Tackling the youth job crisis


Flemish initiative goes into the classroom to encourage teenagers to stay in school

Back to basics

It’s not just Spain and Greece: Flanders is suffering from a youth unemployment crisis, too. An estimated 12.8% of Flemish youngsters between 15 and 24 are currently jobless. As in other countries and regions, young people in Flanders have been worse hit by the crisis than any other age group. In addition, studies have shown that without a secondary school diploma, the chances of finding a job are decreased by half.

And while other European countries are showing shrinking numbers of school dropouts, Belgium is witnessing a rise: from 11% in 2009 to 12% in 2011. In the province of Antwerp, 28% of pupils currently leave school without a diploma. Youngsters with foreign roots are half as likely to graduate. 

Alarmed by these developments, the Brussels-based P&V Foundation, which fights against the social marginalisation of young people, launched a broad programme two years ago combining scientific research with tangible interventions in the field. Earlier this month, P&V awarded six innovative projects battling youth unemployment grants of up to €50,000. Alongside the grants, P&V’s experts will take care of guidance, support and evaluation of the projects’ goals and progress.

“Our society cannot afford another lost generation,” says sociologist Mark Elchardus, president of the jury that chose the projects. “It is regrettable that when we assess the state of affairs of society, we often give more attention to the level of economic growth than for the level of youth unemployment and people leaving school without a qualification.” 

Intervention at school

P&V’s six laureates (pictured above) are divided evenly across Belgium’s three regions. From Chaos to Zen in the Classroom is one of the most original. The Antwerp-based organisation De Schoolbrug is the only organisation of the six that does not work with children outside the classroom but intervenes at school, dealing with the class as a whole. 

Convincing the class of the importance of an academic education – that is what we do

- Yamina Al Farisi

“Convincing the class of the importance of an academic education – that is what we do,” De Schoolbrug’s Yamina Al Farisi says. “We live in a knowledge economy to which a diploma is the only entry ticket. The kids need to know this.”

It all starts when schools are no longer able to handle certain pupils. Then De Schoolbrug is called in. “First we look at the level of transgressive behaviour in the class, the prevalence of students skipping class and the risk of expulsion from school,” explains Al Farisi. “Then we start the programme and stay for 10 to 12 weeks. Each week we train the kids in social skills, and we try to make them discover their own core qualities.”

During the 12 weeks, “the pupils have to finish an assignment about one of the teachers they admire,” continues Al Farisi. “When our work is done and we leave the school, this teacher becomes the pupil’s coach for the next four weeks. We try to create a safe class environment, including someone who is always there, who can be trusted. At the same time, we try to foster belief in themselves so they are encouraged to finish school.”

The other laureates include Brussels-based Odyssey, which works with 17 schools in the capital to motivate and encourage adolescents at risk of dropping out, and Foyer, an organisation connecting extremely marginalised youths with a migration background – mostly from Roma communities – with an education and the labour market. In Antwerp, Werkvormm organises workshops for children in primary and secondary school to explore their potential technical skills.

Flemish initiative goes into the classroom to encourage teenagers to stay in school

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