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Blog post Part of special issue: Covid-19, education and educational research

Empowering marginalised parents to undertake home-schooling during Covid-19

Olivene Burke, Executive Director at The University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica

The strains on the education system caused by the Covid-19 pandemic have forced many parents to have to contend with significant changes in their daily routines. A study of seven countries in Europe conducted by Thorell et al (2021) found that contact with teachers was limited, leaving parents in some countries with the primary responsibility of managing home-schooling. As a result, some parents/guardians are playing a major hands-on role in their children’s online education. In developing countries with marginalised communities, such as Jamaica, mobile phones, tablets and internet services are limited, which makes it increasingly difficult for parents to provide the same learning opportunities for their children as their counterparts in more advantaged communities. While there are many studies of the medical consequences of Covid-19, little is known about the experiences of home-schooling (Bubb & Jones, 2020), especially in marginalised communities during this pandemic.

‘While there are many studies of the medical consequences of Covid-19, little is known about the experiences of home-schooling, especially in marginalised communities during this pandemic.’

A Jamaican community profile carried out by local community development authorities showed that approximately 60 per cent of parents from marginalised communities have not completed high school and are unemployed or underemployed (SDC, 2013). Consequently, literacy challenges and socioeconomic status would render these parents unable to adequately provide home-schooling. Yet many of these parents have been thrust into the role of custodians of home-schooling, without the help of even basic instructions.

In 2008 a structured University of the West Indies (UWI) civic intervention programme was implemented in Jamaican marginalised communities following previous research conducted by Burke (2019, pp. 134–137). Since the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020, the programme incorporated a Covid-19 civic response in May to build the home-schooling resilience of parents in nearby communities. The response comprised: parent teaching and learning; capacity building in entrepreneurship; and technology enhancement.

A total of 100 parents reading at or below fifth-grade level was identified and placed in an Adult Enrichment Programme (AEP). The UWI AEP offered parents opportunities to learn and earn which enabled them to cope with the realities of their situations. The AEP was administered in four stages through the Mona Social Services, which is the civic and outreach unit of UWI.

First, the AEP was designed to build the literacy capacity of parents through elementary reading and writing. Concurrently, the programme encouraged parents to set goals with their children for learning together, which meant that the children were able to see their parents engaging in similar educational activities. Where access to a device was an issue, the child had priority use. Otherwise, parent and child would work, take breaks and do fun things together to encourage building parent–child relationships. Parents were also assisted with their children’s work through a homework programme. This strategy motivated parent and child, and improved bonding and learning together.

Second, parents’ capacity was developed through training in how to use technology to manage learning platforms such as Google Meets. Understanding the platforms was necessary for parents to assist children via media through which schoolwork was transmitted. Especially for the children between ages three to nine years, parental assistance was essential. As parents’ proficiency improved and their home-schooling capacity was boosted, their anxiety that the children were missing out on schooling reduced.

Third, the issue of managing stress as parents navigated home-schooling was addressed. Some parents expressed embarrassment at being unable to assist their child and were conscious of their economically depressed living conditions when children were required to turn on videos. Training in Zoom that facilitated video-conferencing enabled contact with friends and family for assistance with assignments, virtual playdates and other social meetings. Such activities further helped parents and children to feel connected, thereby reducing stress.

In the final stage, parents’ entrepreneurial skills were developed to counteract lost earnings. Training in online business development and marketing (which is being hosted in site) provided the opportunity for income generation from established ventures – for example making and selling face masks. Proceeds allowed parents to purchase devices and data for home-schooling and overcome food and job insecurities.

The UWI’s AEP programme was successfully implemented in six marginalised communities. It has enhanced parents’ literacy capacity to assist their children’s education and provided them with lifelong skills for navigating an evolving world. Additionally, parents’ earning ability was enhanced which helped to empower them to confront home-schooling with less trepidation. The AEP programme has the potential to be replicated in other similar communities.


Bubb, S., & Jones, M. (2020). Learning from the COVID-19 home-schooling experience:             Listening to pupils, parents/carers and teachers. Improving schools, 23(3), 209–222.

Burke, O. (2019). Mona Social Services: Engaging and developing communities through outreach. In Research for development: Driving social and economic development (pp. 134–137). University of the West Indies.

Social Development Commission [SDC]. (2013). August Town community profile. Kingston and St Andrew Parish Office.

Thorell, L. B., Skoglund, C. B., de la Peña, A. G., Baeyens, D., Fuermaier, A., Groom, M., … Christiansen, H. (2020). Psychosocial effects of home-schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic: Differences between seven European countries and between children with and without mental health conditions. European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.