Caroline Todari, master's student in education at the University of Quebec in Outaouais.
Dany Boulanger, PhD in education, lecturer at the University of Quebec in Outaouais and at the University of Quebec in Rimouski.
Relations between school and family have evolved a lot through the crises of society and, in particular, of the education system. Before the 1980s, children were more intermediaries between school and parents. Today, this is no longer the case. Since 2009, the provincial government recognizes the importance of close collaboration between the school, parents and the community in order to promote the optimal development of the child. In this sense, certain initiatives, such as the “Family, school, community, success together” program have made it possible to create educational communities rallying the various actors around the educational success of the child, in particular in underprivileged areas.
It takes a whole village to raise a child
Although the importance of a concerted effort between the different actors involved with the child is recognized, grandparents are poorly represented in the portrait drawn up to date. However, these are indeed part of the systems that directly influence the child, or the family. However, let us specify that it is not essential to be biologically linked to a child to open up to the current generation. In this sense, Kornhaber and Woodward argue that one can be the grandparents of many children, provided that society institutionalizes this role in some way. Today, this process of legitimizing the educational role of the elderly is underway, considering for example the activities of the Maisons des Grands-Parents (MGP) in Quebec. From this perspective, grandparents are also part of another system that influences the child, namely the community. A few initiatives put in place make it possible to identify the function of generativity which is attributed to grandparents, namely to pass on a cultural background to children. The grandparents participating in the activities of the MGP in Quebec are a good example of this function carried out by actors having no filial link with the child. In this sense, whether or not they have a blood tie with the child, grandparents play, closely with the school and the parents, a function of socializing the child, particularly in the school context.
Grandparenthood in a time of pandemic
The school sphere has recently integrated the family sphere with distance education. At the same time, parents' teleworking also occurred, making the role of parents more difficult in monitoring their child's school. How to ensure these two roles at the same time? Due to the distance restrictions to maintain, it is not so easy to involve the grandparents. An exploration of the exchange content on public Facebook pages linked to education in times of pandemic revealed these issues.
A second exploration of the content concerning grandparenthood and the relationship with the elderly and discussions on three public Facebook education pages made it possible to bring out a general portrait of the meaning given to grandparenting by teachers and other school stakeholders.
On the one hand, the babysitting function attributed to the elderly bears witness to their role as an agent of socialization for the child. In the current societal context, this function is an important resource for parents to work at home. So how do you see yourself more than two meters away? A grandmother shared her way of doing things: reading stories to her grandchildren about Zoom, nightly. Contact is essential, hence the need to use some digital resources, but what about the accessibility of these resources for seniors?
To the teachers' workload, which has increased, there is the addition of obligations concerning the reconciliation of intergenerational contacts. How can the bridges between school and family be facilitated when some teachers, who are also parents of children attending school, must become more involved in the education of their own children? The forced reconciliation of all spheres of life of the parent / teacher in the family space makes it essential to find innovative ways to reconcile everything. While it is impossible to keep a distance of more than two meters between all these spheres of life (work, family and school), roles are reconfiguring in the way in which the workload is reorganized.
Ultimately, the way in which the collaboration between school, family and community is articulated has changed a lot in recent years. We cannot ignore the role of the grandparent in the socialization of the child, especially in the school context. With the distance, difficult to find an intermediate zone, a happy medium… ethically fair for everyone.
Kornhaber, A. and Woodward, K. (1981). Grandparents grandchildren, the vital link. Paris: Editions Robert Laffont.