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South African Journal of Education

On-line version ISSN 2076-3433
Print version ISSN 0256-0100

S. Afr. j. educ. vol.39  suppl.1 Pretoria Sep. 2019 



Taming the tide of achievement gap by managing parental role in learner discipline



Rudzani Israel Lumadi

Department of Educational Leadership and Management, College of Education, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa.




Parental involvement is germane and crucial to a child's well-being and development in later life. Involvement is subjective in nature and difficult to evaluate. The family is the primary cell of society where the child's upbringing commences at birth. This study focuses on the parental role in managing learner discipline with the aim of improving learner academic achievement and reducing educational inequities in underachieving schools. The question guiding this study is: how can parents as stakeholders in the school ensure that learners are disciplined for the school environment, in order to tame the tide of achievement gap? A qualitative empirical approach was employed in this study, with the semi-structured interview as the main data-collection instrument. Social cognitive theory underpinned the study to highlight the impact of the role of parents on learner discipline for improved performance in the school environment. Findings suggest that lack of disciplinary management skills may result in unruly behaviour, non-adherence to school rules and poor learner performance in school. This study reveals that parental involvement in children's education has a powerful impact on the attainment of positive results.

Keywords: academic performance; achievement gap; disruptive behaviour; learner discipline; management skills; managing; parental involvement; parental role; quality teaching and learning; well-being




In the current era of globalisation and technological revolution, education is considered to be a first step for every human activity. It plays a vital role in the development of human capital and is linked with an individual's well-being and opportunities for a higher standard of living and more beneficial lifestyle. It ensures the acquisition of knowledge and skills that improve productivity and enable individuals to improve their quality of life. This increase in productivity also leads to the creation of new sources of income, which enhances the economic growth of a country. The quality of student performance remains a top priority for educators. Parental involvement is a catch-all concept for various activities, including being a role model, providing guidance with homework, communicating with teachers, regularly attending school functions and participating in school governance (Dadds, 1987). When schools cooperate with families to support learning, learners tend to succeed, not just in school, but also throughout their lives.

Parental involvement plays a significant part in scholastic achievements and moral development, and in the creation of a healthy society (Lloyd-Smith, 2008). Learners' academic performance improves when parents actively engage in learning activities in schools (Castro, Expósito-Casa, López-Martin, Lizasoain, Navarro-Asencio & Gaviria, 2015). The parent-teacher relationship influences quality teaching, learning, and effective learner management, bearing in mind that as stakeholders in schools, parents require specific knowledge and skills to fulfil their role as disciplinarians. Similarly, by means of workshops and in-service training, schools should ensure that parents are empowered with the knowledge and skills needed to address disciplinary challenges. According to Catsambis (2011), disciplined schools will enhance learner discipline and lead to children achieving optimal learning at school. The parental role in the management of school discipline is a key factor in enhancing learner discipline and academic achievement.

There is a concern that learner discipline ought to be sensitive to the values of the particular school community, and that schools ought to meet societal expectations in terms of quality teaching and learning. Epstein (1991) is of the opinion that parents and guardians, through cooperation with schools, could help create effective collaborative partnerships that support holistic learner discipline. An effective, well-defined parental role creates a communication channel that is supportive of learners' school activities (Shakur, 2012). Schools face various challenges in meeting the needs of learners, such as curtailing poor learner discipline, which results in poor academic achievement. Henderson and Berla (1994) point out that improved school, family and community partnerships inarguably lead to improved academic learner attainment, self-esteem, school attendance and overall social behaviour among students. Learners actively engage with their school activities when their parents take an interest in children's schoolwork. Parent-teacher collaboration assists parents to build a social network in order to develop good relationships and understand the school culture (Fox & Olsen, 2014). However, cultural influences do not appear to affect learners' perceptions of parental involvement in school activities.

