The role of active or assertive outreach to engage marginalised groups is increasingly being recognised in educational contexts. Outreach is not about leaflets or even web-based approaches. Outreach focuses on reaching people in places where they feel they belong and feel most comfortable, such as in their homes and local community-based contexts. This requires a sensitivity to territory that ensures that the physical location of outreach efforts are both physically and culturally accessible and not in places alien to parents experiencing social marginalisation.
A community outreach strategy requires lifelong learning centres and family support centres, including combining these in a ‘one-stop shop’. Individual outreach involves home visits in a supportive and empowering fashion for families with complex levels of needs, where their children are at high risk of low school attendance and early school leaving.
A holistic focus recognises the need to include family support within a framework of parental involvement in education, bridging health and education domains, as part of a multi-disciplinary focus on those with especially complex needs. A holistic approach recognises emotional and physical needs and not simply academic, cognitive ones of both children/young people and their parents. These key principles of assertive outreach and a holistic approach need to be central to an EU strategic focus on quality in community and family learning that seeks to focus on developing inclusive systems in education.
Community-based lifelong learning centres are mediating structures between marginalized individuals, communities and the ‘system’. Key features of quality in such centres include a commitment to:
- a welcoming, supportive, non-hierarchical environment for the non-traditional learner, with a personalized learning focus,
- leadership development within the organization and fostering community leaders for communities experiencing marginalization,
- democratic engagement with the voices and real needs of the learner, as part of a learner-centred focus and commitment,
- engaging in strategic partnerships as part of pathways for progression and
communication between formal and non-formal education settings.
As part of the Youth Guarantee and beyond this, there is a need for more focused strategies at EU level for the development of community leaders – and on life-wide dimensions to community lifelong learning centres. Successful examples of this life-wide dimension operating to engage marginalized groups are evident in Ireland (An Cosan, Tallaght, Dublin) and Kosovo (Balkan Sunflowers). Examples of multi-disciplinary, community-based family support centres include the SPIL centre in Eindhoven and the Nordrhein-Westfalen state programme Familienzentrum highlighted by Eurochild. Europe needs more examples like these. Can an EU level strategy to promote family and community learning for social inclusion in education be developed from such examples?
Dr Paul Downes is Director of the Educational Disadvantage Centre and Senior Lecturer in Education (Psychology) at St. Patrick's College, Dublin City University. He also a member of the Coordinating Committee of the European Commission Network of Experts on the Social Aspects of Education and Training.