Education is a political matter and political activity on the part of the partners was essential to their success. Sometimes this was at the level of local or national politics, engaging with municipal councillors and members of national parliaments. At other times, political activity equalled social engagement with influential individuals and the media in order to raise the school’s profile.
As part of our political mission, we would like to challenge use of the term NEET. First, in the context of second chance schools, it is not accurate. More importantly, it is pejorative and redolent of deficit; it is suggestive of young people who are NOT and implies inability or lack of willingness on their part. The focus, therefore, tends to be on what they are not or cannot do or be and the implied approach, therefore, would be to compensate for that lack. Instead, we prefer to think that the chances and choices experienced by our young people have not allowed them to engage with their rights to be an active, valued and appreciated member of the community.
Our approach, therefore, is one of support and provision of the choices and chances that will allow young people to engage with others in a creative and entrepreneurial way.
Open the Doors Guide
Innovative projects such as Open the Doors often produce important knowledge and evidence that should be used to inform and improve policy and decision-making.
Open the Doors did indeed produce such evidence and this evidence is, in the form of policy recommendations, summarized below.
The European societies are producing substantial numbers of young people in NEET situations, and this problem is not likely to disappear in the near or in the far future.
Open the Doors addressed the didactic principles (or the lack of such principles) governing any form of second chance education for such NEETs, whereas the project was not directly concerned with NEET prevention in the formal education system.
Thus the project basically asked the question:
“What kind of innovative didactics and learning approaches might succeed in re-engaging those young people in various forms of non-formal contexts?”
One of the backgrounds to this interest is, of course, the well-known fact that 1 euro invested in qualified secondary chancing in the short run will save society 10 euro in the long run.
However, Open the Doors evidenced a line of serious obstacles to innovate second chance schooling for NEETs, and these obstacles are addressed in the form of policy recommendations.
Key Obstacles to innovation in second chance schooling for NEETS
INTEREST: Lack of societal interest and respect
Beyond various policy rhetoric it is evident that there is little real interest among societal decision-makers and stakeholders in trying to develop useful measures to offer NEETs new and more efficient ways out of the disengagement.
The lack of interest is accompanied by a lack of respect for NEETs and for the organisations and staff involved in second chance schooling and similar.
Very often, such organisations are fighting to survive financially and it is not career enhancing to be a youth worker in such organisations.
RESOURCES: Lack of funding
Organisations in the field of second chance schooling for NEETs are, whether public or private, extremely badly funded.
The funding, for which such institutions must fight each and every year, is very basic and covers only the most necessary costs.
The funding of such organisations does not leave any room for the experimentation and innovation desperately needed in the field of re-engaging NEETs.
Unlike other and more fashionable educational fields, society at large does not seem to be willing to take any responsibility for re-engaging NEETs: it is extremely difficult, almost impossible, to motivate private companies, bank funds and similar to co-finance the re-engagement of NEETs, whether at local or national level.
In the rare cases of such private co-funding, the funded “projects” are often isolated from the second chance organisations and do not support the long-term and sustainable capacity of second chance schooling to successfully re-engage groups of NEETs.
In short, excluded youth is at the bottom of the priority list, which – obviously – contributes to the exclusion.
MENTALITY: Repeating the exclusion
One of the most important obstacles to successful re-engagement of NEETs through innovative didactics is a prejudice towards NEETs dominating all society: from policy-makers to second chance schools and youth workers.
The prejudice goes like this:
“NEETs have by definition limited intellectual development capacity and therefore all we can offer them is small practical tasks and challenges, from which they might grow an ability to manage small jobs in society”
This assumption runs tacitly and invisibly through the entire society and reveals a fundamental lack of understanding of what NEETs are and how intellectual capacity is developed.
If such prejudices control decision-making and educational practice, societal stakeholders will be less motivated to engage in innovation of second chance schooling.
Such prejudices, of course, repeat and double the exclusion.
CHANGE: Lack of innovative 21st century didactics
Several innovative learning didactics have been developed in recent years and the principles of those innovative didactics are widely and openly available.
However, there has been no uptake of such innovative learning principles in most second chance contexts across Europe.
Most of the recently developed innovative didactics include learning principles highly relevant to NEETs.
NEETS are not disengaged from learning in general, but disengaged from traditional schooling and classroom teaching: disengaged from learning styles based on academic schooling.
Many innovative learning principles will clearly benefit NEETs and support the re-engagement in learning and capacity building, but if the dominant attitude towards NEETs is that they are only capable of simple, practical activities, then why be concerned with innovative didactics?
Neither second chance schools as organisations nor their staff has been trained to practice such innovative didactics that might help NEETs overcome the resistance to learning.
Summarizing the above described obstacles, we can conclude that re-engaging NEETs in learning is “against all odds”.
Local / National
- Take initiatives to re-think second chance schooling locally and nationally among public authorities responsible for NEET organisations, including through long-term innovation strategies; seek qualified consultancy
- Include in annual budgets free financial resources for development work in the second chance institutions
- Launch Calls to offer grants to institutions and partnerships wishing to innovate second chance schooling through pilot projects
- Allow second chance institutions to work on a 3 or 4 year budget basis instead for the typical annual basis
- Offer NEET institution managers and staff training in innovation of re-engaging NEETs in learning, integrated in their everyday professional practice; seek qualified consultancy
- Create cross-sector partnerships locally or regionally in support of the innovation of NEET’s re-engagement in learning
- Promote and support among NEET institutions the sharing with other second chance institutions, locally, nationally and at European level
- Launch European-wide educational initiatives dedicated to identify what innovative didactics work for NEETs, why they work and which didactics do not work, and disseminate the results systematically in the sector
- Launch Horizon calls focused on studying the long-term effects of innovative learning strategies for NEETs
- Launch Horizon calls focused on studying in detail what kind of didactic strategies and learning approaches have the capacity to re-engage NEETs in learning in a long-term perspective
- Plan and launch a European conference on innovative didactic for NEETs, possibly linked to the above initiatives
- Reinforce significantly the Erasmus+ sections for development of innovation of NEETs re-engagement in learning (Schools and Youth)
- Launch initiatives and campaigns to prevent and counter the widespread prejudice among evaluators and national agencies that youth and NEET projects are smaller projects not in need of attention and not in need of substantial budgets and resources
- Clarify and emphasize in the Erasmus+ Guide and priorities the need for strong didactic experimentation in the field of re-engaging NEETs in learning, and include basic principles such as open schooling, entrepreneurial learning, mission based learning and real-life learning supported by cross-sector partnerships