THE IMPORTANCE OF SCHOOL CLIMATE: FORMAL SCHOOL EFFORTS AND INFORMAL ATTITUDES TOWARD PARENTAL PARTICIPATION IN EDUCATION IN SOUTH EASTERN EUROPE
The analysis presented here focuses on the institutional determinants of parental participation in the context of the educational systems of South Eastern Europe. The importance of analyzing this phenomenon is particularly significant in this region given crucial differences between the indigenous educational systems, and those of the US or UK, from where most results in the literature focusing on this topic originate. Given the particular challenges posed by the transition from the rigid and hierarchical educational systems predominant in the region (e.g., curriculum changes, extent of decentralization, assessing competences, teacher quality etc), parental involvement has largely been ignored as a potential source of support for the school in the various waves of reform since 1990. This is all the more worrying as a host of studies, originating mainly from the US, have identified clear benefits for the students of parental involvement in school, from improvements in test scores and general attitude toward school, to lower rates of dropping out, and a better record of class attendance.
By starting from the concept of “school climate”, understood as the dominant patterns of interaction between teachers or school administrators and parents (e.g. authoritarian, disengaged), the study attempts to ascertain the influence of the school environment on the extent of parental involvement in education. This analysis is made possible by a unique dataset collected in 2009 by the Educational Support Program of the Open Society Institute, Budapest, comprising 9600 respondents from 10 countries in South Eastern and Eastern Europe: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania and Serbia. Apart from registering the opinion of parents on issues of participation in the context of the school, the survey also reaches principals from the same schools with questions about institutional openness toward parental participation. This data structure offers considerable insight into a variety of factors that might be responsible for the observed levels of parental involvement.
Given this valuable opportunity, the study uses hierarchical linear models for the 10 countries in the sample, so as to take full advantage of the information in the dataset. Focusing on an individual’s extent of participation in the context of the school, the models include both individual-level socio-economic and attitudinal factors, as well as school-level factors. The results indicate that there is, indeed, a consistent effect of structural factors on parental participation, complemented by an individual one, of self-efficacy. Parents who encounter a welcoming environment in the school of their children are more likely to participate, as are those who believe they are capable of participating effectively. The findings suggest that stimulating parental involvement in school is a challenging goal, given the need to tear down both institutional barriers and perceptions regarding the ability of parents to provide an added value to the educational process. A few suggestions are offered in the concluding section as to how parents might gradually be accustomed to providing input in the context of the school, and the conditions under which this might lead to empowerment.