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Curriculum orientations and the inclusion of immigrant parents

Max Antony-Newman, University of Toronto

‘Curriculum is – or should be – at the heart of educational practice’, wrote Mark Priestley and Stavroula Philippou on BERA Blog earlier in 2019. What is taught in school, how curriculum content is selected and what learners take away from this process is important both for teacher knowledge (Czernisawski, 2019) and overall social justice (Mills, 2019).

Another important consideration for the study of the curriculum is to understand how to give voice and meaningfully include parents in this conversation. After all, children spend 80 per cent of their time at home and 20 per cent at school (Wherry, 2004). This task is especially salient in the case of immigrant parents, because members of this fast-growing and diverse group come from various cultural and educational backgrounds and bring in distinctive sets of expectations which often do not correspond to those of teachers (Antony-Newman, 2018).

In my study of parental involvement among eastern European immigrants in Canadian schools, I propose to use the concept of curriculum orientations (academic rationalism, social efficiency, humanism and social reconstruction) to explore how parental beliefs about curriculum shape parental involvement in children’s education (Antony-Newman, 2019).

Curriculum orientations represent sets of stable beliefs about the nature, purpose and content of the curriculum. The concept was first developed by Eisner and Vallance in 1974 and often includes the following four key orientations: ‘academic rationalism’ considers the transmission of knowledge as the main task of education; ‘social efficiency’ orientation focusses on equipping future citizens with socially desirable skills and knowledge; ‘humanist’ orientation views the personal development of learners as the central purpose of education; and ‘social reconstructionism’ has the change and improvement of society through education as its main objectives. Prior research shows that the dominant curriculum orientations among elementary school teachers in Western countries are currently social efficiency and humanism.

‘Curriculum orientations represent sets of stable beliefs about the nature, purpose and content of the curriculum… the dominant curriculum orientations among elementary school teachers in Western countries are currently social efficiency and humanism.’

I interviewed 19 participants who were educated in nine post-socialist countries in eastern Europe (Hungary, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Slovakia, North Macedonia, Romania, Russia, Serbia and the Czech Republic) before their immigration to Canada, where their children attended elementary schools in the province of Ontario.

Parents were equally split between the supporters of academic rationalism and those who mostly follow social efficiency and humanism. Parents who share the belief that the main goal of schooling is to foster students’ interests, impart applied knowledge and prepare for the world of work, were mostly satisfied with their children’s education in Ontario. As a result, they adopted the normative parental involvement expected by teachers, which was mostly school-centred (volunteering, attendance of school events, fundraising). Outside of school, parents arranged sports extracurricular activities for their children.

Conversely, parents who believe that the school is the place to get access to academic knowledge (Muller & Young, 2019) and ‘classical’ culture were significantly less satisfied with their children’s educational experiences in Ontario. Such parents were critical of the curriculum, were not happy with parent–teacher communication, and could only be involved at home by purchasing additional textbooks and arranging tutoring for their children. Although, academic socialisation at home is more beneficial for children’s learning than school-based involvement (Jennings, 2007), challenges in parent–teacher communication place students at a disadvantage.

The curriculum orientations of parents matter, because when there is significant misalignment in the orientations adopted by parents and teachers, parental satisfaction with schools decreases. Importantly, parental school satisfaction mediates and enhances the positive effects of parental involvement (Hampden-Thompson & Galindo, 2016). Immigrant parents face a particular challenge as the differences in education systems between the home and host countries increase the chances of teacher–parent misalignment in curriculum orientations.

The practical implications of this study are obviously not to advocate for a single dominant curriculum orientation among parents and teachers, which would not be possible in a liberal democratic state with high levels of social diversity, but to increase awareness among teachers of the role that curriculum orientations play in parental involvement. This, in turn, will ensure better understanding of involvement practices among immigrant parents, which will make the adaptation of immigrant students to the new academic environment smoother and more successful. After all, parents always want a good education for their children (Vincent, 2017)!


This blog is based on the article ‘Curriculum orientations and their role in parental involvement among immigrant parents’ by Max Antony-Newman, published in the Curriculum Journal.


References

Antony-Newman, M. (2018). Parental involvement of immigrant parents: a meta-synthesis. Educational Review, 71(3), 362–381. doi:10.1080/00131911.2017.1423278

Antony-Newman, M. (2019). Curriculum orientations and their role in parental involvement among immigrant parents. Curriculum Journal. Advance online publication. doi.org/10.1002/curj.10

Czernisawski, G. (Ed.) (2019, July 5). Reimagining a curriculum for teacher knowledge [blog series]. London. Retrieved from https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog-series/reimagining-a-curriculum-for-teacher-knowledge

Eisner, E. W., & Vallance, E. (Eds.). (1974). Conflicting conceptions of curriculum. Berkeley, CA: McCutchan.

Hampden-Thompson, G., & Galindo, C. (2016). School–family relationships, school satisfaction and the academic achievement of young people. Educational Review, 69(2), 248–265. doi: 10.1080/00131911.2016.1207613

Jennings, W. (2017). The relationship between parental involvement and urban secondary school student academic achievement: A meta-analysis. Urban Education, 42(1). doi:10.1177/0042085906293818

Mills, M. (2019, July 10). Towards an understanding of curricular justice: A provocation [blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/towards-an-understanding-of-curricular-justice-a-provocation

Muller, J., & Young, M. (2019). Knowledge, power and powerful knowledge re-visited. Curriculum Journal, 30(2). doi:10.1080/09585176.2019.1570292

Priestley, M., & Philippou, S. (2019, May 10). Curriculum is – or should be – at the heart of educational practice [blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/curriculum-is-or-should-be-at-the-heart-of-educational-practice

Vincent, C. (2017). ‘The children have only got one education and you have to make sure it’s a good one’: Parenting and parent–school relations in a neoliberal age. Gender and Education, 29(5). doi.10.1080/09540253.2016.1274387

Wherry, J. (2004). The influence of home on school success. Principal, September/October 2004. Retrieved from https://www.naesp.org/sites/default/files/resources/2/Principal/2004/S-Op6.pdf