Caribbean Mothers must “be a voice” in education

New research highlights a damaging lack of understanding of Caribbean culture in schools and calls for Lambeth to establish a forum for parents to come together to support their children’s education.

A study for Lambeth’s Equality Commission interviewed Caribbean mothers in an effort to give them a direct voice in the debate. Black Caribbean children consistently under-achieve and there has been a plethora of research into the reasons. But the role of mothers has largely been ignored. This is despite 60 per cent of Caribbean children, three times the UK average, growing up with a single parent, usually a mother. The absence of fathers is often held up as dominant factor, but the single mothers in this study do not see it as a handicap. Indeed in most Caribbean households, whether one or two parent, “it’s the mother that sets that tone.”

The mothers in this study are committed to ensuring their sons get a good education and they are articulate about the barriers.  Lack of understanding of Caribbean culture is their major concern. It means teachers tend to interpret their sons’ behaviour and ability in an overly negative light.

”… children may say something or may do something a certain way and it’s looked upon as being rude when sometimes it’s just that it’s in their culture.”

“a British child and a Caribbean child may respond very similarly to a situation but you find that the British child may be looked upon as being confident where a Caribbean child may be seen as being rude.”

Mothers know their sons are stereotyped and that expectations are set lower than they should be.

“The standards were low but it wasn’t necessarily from the boys. It was from the teaching staff.”

They think teachers should receive training about the culture of the children they are teaching.

“it’s educating teachers and you want them to able to teach the next generation and to allow them to achieve because that’s the job of a teacher to show you your potential and to help you to unlock it and if their mind’s not right and if they’ve already got these pre-conceived ideas about you, you’re never gonna go beyond where they want you to go.”

The mothers in this study strongly believe in the need for more Caribbean parents to get involved in their children’s school.

“…it’s important to engage with the education system as women and I think that’s where a lot of families…in my opinion go wrong.”

“I think parental involvement…plays a huge role. You’ll find that African parents are more involved in their children’s education while Caribbean parents would sort of leave it to the school. I think educating parents and getting them involved…would help the Caribbean children to achieve more”

“You’ve gotta get involved, especially for the single mothers, they were the worst offenders…I know a lot of boys going through the system that are finding it hard…because parents, mothers in particular ….are not engaging.”

“If everyone’s sitting round going “ it’s unfair…”Life’s unfair. It’s always going to be unless you get yourself involved in things, in politics, in local government, in schools. You need to be a voice.”

The authors make a number of recommendations to the Council’s Equality Commission which is due to report in March.

In particular they argue that Lambeth should create an “Education Collective” for Caribbean parents. This would bring together existing resources, organisations, initiatives and ideas – including churches, schools outreach, homework and tuition clubs, mentors and role models –  and incorporate advice and guidance for parents and workshops on education and employment related subjects.

More information

The study authors Dr. Peace Ojimba – Baldwin and Abigail Melville are Lambeth residents, parents and former teachers. They interviewed six mothers and twelve boys during December and January. The research was undertaken on a voluntary basis as a contribution to the debate raised by Lambeth Council’s Equality Commission about under-achievement of Caribbean heritage boys.

Contact peaceojimba@googlemail.com for a copy of the full report.

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