For African parents, education is paramount
2018-09-01 17:11:20 -

By Doris Abuchi-Ogbonda


Whether for the Leaving Cert or Junior Cert, exam results determine the next stage in life for our young people. They represent a bridge from the youth to the adult world. Much credit should be given to the teachers entrusted with the education of our children, the hopeful next decision-makers in the world. Teachers’ contribution in shaping future leaders, thinkers, inventors and more are enormous, and should be highly valued to the extent that their reward is in heaven.

Apart from teachers, the other significant influences in a child’s education are the parents. The value of education to an African parent in particular is huge, and crucial in the expectation for a better life both for the parent and the child.

Let me note that this is more so for the African parent who is not educated and has experienced all the attendant challenges related to it. All said, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, it is most African parents’ desire that their children be educated.

African parents here in Ireland have different tales to tell as to what motivated them to move here. In many cases, it’s the search for the ‘golden fleece’ for their children: the opportunity for better education for a more prosperous life. From my work with and within African communities and groups, the popular refrain is the wish for their children to get at the minimum a university degree. The exceptions are rare, even in the face of paying huge non-EEA fees. Often, less expensive pathways are taken, or parents work night and day at whatever is thrown at them to ensure their child progresses. The children themselves are often as determined to work to support themselves while pursuing their education.

However, things do not always go as hoped or expected. My own interactions have revealed deep distraught and heartbreak when a child decided to follow a different path from that desired by their parents, who are left desperately seeking for answers on where or how they got it wrong.

This sense of failing in a crucial aspect of parenting needs to be addressed. Africans see education as very crucial to success. Here in Ireland, it is said that attaining a certain educational level alone impacts on the class system, such that a person from a working class background by that singular achievement automatically moves up a notch into middle class. So, not only is education a class-changer, it is an important value for living a successful life. It confers social status. It is a pointer to earning a higher income.

When African parents’ expected outcome is achieved by their child, the huge celebrations are testament to the value African parents attach to education, and the overriding joy of the sheer hope of rewards to come. It is then that the saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ comes true.

When it goes another way, for some parents this is their worst nightmare. For a child to choose not to go to university because they feel it is a waste of time, after choosing to withdraw after spending many years at their studies, it is unconscionable. Even in secondary school, taking a subject at a lower level is a bitter pill to swallow and African parents will do all they can to reverse the situation. Within communities and in conversation with parents, what is also emerging is a sense of parents who are accused of pushing their children beyond their academic abilities out of the shame of what their community might think.

From my own discussions, I see a need for parents to be guided by someone they consider as having more insight into what the consequences of not gaining an education bodes for an African migrant child in Ireland today, and the need for some trusted person to engage the child in conversation. This is where I find the need for coaching to be most useful to both parents and children, in providing much needed support to make informed choices, but also support parents to work with their children to minimise the despair, frustration and anger that may exist.

Doris Abuchi-Ogbonda works in the area of social inclusion and integration. She is a seasoned community leader and undertakes coaching in her spare time.

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