Fighting functional illiteracy with Second Chance Schools – an example from Serbia
Functional literacy is not two-dimensional
What are the first words that come to your mind when you hear ‘second chance school’? For adult educators engaged in this filed, these may often be: functional illiteracy, poverty, marginalisation and social exclusion, early school dropouts, sensitive adult groups, refugees etc. Although full illiteracy has been more or less eradicated in Europe, the struggle continues when it comes to decreasing the number of functionally illiterate adults. It is estimated that 55 million EU citizens between 16 and 65 have literacy difficulties, while the EU is putting more efforts in achieving the ambitious goals set in the Europe 2020 Strategy. The issue becomes increasingly complicated if we think about functional literacy not just at the yes/no, or satisfactory/non-satisfactory level, but at the level of different ‘degrees’ of quality. There are many different ways of understanding functional literacy in a European context; but at the operational level and from the perspective of lifelong learning, we may consider a functionally literate person to be an individual who possesses key or basic competencies, and who is able to use them successfully in everyday life. While in today’s context of economic challenges being functionally literate does not mean being socially included, we can most certainly state that being functionally illiterate correlates highly with social marginalisation and exclusion.
The Serbian example
The Republic of Serbia holds 39th place at the literacy rate ranking list among 160 countries, with an estimated literate population of 98.1% (although we can speculate that the number of functionally literate citizens is much lower). Based on data from the past several decades it is determined that a significant number of Serbian citizens above 15 years of age are either early elementary school dropouts or without any formal schooling at all. Today, two different policies are combating this issue through prevention and Second Chance Education.
The project Second Chance – Systemic Development of Functional Elementary Education of Adults (FEEA) was launched in Serbia in 2010 with the aim to establish a system of functional elementary education combined with education for work (III level of formal education - lowest level of formal VET in Serbia) in order to increase employability, social cohesion and economic development and reduce poverty. The project is based on relating education and labour market needs, the concept of lifelong learning and the emphasis on life skills and competences. It was financed by the EU with a grant of 4 million EUR and it was delivered by the GOPA group in consortium with DVV-International, the European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA) and local state Serbia partners: Ministry of Education Science and Technological Development and Institute for Pedagogy and Andragogy of the University of Belgrade.
The curriculum is organised within three one-year-long cycles that correspond to eight years of regular formal elementary education, while it also includes vocational training of the participant’s choice. Elementary education courses, such as Serbian and English language, Mathematics, Sciences, Digital Literacy etc., are specially redesigned for adults. In addition, new subjects are introduced such as Responsible Living in a Civil Society and Entrepreneurship. This vast project demanded restructuring and renovation of old basic education schools for adults but it also required new classes for adults to be established in 80 regular elementary and 75 vocational secondary schools. The aim was for these classes to be sustainable in the future and to be fully funded by the Serbian state. More than 1,000 teachers underwent additional andragogical training in order to incorporate strategies and skills necessary for teaching adult learners. Since the introduction of the European Commission’s White Paper ‘’Teaching and Learning: Towards The Learning Society’’, which led to the launch of Second Chance Schools pilot projects in 1997., Serbia has been an important example in the context of Second Chance Schools.
Second Chance Schools in Europe
Today the European Association of Cities for Second Chance Schools (whose General Assembly is in session on 22 September 2017 in Sopot, Poland) is the only European network devoted to further development of second chance education. Throughout Europe, Second Chance Schools are strongly based on the principles of multi-literacy (language, numeracy and digital literacy). They equip adults with basic vocational education and training, as well as develop adults’ personal potential, including fostering their independence, self-reliance and motivation. The latter is probably crucial for increasing adults’ own ‘chances after second chance’. One of the most noticeable attributes of those left behind by the formal early education system is their lack of perspective. This ranges from their almost total inability to see themselves in the socio-economic future, thus focusing on day-to-day survival, to the lack of recognition of opportunities to improve their quality of life. In contemporary societies, formal schooling is, without any doubt, one of the most important technologies of the modernisation of the Self. As long as that is the case, Second Chance Schools will remain maybe the only ‘’way in’’ for the invisible communities left behind in the far outskirts of our ‘just-one-click-away’ reality.
Aleksandar Bulajić is an assistant lecturer and final year PhD student at the Chair of Andragogy – Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade, and a Deputy Editor of the international academic journal Andragogical Studies. He finished his undergraduate studies in Andragogy at the University of Belgrade, has a master’s degree in Psychology and Education from the University of Cambridge and has also worked in an international company (Telenor) within the Learning and Development HR Sector. Aleksandar has published 15 papers on various topics within the field of adult education and learning such as: self-directed learning, constructivist and experiential learning, multicultural education, gender/masculinity in adult learning and working memory and adult learning. His current research focus is on cognitive aspects of learning in adulthood and adult literacy.