How to respond to school drop-out? By an outdoor summer!

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To respond to "dropping out", we must allow young people to express what they experienced during the experience of confinement and give meaning to the school curriculum. If 5% of France's 12 million students were "lost" during the confinement, this would mean that 600,000 students would have to be "found". How can this be done? The Terra Nova think-tank has come up with an original initiative: A summer in the open air as an educational and social response.

Despite the extraordinary efforts made by teachers and schools, the period of confinement will leave its mark on all students, both academically and in terms of socialization; but it will have a particularly negative impact on young people from underprivileged backgrounds, and a fortiori on those living in a damaged family context. For these young people, all the obstacles are cumulative: little schooling assistance from families, often difficult living conditions, insufficient or non-existent Internet access, lack of a personal work space.

The National Education Ministry estimates the number of pupils with whom schools are no longer in contact at 5% to 10%, with a much higher proportion in difficult areas, such as REP/REP+.

Also concerned are the neo-Baccalaureate students of 2020, for whom entering the Superior will be an even more difficult transition than for their predecessors, as well as young students in the first years of university or other post-baccalaureate courses, especially those from modest backgrounds, who have suffered more than their share from the spring crisis, sometimes finding themselves without resources, dropping out of their studies, deprived of access to university libraries. Initiatives are also needed for them.

The gradual and partial resumption of classes in May will allow for a certain recovery. The first difficulty will be to manage to get these students back on a regular and socially structured rhythm after they have been deprived of it for at least two months. But this will be very limited; the rules of distancing will limit the number of pupils who can actually attend, and a possible return to school on a voluntary basis may not see the dropouts return.

In middle schools and high schools, teachers will be mobilized by the validation of the brevet, the baccalaureate, the preparation of the French Baccalaureate for students in 1ère, the complex management of part-time students, the orientation at the end of 3ème and 2nde... In short, the urgency will prevail over the need for students to find meaning in their schooling. And subjects too often presented as "secondary", artistic and cultural education or sport, which are so important in terms of self-confidence, the way they look at others and the enhancement of creative qualities and character, will not be given priority.

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In any case, very soon, children and teenagers from both privileged and disadvantaged families will be on holiday. It is well known that every year the time of the holidays crystallises the inequalities between those who leave and those who remain, already confined, in the neighbourhoods. This year's exceptional circumstances will further exacerbate these inequalities.

If things pick up again, the private pharmacies, which offer annual paid pre-entry training courses, will be operating at full capacity, and will enable the more advantaged young people returning from holiday to prepare for the new school year. But what about the others? Fortunately, a number of initiatives have existed for several years to make holidays an educational moment for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. In notes published in June and October 2019, [1] Terra Nova called for them to be developed, and stressed their possible impact in terms of progress towards equal opportunities.

Complementing the "fun and educational" holidays

This summer of 2020, or even earlier, as soon as possible in view of the exceptional circumstances we are experiencing, Terra Nova is calling for them to be given a new dimension. This proposal aims to complement the "fun and educational" school holidays announced by the Minister of Education, which would be based on the "Open School" scheme. This consists in welcoming in secondary schools, during school holidays and on Wednesdays and Saturdays, children and young people who do not go on holiday, live in disadvantaged urban and rural areas or in difficult cultural and economic contexts.

But the desirable increase in power will be limited; school heads and volunteer teachers will have other priorities. It is on other actors that Terra Nova proposes to rely on, with broader objectives. The urgent need is not only to bring students up to speed - with a bit of maths, French and other "fundamental" subjects - but also to re-socialise and re-motivate them. However, the levers likely to work in this direction are not strictly speaking "academic". All projects that combine academic disciplines, artistic transmission and sports commitments around a collective project approach and a principle of pleasure show this: it is with approaches that go beyond pure schooling that one can have greater chances of success. This is not a question of "occupational", but rather a real requirement centred on self-confidence and confidence in others, creativity, team spirit, and school learning in which the young person becomes an actor and not just a receiver, too often uninterested or even abandoned along the way.

Therefore, the best solution would be to organize a new kind of training course, off the beaten track, but inspired by many successful experiences abroad as well as in France.

The most beneficial formula for students would be to offer them internships consisting of a set of recreational, cultural, scientific, technical, sporting and artistic practices or in the spheres of citizen and solidarity commitment "third times - third places". [2] – with, in all cases, a requirement criterion. The restarting of group learning, the acquisition of knowledge would be part of it, would be a consequence of it, certainly indispensable, but not the sole driving force. Courses in which young people would not be a passive captive audience, like the rest of the year in the classroom, but where they themselves would be actors, carrying out collective projects of all kinds: scientific experiments, writing a computer programme, preparing a mathematics lecture, making a technical object, creating a play, producing a concert, producing a newspaper or videos, practising sport, environmental action, helping people, etc.

