Youmanity gets the thumbs up with top marks from the European Commission - Erasmus Plus - for the completion of their 2Smile – a project involving seven different European Countries over a three-year period.
In response to extensive research reporting on the serious issue of children dropping out of education, Youmanity took up the challenge in 2018 and presented a project proposal to the European Commission (Erasmus Plus) designed to tackle the problem head-on with a project entitled 2Smile.
‘A whole-school approach’ involving teachers, social services, educational/community stakeholders and, of course, parents is essential to improve learners’ educational experience,” argues the brainchild and the coordinator of the project, Luis Guarita.
2Smile delivered an important pilot in schools across the seven partner countries - Portugal, Greece, Romania, Italy, Ireland, Finland and the UK. It involved 23 teachers who adapted current methodology to a more student-centred approach which took into account individual circumstances as well as educational abilities.
The majority of students (aged from 6 – 18) taking in the pilot, some 280, were disadvantaged in that they had a variety of special needs from attention deficit disorder, learning difficulties with reading and writing, as well as learners with a low level of stability or support from their homes. Some children came from migrant families, some others were members of the Roma community. There were also juveniles known to the local criminal Justin system. Some of the 2Smile student population also came from stable and good economic backgrounds who had positive learning results.
With this wide range of neurodiversity, abilities and backgrounds, the 2Smile holistic approach was designed to engage with families and communities where those involved were interviewed in order to collect information about the students and their households, the characteristic of the family, their hobbies as well as the level of commitment a family was able to devote in order to help and collaborate when necessary.
“This innovative approach to education produced very positive results,” reveals Luis Guarita. “In general, students felt more actively involved in the learning process and educational objectives, improving academic results and classroom behaviour. The biggest changes were in relationships between everyone involved in the student-learning process, especially between teachers, students and families. A Greek teacher recognised the importance of providing individual plans for each student as it gave an insight into the student’s behaviour and attitudes. In Portugal this approach showed that lack of concentration caused by various personal and social reasons contributed to students failing to achieve their objectives. In Romania relationships between students and teachers improved because students felt that the teachers were interested in them and genuinely concerned about their progress. In Ireland, the study showed that it was necessary to create a special space for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) which enabled them to relax and feel more comfortable. This was more conducive to their specific needs and therefore made it easier for them to learn.
This unique and innovative approach was made more challenging with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic as achieving the aims of the project were more complex in some of the partner countries. Where schools had the appropriate tools to facilitate the new learning process of working from home, inevitably created stronger bonds between parents and the school. However there were schools where these tools were not readily available. Students from more vulnerable families (Roma students in Romania or more disadvantaged families in Portugal) who were without telephones and either no internet access or only one computer for the whole family. This situation was extremely disheartening for those students who, up to that point, had been motivated to engage with the learning process, were no longer able to work with their teachers. The pandemic had become a huge barrier and socially divisive.
For those able to have good internet access though it proved a positive learning experience for those participating. Teachers felt that online interactions provided more opportunities and some students responded very well, with high levels of concentration and attention. In Ireland, a teacher used a specific technological system (VSwar) to communicate with parents or guardians which proved very effective.
Youmanity, the project partners and all educational stakeholders from the participating countries are proud of the accolade it received from Erasmus who commented that:
“ The makeup of the team has been very impressive with a high level of professional expertise. It has focused on mitigating educational strategies for the most vulnerable young people in Europe and there have been 8 partners from the school sector across 7 countries. The learners at the heart of the proposal were those disadvantaged by dislocation, old and new migration patterns; through economic and social issues such as involvement in criminality and those most deeply affected by the European economic situation. The project, by its completion has achieved the results and outcomes by delivering the tools, products and reports pertaining to four Intellectual Outputs, and by implementing the support activities through its life cycle over the three years,” wrote the Erasmus Plus Grants Officer Callum Fletcher in his assessment report.
2SMILE Project Partners
Amadora INOVA, Portugal
Aproximar, Cooperativa de De Solidaridad Social, Portugal
Asociatia Centrul Pentru, Timișoara, România
Associazione San Giuseppe, Italy
Athens Lifelong Learning Institute, Greece
DIAK, University of Applied Sciences, Finland
I & F Education & Develpment, Ireland
Youmanity, United Kingdom