We started our journey with a simple, strong conviction. The betterment of Africa will only be achieved through millions of grassroots initiatives genuinely concerned with transforming humanity from childhood. This conviction became our goal. Driven by our conviction and research carried out, we have identified three aspects that need to be addressed in our African communities to bring about this transformation of humanity from childhood. These are lack of parenting skills, the impact of social and cultural norms that encourage antisocial behaviours and the poverty. We have come to refer to these three aspects as the “APEA tripod of transformative parenting”.
Zaslow & Eldred (1998) found in a study that there is need of parenting education to improve the academic and social performance of children. Secondly, Parental training is of importance, but it cannot be done in isolation. Sleek & Staff (1998) found in a research that, ‘improved parenting can lead to better child outcomes, but only if other needs in a family’s life are also addressed.’
By learning in community with other parents and using the power of that experience and knowledge, they will be able to make the change they need in their relationships with children and within their families. Poverty in the family brings about emotional distress that results in parenting characterised by insufficient surveillance, lack of control over the child’s behaviour, lack of warmth and support, inconsistency, and displays of aggression or hostility by parents or older siblings. To remedy this situation we have also included a programme to increase family income to enable parents succeed in their parenting duties.
Our belief is founded in a set of core values that inform our work and lives. To be effective, to create this transformation of Africa we must have integrity and be genuine. We respect the role of parents and caregivers, as well as the values of their community. We promote diversity of cultures, races, backgrounds and abilities. We learn by sharing and that means our approach is not traditional teaching, but learning in community and connectedness. We believe in justice and fairness and thus we treat all our partners and stakeholders with fairness. We are further inspired by the values and practices embodied in the concept of Ubuntu. Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes it in this way, “Ubuntu is the essence of being a person. It means that we are people through other people. We can’t be fully human alone. We are made for interdependence, we are made for family. Indeed, my humanity is caught up in your humanity, and when your humanity is enhanced mine is enhanced as well.”
Our movement away from fear, violence, disconnection, corruption, and abuse begins with reaffirming the humanity of children. Our future needs us to be willing to reflect on our cultural norms and practices as parents, and educators. For example, corporal punishment is the most common method of discipline in most African schools. According to a new study by the university of Toronto involving two private schools in a West African country children in a school that uses corporal punishment performed significantly worse in tasks involving executive functioning (psychological processes such as planning, abstract thinking, and delaying gratification) than those in a school relying on milder disciplinary measures. Even though corporal punishment is officially illegal in most African countries, teachers and parents still continue to use forms of punishment such as beating with a stick, slapping, and pinching as discipline.
Brain research and studies on child development have confirmed that robust programmes for parenting and early childhood development should begin during the first three years of life, especially to ensure that more fragile children will achieve a good and fair start in life. All parents in all cultures can benefit from up-to-date knowledge and supportive programmes designed to help them to respond appropriately to their children’s developmental needs.
From this conviction and knowledge, we formed an alliance. We named it the Alliance for Parenting Education is Africa (APEA). By using the word alliance we want to signal that we need all sectors of our society, our countries, to be involved in this change. And we need to connect across the world. It is not only in Africa that this change is needed. It is needed across the world. And we have the ability to learn from each other. We can take our mutual experiences and learn how to promote the values of Ubuntu in our parenting across the world. We are not separate nations, fighting against each other. The well-being of one person and one nation is the well-being of all people and all nations.
To achieve our goals, we are creating parent circles, study circles. Parents will come together in their communities. They will have the opportunity to share their experiences, thoughts and ideas, and they will learn more about the needs of children. This discussion of the developmental needs of children will take us beyond the cultural norms in place in our communities. By reconnecting to the humanness of children, the human needs of children, we can begin to empower parents to create families and homes where children are treated with dignity and respect.
Mindful of the fact that effective child-rearing cannot take place with only the parent it is our view that engaging other partners in child services such as teachers and nurses will create the best outcome. This is why together with our studies circles, we organise workshops for teachers on positive discipline and work with antenatal clinics to include presentations on child development and parenting education in antenatal classes.
To create a conducive environment for positive parenting, it is important to challenge cultural and social norms that encourage antisocial behaviours in children and youths. This is done by organising local leaders’ forums to discuss the consequences of such norms on our society and children in particular, and to dispel some misconceptions that lead to violence in children and women.
To buttress our activities we also reach children directly through peer education programmes for young people in schools and communities. Through these peer education programmes children learn about positive character development and are supported to overcome negative peer pressure. They also learn about various cultural and social norms that promote violence and antisocial behaviours.
In our study circles, we identify low income and unemployed parents, give them skills and start up micro-funding to establish their own businesses. We also coach them to sustain their businesses. We also connect them to employment opportunities by linking them to employers.