The real contribution of parents in our education system – the Human Factor wants you to rethink your thinking

Ultimately, there are only two ways to improve the world – through technology and through behaviour change. The DG Murray Trust (DGMT)’s annual publication, the Human Factor, focuses on the latter. In its first issue released in 2018, the Human Factor informed and stimulated important conversations about teaching in South Africa. By giving the facts – both good and bad – and sharing the voices of teachers from some of the most deprived schools in the country, it brought to the fore what it’s really like to be a teacher in South Africa today.

The second issue of the Human Factor, released this month, once again challenges South Africans to rethink the role of parents in their children’s education. Entitled ‘The heart of parenting – how the alchemy of love, hope and fear prepares children for life’, this issue explores the power of parents as the first educators of their children and their right to continue to champion their children’s education throughout schooling. It also identifies what takes that power away.

“We nourish education through love, care and stimulation,” says Dr David Harrison, CEO of DGMT, whose article ‘A gut instinct for learning’ explores the strong biological drivers of our actions for our children. Pointing out that parents’ support for their school-going children should not be measured by whether they can and do help with homework, he argues: “Parents enable the development of critical neurological scaffolding and personal attributes in a child that enable effective education. This is the
true contribution of parents to the education system and they should be valued and acknowledged for it.”

Both parents and educators should understand that education is not just about achievement – it’s about the development of the child as a whole. In the article, ‘More than involved, empowered’ journalists, Jess Nicholson and Lwazi Hlanga show how our school systems often disempower or cut parents out of the process of developing and educating their children, but also how several initiatives have found ways to draw them back in.

One of the ways in which parents can enhance their power is by forming strong networks with other parents, however, to really connect with others requires a willingness to be vulnerable and to share frankly. In ‘The moments we become parents’, six parents lead by example and share their personal stories of love, hope and fear in key moments of becoming parents. “To parents who recently discovered they have a special needs child: what you are facing is real, and it is hard, but you must know you are not broken, you will bounce back. I know now that having an autistic child is not a tragedy, but an opportunity. That is my message,” shares Professor Nokhanyo Mdzanga from the Faculty of Education at Nelson Mandela University, whose story takes us on her journey of coming to terms with her son’s autism.

Throughout the issue readers get the opportunity to reflect on everyday examples of resilience – the ability to not only survive the tough times, but to emerge from them stronger; an ability created by very simple yet powerful factors that social scientists call ‘ordinary magic’. As visual artist Wandie Mesatywa’s essay in particular shows, the ordinary magic provided by parents and other caring adults can enable children to thrive despite poverty and adversity – an empowering and hopeful fact that every South African parent/caregiver should know. “I read somewhere that ‘the way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice’ – the way my mom treated me back then not only shaped who I grew up to be, but also shaped how I have come to treat others,” says Mesatywa, who unpacks the concept of ‘ordinary magic’ in very practical terms by sharing her own story of becoming resilient.

The Human Factor will be distributed within civil society and the early childhood development and education sectors. An electronic copy can be downloaded from DGMT’s website and printed copies will be distributed on request. You can request a copy via our Human Factor webpage, or you could write to The distribution of the Human Factor comes with an incentivised challenge to schools and School Governing Bodies where a number of grants will be awarded to implement the best ideas to ‘makeover’
the way we involve parents in school education. Schools can visit for details.

DGMT is a South African foundation committed to developing South Africa’s potential through public innovation and strategic investment. Our goal for South Africa is a
flourishing people, economy and society (

Date published: 
Tuesday, 12 November, 2019

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