This study involves a brief review of the extant literature regarding parental role, where learner achievement is provided. The subtopics that follow provide a review of the literature: on the home and school contexts; the influence of quality teaching on learner discipline; managing discipline and learner behaviour; the role of learner discipline; the influence of the parental role in learner discipline; the parental role regarding learner behaviour; parent-teacher relations; and practices to reduce learner behavioural challenges. This study investigates parents' knowledge of learner management and discipline, which the literature argues is a pre-requisite for understanding their children's school activities and influencing learner academic achievement. The more parents become involved in the process of imparting education to their children, the more the children are likely to excel in their academic careers and become productive and responsible members of society. Parents who have a better understanding of their children's school activities actively engage in those activities (Hayes & Ju, 1998).

Literature Review

Home and school context

Educational services are often intangible and difficult to measure as their result is in the form of the transformation of learners' knowledge and life skills, and behaviour modifications. The home environment can play a part in children's disruptive behaviour, and parental support seems to help reduce disruptive behaviour by learners in schools.

According to Epstein (2001), families whose children excel at school exhibit the following characteristics:

  • They establish a daily family routine by providing time and a quite place to study with the children and assigning responsibility for household chores.

  • They monitor out-of-school activities, for example by limiting the time spent watching television, reducing time for playing and monitoring their children's friends.

  • They encourage their children's development and progress in school by maintaining a warm and supportive home environment, showing an interest in their progress at school, helping them with homework and discussing the value of a good education and a future career with them.

Henderson and Mapp (2002) studied 1,205 United State (US) children from kindergarten to Grade Three in a three-year longitudinal research pro-gramme. Teachers rated four forms of involvement: frequency of parent-teacher contact; quality of parent-teacher interaction; parents' participation in educational activities at home; and participation in school activities.

The influence of quality teaching on learner discipline

Teachers are expected to ensure that learners' ex-periences of professional and instructional skills related to the cultural contexts in which they are socialised. Effective school management enables teachers to be responsive to all learners (Kimaro & Machumu, 2015). A key issue in achieving quality in teaching is the selection of a method that will enhance learning and considers the learners' behaviour. Learner discipline results in good teaching and learning and therefore promotes learner performance. The role of parents is im-portant in directing learners to achieve good academic results. Creating an environment that is conducive to teaching and learning, leads to improved academic achievement. According to Stough and Montague (2015), teachers should plan their lessons and present them in accordance with their plans; if they do this, discipline and order will result. If teachers prepare learning activities thoroughly, they will keep their learners' attention and it will be easier to maintain order and discipline in the classroom. The thorough prepara-tion and effective presentation of learning activities will ensure the learners' attention, so that order and discipline will be maintained (Dupper, 2010). Parents undoubtedly have a role to play in the school administration in order to curtail poor learner discipline, which results in poor academic performance in schools.

Managing discipline and learner behaviour

According to Porumbu and Necsoi (2013), learners' behavioural challenges are mostly influenced by the actions of their parents, specifically the use of verbal and non-verbal punishment. A respectful approach by a competent, creative instructor and a specialist in a particular area may persuade learners to behave appropriately and may motivate their desire to learn and acquire the relevant knowledge and skills (Levin & Nolan, 2010:85).

Teachers have the responsibility to ensure that proper discipline is maintained in the classroom environment. They are accountable to develop and enforce classroom rules by showing respect for the values of society (Levin & Nolan, 2010). A school environment that is conducive to learning depends on a partnership with parents.

The role of learner discipline

Porumbu and Necsoi (2013) are of the opinion that learner discipline provides a method for modelling character and appropriate behaviour, and maintaining order and stability, and is aimed at helping learners to become well-adjusted members of society. With regard to being disciplined to meet social expectations and display self-control, learners seem to be motivated by rewards. Teachers should therefore motivate their learners by offering awards and incentives. Cooperative learning allows learners to effectively share knowledge and interact with peers and teachers (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016). A lack of learner discipline in schools seems to be the fundamental cause of the erosion of learning in schools. Self-discipline and the acceptance of discipline are considered as central to a positive learning culture (De Beer, 2012). Values, es-pecially those of acceptance and respect, play a significant role in learner discipline. Teachers are responsible for ensuring appropriate behaviour by reclaiming learners' attention when disruptive behaviour occurs. Omera Johnson (2013) claims that the role of learner discipline is to strike a balance between the cooperative and competitive factors in the school environment, which seems to be important in the classroom environment, where instruction is results driven. Discipline should equip the learners with the ability and willingness to act in a disciplined manner.

