COVER STORY: by Warwick MarshNews Weekly
Fatherhood -- the missing part of the education puzzle
, February 1, 2014
Australia’s educational standards are dropping, and yet Australians on a median basis are among the wealthiest people in the world (The Australian, October 9, 2013).
Is spending more money on education the answer? Or is something else the missing part of the education puzzle?
Educational experts in Australia have argued in favour of governments spending billions more dollars on education to help Australia return to its previous high educational standards (The Australian, December 4, 2013).
Ten years ago Australia was among the top 10 in the world for attainments in maths, science and reading, but has now fallen in rank to 19th place in maths, 16th in science and 13th in reading.
These statistics are all the more embarrassing when we realise that China, which is number one in maths, science and reading in the world, spends less than Australia does on education as a percentage of GDP.
Australia spends 4.5 per cent on education, whereas China has only just reached its goal of 4 per cent of GDP on education.
Australia is spending more money than ever before on education but is falling further behind.
Late last year, The Australian reported the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)’s recent findings as follows: “Australian teenagers’ reading and maths skills have fallen so far in a decade that nearly half of them lack basic maths skills and a third are practically illiterate” (The Australian, December 4, 2013).
Could it be that the increased levels of fatherlessness and family breakdown are major contributors to our declining educational standards?
More than 40 per cent of Australian students reported that “family demands” interfered with their schoolwork. Could it be that these “family demands” reflect the fact that over a million Australian children will go to sleep tonight without their biological father in the home?
For many other children, Dad is physically present in the home but emotionally absent. Work demands may preclude his proper involvement, or maybe he is unable to connect because of his own inadequacies as a father.
Fatherlessness in Australia is expressed in many different ways.
The ever-increasing rate of family break-up is hidden in the normal statistical reports because of the massive rise of cohabitation in Australia.
As Bettina Arndt reported last year, cohabiting couples with children are three times as likely to break up as are married couples with children (Australian Spectator, June 22, 2013).
An unintended consequence of couples breaking up is always an increase in the level of fatherlessness.
The high rate of fatherlessness in Australia closely correlates with the current 43 per cent of marriages which end in divorce.
Australia has twice the number of divorces experienced by China. The rate of family break-up among the Chinese is only 22 per cent.
Having personally visited China, I know that family is very important to Chinese mothers and fathers. Chinese fathers in particular are very supportive of and involved in their children’s academic careers.
In contrast, the rate of fatherlessness in the United States is observably higher than it is in Australia, which in turn is reflected in the even lower academic achievement levels of its students.
In contrast, studies have shown that children with involved fathers will achieve higher grades and have better linguistic and cognitive capacities as well as higher IQs.
In 2001, a U.S. Department of Education study found that children with highly involved biological fathers were 43 per cent more likely than other children to score mostly “A” grades, and 33 per cent less likely than other children to repeat a grade.
A study of 1,330 American children, by the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), showed that fathers who are involved on a personal level with their child’s schooling increase the likelihood of their child achieving higher scores (Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, Vol. 26, Issue 2, March-April 2005).
When fathers assume a positive role in their child’s education, the child feels a positive impact.
A Melbourne University study of 212 children found that fathers, even more than mothers, had a major beneficial influence on children in their first year of school. It found that children with regular father involvement were more cooperative and self-reliant in school than children who lacked father involvement.
The more regular involvement the father has with the child, the study’s author said, the better the child does in his or her first year of school (The Age, Melbourne, October 5, 2002).
One study of school-aged children found that children with good relationships with their fathers were less likely to experience depression, exhibit disruptive behaviour or lie and were more likely to exhibit pro-social behaviour.
This same study found that boys with involved fathers had fewer behavioural problems at school, and that girls with involved fathers possessed stronger self-esteem.
In addition, numerous studies have found that children living with their fathers are more likely to have good physical and emotional health, to perform well academically, and to avoid drugs, violence and delinquent behaviour (Office on Child Abuse and Neglect, U.S. Children’s Bureau, 2006).
So perhaps we need to learn from the experience of the mothers and fathers of China, that family and fatherhood are the missing pieces of the education jigsaw.
If we are to solve the problem of falling educational standards, we must also invest in the restoration of fatherhood.
All the money in the world cannot replace the benefits of committed and involved mothers and fathers, equipped to raise the next generation.
As author and psychologist Steve Biddulph has said, “Love grows the brain.”
Warwick Marsh, along with his wife of 38 years, Alison, founded the Dads4Kids Fatherhood Foundation in 2002. They live in Wollongong, NSW, and have five adult children and five grandchildren. In 2001 Warwick received the Centenary Medal from the Governor-General for his work in Aboriginal reconciliation, youth and music.