The International Day of Families is held on 15 May every year. This year the United Nations has decided to focus on parents as the primary educators of their children. The message of the year does not only acknowledge parents as educators and emphasise the crucial role parents play in the education of their children, but also calls the attention of policy makers to the importance of empowering parents as well as offering them conditions for balancing work and family life. The European Parents’ Association has been advocating exactly for this for more than 30 years and this was also why we fostered the establishment of the International Parents Network, a global network of people – parents and non-parents alike – who wish to act for parents and with parents to ensure parents’ rights for the best interest of the child. Parent activist all over the world warmly welcome the official message of the UN highlighting the “vital role of parents in safeguarding good quality education starting with early childhood and extending throughout their children’s and grandchildren’s lifespan”.
Parents as primary educators mean two subsequent and interlinked things. Parents are the first educators of their children, and thus should be able to offer them a good start in life. A good start in life is crucial for well-being, and is also crucial not only for physical, but also for social, emotional and cognitive development in later ages. A good start is best provided by parents in the framework of the home and the family – in this the UN message echoes the recent early childhood policy paper of the European Parents’ Association. Part of this good start is the education and care provided by parents. There is also solid research evidence on parents having the largest impact on the learning outcomes of their children as well as their attitude towards learning – this is the other element of being a primary educator. It is also scientifically proven that taking ownership of their own learning is probably the only way for children to become apt lifelong learners. Thus, it is clear from research that those drafting the UNCRC were right in their approach of putting all responsibilities to parents as well as recognising children as full-fledged rights holders with special needs to ensure their rights.
The primary demand of parents’ associations has been for decades that parents must be given freedom to make decisions for their children, governments must provide adequately for empowering the parents for these decisions, and that their decisions should not be restricted by any financial constraints or legislative measures. It is important that governments and the EU understand diversity and adapt systems to that. It needs high level commitment to provisions and also the systematic application of the principle of subsidiarity. It should also be a principle to give space for the voice of children in a balanced way to ensure parents’ rights at the same time.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) has been ratified by all member states of the European Union, and all countries of the world except the USA. It clearly regulates the rights, duties and responsibilities of parents with regards to the education of their children, and also gives the legal basis for child participation. The ‘best interest of the child’ should be the guiding principle when regulating, organising or carrying out anything related to children from child care and education to the empowerment of parents and teacher training.
To support parents in their decision making for their children and in their job as primary educators, governments and the European Union should support the sharing of information and knowledge on good parenting, offer financial provisions for parents’ training, especially peer training, rather than training provided by others. It should start during pregnancy, when parental training should be as wide-spread as medical preparatory classes. It is important to ensure training and information relevant to the age of children to get the most important messages reach parents.
It is also crucial for government to understand that the well-being of children is strongly linked to the well-being of parents, and balancing work and family life is crucial for this. Policies and measures that are aiming at reconciling work and family life should be at the heart of government and international policies. Parents’ access to work is an important part of the solution of getting children out of poverty and social exclusion, but jobs alone are not enough. It is also very important to have a rights-based approach to reconciliation as a whole and measures taken allowing real free choice.
It is crucial to invest in training, employment schemes and parenting support programmes that can raise not only parents’ qualifications and employability but also help build their parenting skills, their confidence and overall well-being and improve children’s outcomes. Support for families should be approached in such a way that it recognises children as social actors outside of the family. Children have rights on their own and they cannot always be identified with those of their parents. However, all support is to be provided for parents enabling them to carry out their rights, duties and responsibilities in supporting their children in exercising their rights.
Rights base for parental involvement in formal education
The UNCRC very clearly gives all responsibility for the upbringing of children to the parents – or guardians if there are no parents. It means that as long as the court does not deprive parents of their right to custody, all rights and duties related to this, including the education of their children is with the parents and the parents only. Institutions, like schools, are only supporting parents in this task. This support is also an obligation for states to provide the necessary support to parents, partly, but not solely by setting up institutions like schools or offering financial support to families.
This has many implications and here I list only a few of them:
- Regardless of what national legislation says about it, it is the parents’ decision if and when they send their children to school, to participate at formal education
- If they decide to do so, their duties and responsibilities do not end with choosing a school and do not stop at the school door
- Parents have the right to know all aspects of school life and thus either opt out of school if they don’t like what they get or, in an ideal case, to have the institutional framework for changing those elements from curriculum and teachers to the arrangement of the school day/year
- It is necessary to set up communication channels and representative bodies for the parents to be able to participate in decision making on group and class level as well as on school level
- It is beneficial if there is a bottom up representative of parents on national level that ensures that the parents’ voice is heard on legislative levels and also acts as a child rights watchdog
- It is a must to empower and train parents for all these duties
- Schools and professional educators – hand-in-hand with other professionals working with families from the birth of the child – have a role in this training and empowerment process
- Parents are to be acknowledged as the primary educators of their children by professionals, and thus treated as respected peers, even if with a slightly different role, by teachers and other professionals
The European Parents’ Association (EPA) gathers the parents’ associations in Europe which together represent more than 150 million parents. EPA works in partnership both to represent and give to parents a powerful voice in the development of education policies and decisions at European level. In the field of education, EPA aims to promote the active participation of parents and the recognition of their central place as the primary responsible of the education of their children.
The main objectives of EPA are:
- to promote and advocate for the active involvement of parents as primary educators at all stages of the education of their children,
- to support parents’ associations and individual parents for stakeholder involvement in different European countries by offering opportunities for training, cooperation and exchanging information,
- to support the highest possible quality of education for all children in Europe especially by active involvement in EU-level policy development and assessment
- to disseminate relevant European information among its members
Contact: Eszter Salamon, President president [at]
The International Parents Network was established as a sister organisation of EPA on 1 May 2016 with the ambition to establish a global forum and global lobby group for parents and on issues for parents. Our aim is to start an online discussion, a sharing of knowledge, relevant research and experiences, as well as trying to trigger further research and lobby together for policy change.
The network covers the following topics:
- supporting parents to become the best educators of their children
- post-PISA: increasing parental involvement in formal education for thinking and acting together for education suitable for 21st century children
- fighting illiteracy, promoting reading
- equal opportunities for girls and women, education of girls and mothers
- supporting parents in becoming the main advocates of the rights of the child
- the right to mother tongue and mother culture, even for migrants
- digital literacy and living in the digital age
- empowerment for active citizenship and participation
- fighting xenophobia, hate speech, exclusion, supporting inclusion for a peaceful future
Contact: InternationalParentsNetwork [at]