The parents' role in influencing learner discipline

Parental involvement is a key source of social capital, and learners benefit from such interactions. These interactions are also essential for learners as they develop and need guidance to achieve academic success (Porumbu & Necsoi, 2013). Parental involvement influences learners' schooling and teachers are responsible for encouraging such involvement by ensuring that effective comm-unication takes place between them and the parents (Lloyd-Smith, 2008). Inappropriate behaviour seems to take place when communication between the school and parents is focused on poor academic performance (Porumbu & Necsoi, 2013). Learners perform better academically when parents provide guidance and exercise discipline, and parent involvement promotes learner academic achieve-ment (Patall, Cooper & Robinson, 2008). Non-engaging parents may be less inclined than engaging parents to treat learner behaviour accomplishments as significant or to enhance the learners' sense of self-esteem through positive praise for proper behaviour. Parents who live exemplary lives may arguably present positive role models, which the learners perceive as attainable.

Parental role in learner behaviour

Parental involvement may result in an improvement in academic performance by reducing behavioural problems that interfere with learning (Dowdy, Twyford, Chin, DiStefano, Kamphaus & Mays, 2011). Parents who are involved in their children's schooling build relationships with teachers and other parents and learn about school policies and the challenges faced because of learner behaviour (Epstein, 1991). Communication between teachers and parents reduces disruptive behaviour and increases on-task behaviour. The most important benefit of parental involvement is enhanced learner achievement and good behaviour. Parental behaviour does have efficacy, but it is reinforced by their children's behavioural characteristics. Admirable parental behaviour and support for their children enhance proper behaviour by learners. Lane, Menzies, Oakes, Germer and Zorigian (2014) assert that teachers and parents should be natural allies as they have a common goal, which is to help the learners to achieve their true potential. Parents who are involved in their children's schooling tend to develop a positive attitude towards teachers. Parental values and culture are among the factors that influence learner behaviour (Kimaro & Machumu, 2015). By virtue of their parenthood, parents are the primary teachers of their children and should accept responsibility for their instruction and education. Pre-instruction beliefs show a relationship with post-instruction achieve-ments. Learners' persistence and success have been shown to be modifiable by transformed behaviours on the part of parents.

Parent-teacher relations

A genuine partnership must be developed between parents and teachers, and the parent-teacher relationship is one domain where it may be important to examine the roles of parents and teachers in ensuring and managing learner discipline. According to Thomson (2013:60), families who feel happy about the school will be active and engaged in parent-teacher conversations in order to create good working relationships. Sabol and Pianta (2012) maintain that interactions between parents and teachers are fundamental to learner academic performance and social development. Parents' views their role with teachers, and with regard to assisting their children to improve their academic performance, may be influenced by their own experiences as learners (Hill & Taylor, 2004). Parents and teachers should collaborate for the benefit of the children. It seems that where learners present behavioural challenges, many characteristics of conflicted parent-teacher relationships are evident, and negative interactions perpetuate this behaviour, which is associated with a decline in learner classroom interactions, poor academic performance, and disruptive discipline problems (Hill & Taylor, 2004). Parents should foster good relationships with teachers through involvement in school activities, since such good relationships improve learner discipline and enhance academic achievement. Quality teaching and learning take place when parents and the teachers in a learner's life have a common interest in helping the child to achieve his or her academic potential (Emerson, Fear, Fox & Sanders, 2012). Parental involvement in a child's learning activities at home provides good academic results (Toldson & Lemmons, 2013) and academic performance further improves when parents engage in managing learner discipline in schools (Castro et al., 2015). The absence of good parent-teacher relationships has a negative effect on the teacher's role in maintaining learner discipline.

