After months involved in the European Footprints project, this is the last blog for the #MakeAPledge initiative!
So first of all, I wanted to really thank everyone for the opportunity given. During these months, the educational project of the “Doposcuola Quarticciolo” I am involved in and which I talked to you about, has grown a lot and it has been an honor and pleasure to share it with all of you.
I began sharing this adventure during the harshest covid-19 period, but the challenges related to the educational situation are still ongoing and very much present. In Italy, schools have completely opened again and went back to “normal” face-to-face activities. However, issues of educational poverty, early school leaving or inequalities that students living in the suburbs of the city face daily, such as prejudices and learning difficulties, require a lot of time and work to address and overcome properly.
Indeed, the last report published by the Italian national statistics institute (ISTAT, 2021) reported a worrying situation with regards to early school leaving in Italy. Italy is among the European countries with a higher percentage of young people at risk of dropping out of school, with a 13% rate, equal to about 543.000 young people. In Rome, the school dropout rate has increased by almost 20% in the last 4 years, with a 35% risk of early school leaving in primary school and 38% in middle school.
The profound imbalances between the north and south of the country weigh on this national figure. Similarly, even within the city of Rome itself, there are profound differences between levels of social development and well-being between the municipalities of the center and the ones in the outskirts. In addition to territorial differences, the socio-economic condition, cultural capital and migration background of the family of origin has a significant impact. Early dropouts are found especially where parents’ educational and / or professional level is low.
These difficulties have been accentuated by the pandemic circumstances. During the Covid-19 restrictions, almost one out of three children were at risk of not going to school. The difficulties have increased considerably for children who live in overcrowded home situations, with difficulties in connecting to the Internet or without proper technological devices. With schools starting again in a face-to-face format, a number of suicides amongst students have also been reported.
Therefore, our questions remain the following:
How to engage with students so that they feel included in the educational process, especially after such difficult years? How to make them feel heard, supported and understood? What is the key and (new) role of education nowadays? How to support the transition from lower secondary-to-secondary education? What kind of activities, workshops are best to implement to activate positive learning experiences?
With these questions in mind, we wonder about the role of formal and informal education in the post-pandemic context.
As a concrete response to these challenges and questions, with the Doposcuola Quarticciolo, we have decided to continuously support children in their development and learning process. During the last year, we have grown considerably in structure and in the number of educators. For this reason, as of this new academic year, we decided to open up an extra day entirely dedicated to homework support for older (secondary school) students, which are the ones who risk dropping out of school the most.
In addition, we also decided to adopt specific pedagogical methods in our activities such as dividing tables by subjects or by age groups. This way, the support given will be even more personalized and efficacious.
As a first moment of this new academic year, we asked younger children what they liked about last year’s activities and what they’d expect and would like from this new year, in order to make their opinions heard. In relation to the programming of activities and workshops, we decided to focus on the theme of sustainability, environment and children’s relationship to their territory. Hence, from mid November we started offering 8 practical workshops on recycling, conducted by the “Italian Alternative civilian service”. Music, wall painting, photography, and robotics will be the next upcoming workshops. We aim that students develop and sustain different capacities and intelligences, engage in things they feel they are good at, and increase their self-esteem. We also started offering free basketball courses on Sunday mornings in the neighborhood’s courtyard, in collaboration with a roman basketball association.
Acknowledging the need to continuously train ourselves and learn specific methods of education, we are also formalizing training activities during the upcoming year. The association “maestri di strada”, from Naples will conduct a one day workshop on practical methodological and pedagogical strategies, inspiring us with new ideas of activities; another training will be on how to solve and manage conflicts/violence arising amongst children, one on gender stereotypes and violence within education, and the last one we have in mind will be conducted by a famous Italian pedagogist named Franco Lorenzoni, on the involvement and work with the educational community network.
Strengthening the relationship with parents and schools is the next step to integrate approaches and work together with educational actors and institutional realities. Making education inside and outside the school talk to one another, recognizing the role of multiple realities, which are already active on the issue, is essential to combat the problem of early school leaving. Hence, within the educational community network and actors working in the neighborhood , we have engaged in collaborative moments and we will need to continue doing so more often. We will invite teachers to attend our activities, present them who we are and the work done so far. In addition, we will present a letter to the newly installed municipal council with the political educational battles we want to push forward.
This will be done together with parents, in order to make their voices and educational rights heard. The work of dissemination and external communication is never ending: we had the opportunity of intervening in a radio programme, publish a book with the workshops conducted last year, as well as intervening in external initiatives to present who we are and establish points of synergies and collaborations with other actors.
While presenting an alternative to the formal education model and system, there is the need to find spaces of hybridization and learning amongst these sectors. Learning how to engage with the “most difficult students”, learning from other similar experiences and continuing making the voice and perspective of the most disadvantaged younger ones heard out loud, is what we expect and hope will help advance towards a fairer and more inclusive education system.