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Can parents double as teachers during COVID-19?

Micah Cruz 8 September 2021

New research sheds light on the challenges guardians faced as they stepped in as  primary educators during school closures in the Philippines. Our team offers policy recommendations to better support them.

Photo by Yusril Permana Ali from Unsplash

Photo by Yusril Permana Ali from Unsplash

With countries implementing remote learning in response to the spread of COVID last year, guardians—whether parents or other caregivers—had to play a more active role in their children’s education than ever before. Although people in the Philippines understood the rationale for implementing remote learning, they were concerned about whether students were still learning effectively.

After conducting a process evaluation of the Functional Literacy Program (FLP) of Teach for the Philippines (TFP), IDinsight gathered initial evidence on the limitations and capabilities of guardians as proxy educators. 


The FLP’s goal is to help public school students improve their early reading and math skills, particularly those who are behind their grade level. In previous years, the FLP was a school-based program implemented by TFP’s Teacher Fellows, but with the Department of Education’s (DepEd’s) decision to implement remote learning nationwide, TFP had to redesign the program. Instead of Fellows, guardians were expected to lead student instruction. The support guardians received from Fellows depended significantly on the modality of the lessons. which could be through paper-based modules, SMS, or online chat.

In designing the program to be largely reliant on guardians, TFP assumed that students had guardians who would and could help them with their lessons—a justifiable presumption—since the FLP is voluntary, and guardians willingly enrolled their children—and themselves—into the program. 

At the end of the program, we conducted a phone survey 1 of guardians. The majority were parents—specifically mothers—but some were siblings (including minors), other relatives, and even family acquaintances. Most students (59%) had more than one guardian helping them with lessons. Access to technology varied so the FLP used various modes: 45% of students had chat-based lessons; 48% were fully offline and used paper-based modules; and 7% took part in SMS-based lessons.

Our main findings, below, focus on the availability of guardians, their ability to assess student performance, and their attitudes towards learning and education. 2

1. Although guardians allocate a significant amount of time to students’ lessons, most were unable to entirely focus on teaching due to other responsibilities in the household.

Guardians weren’t given a set number of hours to commit to FLP lessons, but TFP expected them to devote about five hours to the program each week. Despite also helping students with their regular schoolwork and having other household responsibilities, surprisingly, 75% of guardians were able to allot more than 4.88 hours to FLP lessons each week, with 50% allocating six hours or more. This result implies that guardians were indeed able to allocate time to teach students. 

However, when asked about how they conducted the lessons, only 11% of guardians said that they were completely focused on teaching. Figure 1 shows that most respondents had to split time between lessons and other responsibilities, with 22% saying that they could only help when they had spare time because of more urgent/pressing responsibilities.

Figure 1. Level of focus of guardians during lessons

2. Guardians tend to overrate students’ skills and may not be aware of how much support students need to improve.

We used two sources of information to understand student performance: we asked guardians to rate their children’s performance on certain competencies and we also analyzed test scores from the FLP assessment. Comparing the guardian ratings and the results of the FLP assessment in Figure 2, we find that guardians consistently overestimated how well their students would perform. 

If guardians don’t have an accurate measure of how students are performing, then they might not focus enough on ensuring that their children learn the lessons.

Figure 2. Comparison of guardians’ assessment of students’ skills and performance in the endline assessment


3. Most guardians cared about the quality of their students’ schoolwork  but a majority also supported mass grade promotion.

Our survey results showed that most guardians wanted to make sure that their students did their assignments well: 64% disagreed that assignments could be submitted with many mistakes, and 60% said that they regularly reviewed their students’ assignments before submission. It seemed that high-quality work was  important to guardians.

We also asked guardians how they felt about mass grade promotion, which is a policy to promote all students to the next grade level, including those performing poorly in school. In asking this question, we aimed to understand  how much guardians valued children acquiring the necessary skills and competencies for their current level before they moved to the next grade. We found that, despite putting importance on high-quality work, 68% of guardians agreed to mass grade promotion (Figure 3). 

Figure 3. Support for mass grade promotion


This finding requires further research, but we think it provides a starting point to understand guardians’ priorities. Although support for mass grade promotion can be indicative of guardians not emphasizing learning sufficiently, it could also be due to guardians not understanding the importance of students having baseline competencies in their current grade level to be able to do well in the next. This is of particular concern, because international assessments in the last few years showed that 80% of Filipino students do not meet the minimum proficiency levels in their grade

Policy Recommendations

Our research shows that even though most guardians who participated in the FLP were ready to take on the responsibility of teaching, they faced challenges that could be mitigated in the future. Recognizing this, we recommend the following:

  • Assess the level of focus different subjects and competencies required.

Some subjects and/or competencies may require more focused  instruction for children to develop their skills. Given that 65% of guardians were not able to prioritize or fully focus on lessons, it is important to review the level of focus that is needed from guardians for different competencies and determine what can be learned by students independently.

  • Provide guidance to guardians on where to focus if time with students is limited.

Since guardians are often multitasking, it would help to guide them on what to prioritize during lessons. A few examples of how to do this are: 1) conduct weekly discussions with guardians on what to prioritize for that week’s lessons, and 2) provide guidance on how to address students’ weaker subject areas more effectively.

  • Provide guardians with tools to accurately track and assess student performance.

Guardians may overestimate student performance and may not be focused on further development of knowledge and skills. Closely working with guardians on how to assess students and giving them tools to track performance could help them be more aware of their children’s gaps. Teaching guardians to pay attention to children’s development of skills and competencies can help emphasize the importance of learning. 

We believe that our findings and recommendations can be informative to policymakers who are considering how to improve instruction in the remote learning context. By understanding the challenges guardians face, we hope that initiatives can be developed to support them more effectively.

  1. 1. Our study is limited by its small sample size: we were only able to interview 242 guardians in total. The results are also biased towards guardians of students who stayed in the program. However, this bias should not affect our headline findings since the issues mentioned above are likely prevalent in the dropout population as well.
  2. 2. In our discussion of findings, we focus more on the results from the Reading program since only a little more than 50 students were part of the Math program.