Practices to reduce learner behavioural challenges

Parental intervention could help reduce learner behavioural challenges and improve teaching and learning (Epstein, 1991). Quality teaching and learning also seem to be supported in school environments where positive practices are employed with regard to learner behaviour support. The role of parents is to ensure that learner discipline is improved and to curtail disruptive behaviour by reinforcing disciplinary intervention programmes at schools. Parents should be encouraged to collaborate with teachers, so as to prevent and help them deal with acts of disruptive learner behaviour in schools (Trusty & Lampe, 1997). A shift from corporal punishment to effectively managed discipline can potentially promote the development of positive relationships. The strategy for learner discipline involves all stakeholders in schools. Mabea (2013) points out that a classroom code of conduct plays a very important role, and helps with the management of learner discipline in the classroom. Researchers have found that the implementation of policies to promote parental involvement activities in school is associated with appropriate learner discipline (Strickland, 2015). This paper examines the role of parents in ensuring discipline to promote quality teaching and learning in schools. Multimedia strategies can be effectively employed as interventions to promote learner discipline, which will assist teachers to adopt and achieve teaching and learning outcomes (Stough & Montague, 2015).

Implications of the role of parents in learner discipline

Epstein (2001) points out that learners are normally influenced by their parents and family members, and by their school environments. Parents play a significant role in determining the extent to which the home/family and school contexts can collaborate. Parent-teacher partnership influences learner discipline, and reduces learner behaviour problems in schools. Tan and Goldberg (2009) state that parental intervention improves learner discipline to prevent acts of violence, or to assist in dealing with such acts when they do occur. Parents who are, among other things, bad role models and avoid their parental accountability and responsibility, play a major role in their children's lack of discipline (Kabiru, 2006). In the same vein, positive reinforcement strengthens acceptable social behaviour. Parents who monitor, supervise and offer guidance to their children help to avoid disruptive behaviour in schools (Tan & Goldberg, 2009).

The impact of the parental role on learning outcomes

Parental involvement plays a vital role in the development and well-being of the children (Mabea, 2013), and parent-teacher partnerships motivate learners and boost their academic performance. Rafiq, Fatima, Sohail, Saleem and Khan (2013) found that positive parenting contexts have been documented to have positive learning outcomes for students.



The qualitative research method is appropriate for the descriptive nature of the current research. This was undertaken to understand the role of parents in ensuring learner discipline with a view to improving quality teaching and learning in schools. Data from parents' approaches to disciplining their children were collected by way of interviews and observations. Teachers too, as participants in the study, were interviewed to understand the role of parents in promoting disciplined behaviour in order to improve quality teaching and learning in schools.


Participation in this study was voluntary. The parents who were interviewed were residents of the Vhembe District in Limpopo, and were selected based on their availability. The participants attended a parents' meeting, during which they were asked to become involved in the study by responding to a number of questions. Of the 77 parents present, only one was not interested in contributing to the research. The respondents consisted of 36 male and 40 female parents, and the age distribution was as follows: 40 were between 25 and 30 years; 30 were between 31 and 40 years; and six were between 41 and 50 years of age. Gender, age and the participants' parental roles were used as dependent variables.

Data Collection and Analysis

The interviews recorded were analysed qualitatively. It became apparent from the analysis that parents have incessant interest in the education of their children. What distinguishes some parents from others is their unique ability to go beyond implicit and conventional norms of parental responsibility for the welfare of their children. The research question for this study was derived from literature and formulated by the researcher. The question posed was as follows: how can parents as stakeholders in the school ensure that learners are disciplined for the school environment, in order to tame the tide of achievement gap?

Data analysis was used as a framework to structure a team approach to focus-group data analysis and provide a framework for organising issues pertaining to qualitative analysis. In analysing the interviews, the researcher reflected on categories suggested by the questions presented to the respondents. The data analysis was based on a quantitative perspective.



Figure 1 shows that 40 (52.6%) of the parents were aged between 25 and 30 years, 30 (39.5%) were aged between 31 and 40 years, and six (7.8%) were between 41 and 50 years old. Therefore, they were all considered sufficiently knowledgeable to provide reliable information.

The participants were asked to comment on how, as parents, they contributed towards managing learner discipline and behaviour in schools. A total of 5% of the parents indicated that they did not become involved in managing learner discipline and behaviour; 20% reported only very little involvement; 10% stated they were involved; and 65% were very involved in managing learner discipline.

Figure 2 above shows that the majority 40 (53%) of the respondents were male, and 36 (47%) were female. It is evident from the figure that more or less equal numbers of male and female parents contributed to this study and shared their suggestions regarding the role of parents in promoting learner discipline in schools.

