Inclusive education for all
Letter to Friends around the World # 102

An international workshop was held in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, in early September 2019. This workshop was the result  of several years of ATD Fourth World Movement’s  presence and work in the southeast of Europe as part of a process of mutual understanding with people and groups fighting against poverty. This meeting also was built on the experience of the Mobile School Stolipinovo (Bulgaria).

For three days, 30 participants (parents, professionals,   mediators and members of different communities and neighborhoods who are experiencing poverty) from Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Hungary, Romania and Serbia, engaged in educational projects, worked together on the theme «Inclusive education for all». The meeting was held in five languages.

During the first two days, interactive workshops enabled participants to share their life and work experiences in a very concrete way, and to learn from each other’s best practices. “I was shocked by the cruelty of the  conditions of life of children living in the streets.” “Despite differing situations in each country, some of the poorest parents’ concerns are universal».

During an open meeting, they were also able to confront their experiences with those of other people, teachers  and families from the Stolipinovo neighborhood in Plovdiv. For some, it was an unusual step outside the neighborhood and one of their first chances to make their voices heard in public.

Then, the participants identified challenges they face  and would like to work on together. In this way, they  developed priorities, which all have one thing in  common: it is not possible to achieve inclusive education for all without involving parents from the very  beginning, while at the same time seeking the  participation of all other education stakeholders.

In conclusion, Elena from Romania shared her  impressions, “The time I have spent here has helped me appreciate the work of all these people who are  struggling for change. Things don’t seem as dark now, and it has also given me a broader perspective.”

Center for Youth Integration - Serbia

Through their outreach teams, the Center for Youth Integration (CYI) goes looking for children, youths and their families living in non-formal settlements of Belgrade. Some of these children do not go to school and support the family budget by doing odd jobs in the city streets. This is why the CYI tries to recreate ties between schools and families.

The children can go to a drop-in shelter as they like. Creative artistic activities such as singing, dancing, art and craft, are offered as well as education support. Steps are being undertaken in dialogue with parents to create a strong agreement so that children can go to  school and have access to identity documents if they do not already have them. An educational programme is offered to youths over the age of 15 and a cafe bar has been opened where they are offered professional training. This year, after his training, one of the youths asked to work in the drop-in shelter to support children who are in the same situation which he himself has experienced.

The CYI has experimented with an inequality awareness exercise. Each participant is given a paper on which are written a short description of a child’s situation and internalizes it. Everyone gets in line, then statements such as, “Both my parents know how to read and write” are read. If the answer is “yes”, that person takes a step forward. If it is “No” they stay put. Very quickly it is clear that some children face huge disadvantages to move forward in life, and that they don’t all have the same opportunities to learn. The exercise is concluded with a discussion to analyze together what has been felt and learnt.

Best practices

- It is essential not to be alone in order to progress, not to lose bonds with one’s community. This can be done thanks to other members of the community who have already had the same experience, or to members of the outreach team;

- Create a regular dialogue with parents by visiting them where they live;

- Take the time to understand and identify the steps which make it possible to overcome inequalities through education.

Mobile School Stolipinovo - Bulgaria

The Mobile School Stolipinovo offers the opportunity for creativity and informal education for the children of Stolipinovo, the biggest multiethnic and most looked-down-on neighborhood in Bulgaria. All the inhabitants of this district face exclusion and discrimination. These are heightened in the areas of the neighborhood made up of barracks, where living conditions are very difficult.

Every week, workshops take place in two of the local schools and in one of the improvised areas. The choice was made to stay outside, so as to give all children the opportunity of coming. This initiative is led by three groups who have pooled their abilities: The Architectural Workshop for Children, Discovered Spaces and ATD Fourth World.

The accent is put on manual activities which will help the children to learn by experimenting individually or in groups. This happens through the creation of three dimensional models, through play. Paper, cardboard, wood, clay, string and pencils are used. At the same time, a book corner and physical activities are set up so that the children can move from one activity to another. Thanks to the manual work done in the architecture workshop, they are able to work with other children, to communicate together and to gain new skills.

A large number of these children do not always go to school. And yet a father echoed what many others think when he said, “I want all my children to learn at school,  to stop to live in the mud as now”. A mother added, “We want to say that our lives are extremely difficult. We do our best to ensure a living to our children. It’s not enough. We are exhausted.

The most important thing is to move forward with the parents, to have their support and to create links and bridges between schools and families.

Best practices

- Offer a variety of activities by being in the streets: art and architecture, books to read, sport, etc;

- Allow children to achieve rapid and visible results. Making useful everyday objects by hand motivates the children to come. Adapt the activities each week to their interests;

- Ask for the parents’ help, offer them to get involved and to take on responsibilities;

- Be regular over the long-term: the same people, the same day, every week. This creates mutual confidence and makes it possible for people to work together.

«School – Families – Neighborhood» initiative France

This initiative, taken by the Mosaic Social Center and ATD Fourth World, brought together all the educational stakeholders in the Lille-Fives district, including the  parents, so that all children can succeed in school. Eight  years of presence and dialogue through different activities have been necessary to develop the conditions that enable to better understand each other and act together.
Lille-Fives is a neighborhood where many people are experiencing poverty, and where many  misunderstandings between parents and teachers  occurred. Teachers were thinking that some parents did not care about their children’s education because they were not present at the first meeting of the year. On the other hand, some parents said that their children were always placed at the back of the classroom.

Among the tools offered in the neighborhood, the «Little Words of the Tuesdays» enable parents to express themselves, and to make their voice heard from the teachers. Here is how it works:
- A team is posted at the entrance of the school once a week (in this case, on Tuesdays) and meet parents who come to pick up their children. They are asked to give their opinion about an important sentence. Anyone can answer. Answers are written and displayed in the teachers’ room.
- A group of parents meets and chooses one sentence from all answers. The following Tuesday, it is displayed outside on a poster. All sentences from the previous week are also displayed next to it. Again, parents are being asked to react on the new sentence.
- The process is renewed week after week.

Best practices

- Try to be close to the educational team of the schools as much as the parents;

- Take opportunities for discussion, exchange and action;

- Ask advices to teachers and school directors, as well as their expectations;

- At each and every step, ask for the parents’ opinion and agreement;

- Highlight the skills of the neighborhood’s inhabitants.

The participants came from different groups: Belgium (ATD Fourth World Belgium); Bulgaria (Discovered Spaces, Architecture workshop for children, Hesed, Center of hope, Duvar Kolektiv, ATD Fourth World); France (ATD Fourth World Lille, Social Center Mosaïque-Lille, ATD Fourth World Rennes); Hungary (The Real Pearl Foundation); Romania (Parada, Policy Center for Roma and Minorities); Serbia (Center for Youth Integration) and international dynamics (Forum on Overcoming Extreme Poverty, Tapori, ATD Fourth World Europe).