reports one head teacher’s initiatives to overcome the blocks and to create space for engagement.
The study is a qualitative case study that utilises an emergent research design. This process of data collection offered me the flexibility to respond to contextual conditions and to capture rich data through group discussions and individual conversations with the teachers, parents and the community people. It allowed me to observe participants’ activities, review related documents and maintain a reflective research journal. The importance of place is highlighted throughout as my study sought to identify and report not only actual practices but the cultural, social and economic conditions that shape those practices. Place contextualises where policy decisions are to be implemented. Place is also a significant consideration in identifying the kinds of steps that might be taken to overcome barriers. Therefore, attention is given to describing the rural context of Bangladesh and its people in some detail.
The study begins with examining the reasons for importance being placed on parental engagement by policy, and reports the problems in implementing policy aspirations in the rural context through the lenses of parents and teachers. It found that teachers were frustrated by lack of parental response to invitations and by their apparent disinterest in their children’s educational progress. It also found that parental illiteracy and poverty were major factors in preventing parents from becoming engaged with educational matters. Additional factors were unsatisfactory communication processes, the complex nature of the cultural relationship between parents and teachers, and the politicised nature of schools’ public programmes. I found of understandings, by both parents and teachers of the concept and possibilities of engagement were largely very limited.
The thesis explores how cultural and socio-economic conditions shape dominant discourses and arbitrate access to cultural capital as well as posing practical problems. These factors impede parental engagement in education and are powerful indicators of why such engagement is needed.
Next the study reports the activities of one head teacher who is taking a different approach in the same context. It details his different and innovative strategies for reaching out to parents and creating space for them to be become involved with their children’s learning and with the school. It also identifies a number of key characteristics of his leadership that allow him to make a difference and suggests that these characteristics are ones that should be looked for and fostered in appointment processes, professional development and official support.
Finally the implications for policy and practice of the findings are discussed. Two models are offered: the first of the nature and possibilities of parental engagement in rural contexts of Bangladesh; the second of the processes needed to develop parental engagement in such contexts.
The study is a deliberately contextual one. However, some of the contextual factors may have resonances with other contexts and other countries. Moreover the analysis of how contextual factors impact on parental engagement may also be relevant to other contexts. Therefore while the focus in on parental engagement in rural contexts in Bangladesh, it is envisaged that the study will also have wider relevance.