The majority of the participants (65%) strongly agreed that they are totally involved in managing learner discipline and behaviour to influence the culture of teaching and learning service. This was followed by 20% who agreed, 5% who disagreed, and 10% who strongly disagreed. The results indicate that most of the participants believed that a participative parental role in managing learner discipline in schools produce better academic results. A possible explanation for these responses may be previous experiences that had confirmed the benefits of parental involvement. A study of the relevant literature confirms that a participative parental role promotes the acquisition of new learner knowledge and competencies (Ormrod, 2009). Parenting approaches provide support in terms of managing learner discipline, thus ensuring quality teaching and learning in schools

The Roles of the Different Sexes in the Family Discipline at Home

The roles of the different sexes in the family discipline at home is to provide foundation for the development and wellbeing of the children (Gryczkowski, Jordan & Mercer, 2010). A father's role seem to be significant with respect to daughter behaviour, whereas a mother's role communicates equally to both boys and girls behaviour e.g. the father is an instrumental leader, and the mother is an expressive leader. The role of both (male and female) parents is to ensure that learner discipline is improved and to curtail disruptive behaviour by reinforcing disciplinary intervention programmes at schools. Both parents should monitor, supervise and offer guidance to their children to avoid disruptive behaviour in schools.

The late arrival of learners at school was the problem mentioned by most of the participants i.e., 27 (27%). Twenty respondents (20%) mentioned absenteeism; 13 (13%) reported bullying; seven (7%) referred to learners who steal other learners' belongings, and nine (9%) indicated that rude behaviour towards teachers was a problem. It seems as if, with regard to learner discipline, most schools experience similar problems.

The above table (see Table 1) provides a backdrop for identifying a broad frame of reference through which the issue of parental involvement can be dealt with. The level of involvement varies from parent to parent within the same context, as there may not be similar conditions between any of them. However, a high-level of involvement is one that is apparent to the members of the community. In this particular context, the parents of the school have considered the above case studies as ones that required high-level involvement.



The information illustrated in Table 2 above (see Table 2) indicates that parents play a major role in assisting learners to narrow the achievement gap in schools. Parental participation is reflected as follows: attendance of school meetings (51%); assistance with homework (76%); monitoring learners' school attendance (66%); limiting children's access to mobile phones (39%); ensuring that their children study at home (53%); parent-teacher partnership to promote learner discipline and performance (68%); and regularly controlling learner study materials (47%). Parents need to teach their children to be disciplined (Kabiru, 2006) and should establish healthy parent-teacher partnerships, which offer the most effective and efficient way to help learners to achieve better results. Parental involvement in education also aids learners' social functioning.



The percentage to several questions in Table 2 indicates that there is a wide variation among parents concerning how they perceive the education of their children. While most of the participants are committed to basic acts, such as attending parent-teacher meeting, supporting the children in homework, being proactive with the teachers for the welfare of their children, there were very few positive responses of parents on a higher level of involvement. In particular, 76% of parents appeared to be completely different from the rest of the participants, as is observable from their responses in this table.

Table 3 below presents the suggestions made by principals regarding parents' role in instilling discipline in their children as follows: understand the meaning behind the behaviour (71%); parents should focus on controlling their children (57%); children's access to mobile phones should be limited (45%); parents should ensure that their children study at home (55%); parents should become involved in a parent-teacher partnership to promote learner discipline (61%); and parents must be consistent with regard to their expectations (49%).




The research questions for this study were derived from literature and formulated by the researcher. The question posed was as follows: How can parents as stakeholders in the school ensure that learners are disciplined for the school environment, in order to tame the tide of achievement gap?

Research does in fact suggest that the home and school environments can play a significant role in influencing learner behaviour (Clark, 2002), and that parental involvement should be viewed as a powerful influence on the development of child-ren's behaviour. Parents are supposed to engage with their children's learning activities at home to improve their academic performance and play a major role in maintaining child behaviour according to their expectations (Mleczko & King-ton, 2013). The influence of parents on children's school achievements is well documented in numerous studies. Gadsden (2009) states that greater parental involvement at an early stage in children's schooling has a positive effect on both school performance and academic achievement.