The support of motivated entities

There are many actors likely to get involved, either because they already have a strong experience in the field or because they have the capacity to do so: associations, especially those linked to the popular education movement, which have considerable know-how in welcoming young people, cultural, scientific, sports and sports associations, cultural institutions, student volunteer associations, EdTech associations, and all those helping young people to find an orientation project.

It is desirable that these entities should be able to work together much more than they do at present in order to bring about an effective synthesis between academic imperatives, openness to new pedagogical relationships between young people and adults, meeting with professionals who help young people to broaden their horizons and help them in their orientation and project themselves into the future.

The stakes are high: if only 5% of the 12M pupils in France were "lost" during this confinement, this would mean 600,000 pupils to be "found" - without even adding those who were already in great difficulty at school. At least 60,000 people would probably be needed to provide these placements, or even many more depending on their duration.

Do we have the luxury of procrastinating? As long as the monitoring of these young people is demanding and regular, it must be possible to mobilise all forces in a concomitant and complementary manner: school support and guidance associations, scientific and sports associations, cultural actors and the National Education Citizen's Reserve. School mentoring alone cannot succeed.

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Triple benefit for dropouts

This approach has a threefold benefit: firstly, for young dropouts, for professionals whose activity is suspended until further notice (we are thinking in particular of many artists/technicians whose shows and projects have been suspended and who are used to artistic and cultural education projects), for the general interest; finally, if the professions taught in vocational high schools were mobilized when high school students could return to apprenticeship through investment in the general interest : hairstyling for the elderly in EHPADs, making masks, etc., would be a good way of promoting the general interest.

In order to propose such internships, it seems to us the most relevant to appeal, territory by territory, to all these actors, the main ones with experience in this field. Often backed by communities of students, scientists, artists, athletes, but also professionals working in companies, these associations are able to mobilize the diversity of actors that young people need to make the most of the summer time. They are already working alongside local authorities, schools and higher education institutions.

In addition to the educational benefits for young people, such a system would have many advantages

Organized in conditions adapted to the health constraints that our country will find itself in at that time, the challenge will be as much to encourage individual remobilization as to transmit knowledge and create concrete and symbolic links between very young people, students and professionals.

The territorial challenge is no less important, given the strong feeling of powerlessness, indifference and relegation in disadvantaged neighbourhoods. It can also be an opportunity to promote and publicize places of socialization outside the school.

What financial means?

Obviously, for this to be done on a large enough scale, financial resources must be devoted to it: people are needed to supervise these internships. [3], to obtain teaching materials, provide refreshments, organise catering if necessary, maintain the premises provided. It is also necessary to provide places, schools, sports, cultural and university premises, putting in place sanitary measures to limit the risk of creating new outbreaks of infection.

At the same time, such a system would make it possible to provide an income for casual workers, the self-employed and socio-educational associations, which have been totally shut down since March, and to create a large number of summer jobs for students, giving them much-needed support when many have lost the jobs they held during the year and will find it very difficult to find a summer job in the state the companies are in. The 300,000 volunteers of the civic reserve, as well as the young people doing universal national service, can also be mobilized.

Society as a whole, young people and adults alike, all of us, are facing an unprecedented crisis, which is shaking our certainties and breaking social bonds; at the same time, we are seeing original initiatives flourish. What Terra Nova proposes, by targeting young people who are in social difficulty, by relying on adults of all generations, students or working people, to give each other the opportunity to renew social ties, and also, through the practice of very diversified activities, to give meaning to the experience we are living.

This project, whose main objective is to address fragile audiences, requires physical, budgetary and organizational means, men and women... but also, and this is essential, steering.

There are several possible solutions - the worst would be a top-down process, starting from the ministries and working down the whole administrative chain: this is not the way to mobilise forces. It is a question of involving all the forces mentioned by the Think-tank in an inclusive way, although they do not have a strong experience of collaboration, giving local authorities a central place.

Martin Andler, coordinator of the Terra Nova Research and Higher Education cluster,
Celine Danion, co-coordinator of the Terra Nova Culture Cluster,
Jules Donzelot, associate researcher at the Centre Emile Durkheim (UMR 5116),
François Gaudel, Honorary Professor of Mathematics, President of the "Open Science" association,
MarcOlivier Padis, director of studies at Terra Nova.

(Source : Coronavirus: a look at a crisisTerra Nova, April 29, 2020)

[1] Martin Andler, Marc-Olivier Padis, " School calendar: for new educational times Terra Nova, June 21, 2019; Martin Andler, Daniel Bloch, Jules Donzelot, Constance Hammond, Guillaume Miquelard-Garnier, Martin Richer, Arnaud Thauvron," " " " ". Aiming Higher": New ambitions for democratizing higher education "Terra Nova,October 2019.
2] The proposals made here, for a time of crisis, are in line with those made for a normal context in the report of the High Council for the Family, Childhood and Age (Council for Childhood and Adolescence), ". Third-party times and places of children and adolescents outside the home and out of school "February 2018.
3] The training of facilitators, on the one hand through accelerated access to BAFA, on the other hand in disciplinary pedagogies should be part of the plan to be put in place.

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