[Translation (French - English) : EPALE France]
Are differences in origin between disadvantaged people and their carers a barrier to inclusion? What validation and recognition tools are available?
In ERASMUS + projects, as in associations working in the field of popular education, there is sometimes confusion in the terms used: youth work, adult education, youth worker, even Community ‘Animateur’ (a term borrowed from the vocabulary of "European English"). However, more and more, in France at least, associations working in the field of popular education are using adult education tools for training, project methodologies and basic skills reference systems in the field of non-formal education.
I would like to present the COMANITY project. The project brought together organizations from five countries, including the Lifelong Learning Platform.
The Lifelong Learning Platform is a network of networks in the field of education (vocational training, universities, non-formal education, parents, students, youth, formal education, etc.) created 15 years ago to act as the body representing the civil society, the European Commission and to make proposals for educational policies in Europe.
I interviewed Pauline BOIVIN, project manager at the platform, in charge of various European projects.
1) Pauline, the Lifelong Learning Platform is a partner to the COMANITY Project. Can you tell us about it and introduce the partners?
The COMANITY project responds to a major challenge: the social inclusion of disadvantaged young people. It aims to create a new role in youth work, that of "Community Animateur". It offers an innovative programme to actively involve young people in their communities. The Animateur would thus act as a social mediator, creating a bridge between marginalized young people and institutional services, acting to support young people.
This new role allows youth workers to put themselves in the shoes of marginalized youth, to understand their needs and provide credible and reliable support, helping them to reach their potential and play an active role in their communities. The COMANITY programme consists of a competence framework for youth workers, training and a methodology enabling them to actively involve the young people they supervise.
The methodology is "participatory action research”. The objective is to support young people as "co-producers of knowledge", working hand in hand with community leaders, in the development of local solutions. Action research is originally a qualitative research method that can be applied to a wide range of actions (the social sector, health, etc.). Within the framework of COMANITY, the program has been tested in four European countries (Greece, England, Italy and Spain) with great success!
The COMANITY project is a European project coordinated by Arcola Research (UK) funded by the Erasmus+ programme and involving eight other organisations in Europe (Greece, Spain, Italy, England, Belgium) including the Lifelong Learning Platform. It went for two years from December 2017 to December 2019. Project partners include various organizations such as a research institute, an NGO, a municipality, a cooperative and a university.
2) Does the “Community Animateur” role appear to be effective in the various European countries? And what are the differences with a social worker or educator?
I think so, yes. Some countries are already employing a similar approach to the project, using action research. In Great Britain it’s nothing new! Secondly, there is no common rule, even within the same country. Some organizations are very familiar with the methods used by the COMANITY program, others less so. In all cases, the partners, whether experienced or not, were very interested in the project.
What we observe at the European level is that there are often two training paths to becoming a youth worker. You can train at university, which is great for learning about societal issues, social determinism issues or inequality issues. But these courses sometimes lack practical application. In the end, few youth workers embark on working with marginalized youth because they do not come from the same background and do not have the practical experience needed to gain trust in communities.
The other route to training is of course experience in the field, that is, youth workers who have accumulated very strong practical knowledge. However, these workers and volunteers sometimes lack an overview of societal issues and may have more limited access or knowledge of the public resources available to them (funding, social and youth services, psychological support, etc.).
With COMANITY, we have tried to bridge this gap between the two paths and, above all, to encourage the involvement of marginalized young people as youth workers themselves. It is obvious that having a common life experience makes you much more credible and reliable in the eyes of the community than if you come from another background. In the end, it's all about trust.
3) You have developed training modules based on three main themes. Could you present them briefly? And above all, what are the skills you've been able to identify? How can these competences be validated or recognised?
The three main themes are: emotional intelligence, Community Animateur-specific competences and digital competences. For each of these themes, we have listed a number of competencies and sub-competencies to be developed. A few examples:
The theme of "emotional intelligence” includes intra-personal competences (emotional awareness, self-confidence) and interpersonal competences (empathy, social responsibility, etc.), adaptability (resilience, sense of initiative, etc.) and emotional competences (stress management, optimism, etc.). The theme "Community Animateur-specific competences” includes organising and managing information and resources, mapping communities, intercultural skills, and community mediation. The "digital competences" theme includes digital content creation, online communications, digital literacy, and the use of digital resources".
We have tried to develop a comprehensive competence framework that enables community leaders to respond to the specific needs of marginalized youth. In particular, the emotional burden of exclusion (anger, frustration, lack of self-confidence) can be very strong among marginalised people, which is why it is very important that youth workers are trained in these issues. Furthermore, some youth workers may not necessarily know how to use digital resources and new technologies (such as social networks) in their work with young people. It therefore seemed important to us to identify all the useful skills that these future leaders will be able to acquire and transmit to young people, in order to facilitate their emancipation.
For some of the project partners, despite their significant experience working with disadvantaged young people, certain skills were completely new or not yet envisaged. This proved the relevance of the competence framework.
We then created training based on this competence framework. The project partners are convinced that this programme could inspire existing training programmes for youth workers, or could be offered by public administrations or taken up by NGOs. In several European countries there is still no vocational training for youth workers. It is, nonetheless, a European priority. With the COMANITY program, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. The program can be freely used by any organization! The project was not linked to any specific validation or recognition. That said, anyone can take a free test on the website to assess their skills.
4) Why was a KA3 chosen and how was the work with public policy conducted?
At the Lifelong Learning Platform, we are convinced of the added value of cooperation at the European level. This allows everyone to learn from each other and to exchange good practices. Some European countries are more advanced in this area and inspire other countries to improve. It's also a great cross-cultural experience. At the final conference, young people from four European countries came together to present their experience of the project. It allowed them to see that the countries are similar.
As chance would have it, on the very day of the final conference of the project, the Permanent Delegations of the Member States of the European Union met in Brussels to approve a document which stresses the importance of improving the quality of training in the youth sector. One of the recommendations was to develop a competence framework! A great opportunity to promote COMANITY to the political representatives of the EU Member States. It was also recommended that we send the results of the COMANITY project to Croatia, which currently holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union.
5) What else would you like to highlight from this project?
The project approach is innovative in that it does not focus on the young person as an individual, but emphasises the importance of belonging to one or more communities. The program combines theory and practice to address an issue that is still not high enough on the public policy agenda.
David LOPEZ (Popular Education Coordinator EPALE France) and Pauline BOIVIN
The project website: https://comanity-project.eu
Lifelong Learning Platform website: http://lllplatform.eu