Teachers should play major role in managing learner behaviour and they (teachers) should motivate the learners. Five percent of the parents indicated that they did not become involved in managing learner discipline and behaviour; 20% reported only very little involvement; 10% stated they were involved; and 65% were very involved in managing learner discipline. The results indicate that most of the participants believed that a participative parental role in managing learner discipline in schools produce better academic results. Parental roles promote the acquisition of new learner knowledge and competencies. Parental involvement in education also aids learners' social functioning.

The intention of the researcher was to bring forth an effective parental intervention strategy that would highlight appropriate behavioural strategies that parents may adopt to ensure learner discipline in schools. Following a qualitative approach, the researcher conducted interviews with parents to gather information to meet the research aim. The findings of the study were summarised according to the following categories: determine extent of lack of discipline; barriers that prevent parental intervention; lack of collaboration between parents and teachers; parenting to support education; traditional disciplinary approaches to punitive approaches; and parental participation in decision-making.


This study suggested that the efforts made by teachers to enable parents to support learners in order to improve learner discipline might produce quality teaching and learning. By implementing a proactive intervention programme, the role of parents should be to successfully manage learner discipline in schools. Parents should be trained to influence interaction, and actively engage in their children's education. Parents and teachers should engage in managing the development of learner discipline and curtailing poor learner discipline, which results in poor academic performance. The parent-teacher relationship ought to create a school environment that will ensure disciplined learner behaviour. Schools ought to develop learner discipline policies to promote social behaviour that results in social competencies.

Based on the findings of this study, it is recommended that parents should:

  • have a meaningful relationship with teachers that influences the effective management of learner discipline in schools;

  • participate in decision-making in the school;

  • support teachers in managing the social development of their children;

  • the home should be a socialising environment that is conducive to the growth and development of learners;

  • be actively involved in learner discipline;

  • provide safety and security measures to minimise inappropriate behaviour; and

  • be responsible and accountable for moulding their children's attitude and behaviour in the home environment.



A plethora of literature is available on the important role of parents in the teaching of learners at school. It became evident from this study that parental involvement for the education of their children can be evaluated through indicators, which may not be absolute in nature, but relative and contextual to the setting of the study. Research was conducted to examine the complex relationship between parental involvement and learners' academic performance, and in particular, to address issues of reverse causality and potential con-founding that may undermine the results of cross-sectional studies. Longitudinal studies that track parental involvement and youth academic performance over time may provide a more accurate picture of the relationship. Results from the study indicate that the involvement of parents at home and in school is a statistically significant predictor of youth academic performance, but in different directions. At-home involvement is positively associated with academic performance, while in-school involvement has negative associations. The results may indicate that, at home, parents should monitor homework and encourage learners to strive to achieve their goals, which were shown to have a positive effect on learners' academic performance.

Findings further suggested that parental involvement is a dimensional construct, consisting of home and school involvement. The effect of parental involvement on learner academic performance appears to depend on the type of involvement. Home-based parental involvement is positively associated with academic performance, while school-based parental involvement has a negative association. Research indicates that once other factors regarding learners' attitudes and performance have been removed from the equation, the role of parents has an important effect on learners' discipline and academic achievement. Parents can instil discipline by helping their children to develop competencies for social and academic success. Education is essential for the development of society. The more educated the members of a society are, the more civilized and well disciplined the society is likely to be. Family has a responsibility to socialise children to help them become productive members of society. The more the parents become involved in the education of their children, the more the children might excel in their academic careers and become productive and responsible members of society. Research intervenes to enhance the parental role by developing parent programmes designed to promote the social health required for effective parenting. It is believed that parents' ability to instil discipline in their children is the basic component in maintaining appropriate supportive behaviour. Parents play a key role in improving learners' discipline and engagement in schools, especially in the case of learners experiencing discipline challenges (Kendziora & Osher, 2009).



i . Published under a Creative Commons Attribution Licence.



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Received: 13 March 2018
Revised: 6 September 2018
Accepted: 28 February 2019
Published: 30 September 2019

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