The social foundation of the European Community is in need for improvement. According to the EC, Europe as an economic and civic entity, as well as the social dimension in European countries is challenged with the disproportionately large flee of refugees to Europe but also with recent attacks in major cities in Europe which has a big impact on the public opinion and the level of tolerance in different European countries towards certain groups in society. The recent happenings will remain a major point of reference in Europe’s history.
Some countries are already diverse in many ways and will become even more diverse. Education systems of respective European countries were not designed for the current population. In superdiverse cities like Paris, The Hague and Brussels there is no majority anymore. These are so-called majority minority cities (Crul 2013). The population in these cities consist of all minority groups. The previous majority also became a quantitative minority. Quantitative diversity is not a guarantee for equal opportunities in education and at the labour market. This quantitative development in combination with growing societal tensions ask for more deliberate action on one hand and a vision on inclusion on the other hand. The declaration on Promoting citizenship and the common values of freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination through education, which is the result of an informal meeting of European Union education ministers in Paris, Tuesday March 17 2015, needs to be implemented successfully.
But policy only is not sufficient. There is a greater need for evidence-based practices from countries and institutions that have been successful in similar developments on one hand and made a sustainable impact on the other hand. There is no need to invent new wheels. There is a great need though to successfully implement tested models of inclusive practices within schools and learning communities, with the aim to achieve impact on an individual, institutional and systematic level. Inclusive pedagogies and methodologies to support reflection processes and teaching and learning are one of the conditions to make a difference for all students in their educational pathway to success as well as their personal journey as responsible citizen in Europe.
Analysis provided in the Equnet project, as published in its report on Evolving Diversity showed that, despite public support for equity, the number of projects not funded by governmental entities is growing. Universities, NGO, local communities and student associations develop most of the latter programmes. Society has its own dynamics and is influenced by more parameters than policy and politics only. Especially for those societies to whom diversity is a given and a quantitative reality.
Nevertheless, inequity does not result only from household’s financial difficulties, and from cultural gaps. There are other constraints that prevent children and young people to aspire a pathway beyond secondary education and apply to universities, such as:
- a different understanding of who is entitled to access education;
- the ignorance of the importance of a certain social, cultural and educational capital;
- the presumption that STEM is inaccessible;
- gender disparities.
While states, regional and local administrations are having growing difficulties to fund initiatives to enhance access and participation, educational institutions and students themselves are finding other ways to promote greater equity. In this process different types of informal education are initiated for instance many homework support initiatives and more structured initiatives like children’s universities. The EUCU.NET is an example of the great number of these examples of informal education that form a catalyst in lives of many children to start thinking about a pathway beyond secondary education. These types of informal education are supportive to the success of children in their formal and formative educational live. Seeds are planted in their young brains about educational opportunities but even more about belonging within a learning community and within the broader society.
This project is conceived to elicit, promote and disseminate some of those ideas – good IDEAS – that were developed in different parts of the world, in particular in Europe. The goal is to contribute to the dissemination of good practices. The aim is to identify ideas and proven practices that have the potential to be implemented with small investment and can be disseminated, replicated and scaled up. Proven practices that truly respond to the needs and identities of a diverse educational community. A specific focus is to look particularly for evidence of success and for evidence of flexibility – ideas that can be translated and adapted in different contexts with small changes to the specific conditions of those new contexts. We are looking for alternatives for the large-scale public investments, revisiting and trying to find ways to improve through new policies that are a better respond on the growing needs of current societies.
Once these ideas have been identified, the project intends to operationalise the lessons learned by incorporating them into the inclusion strategies of schools, as well as through teaching and learning training by teachers around Europe to better work with communities on inclusion issues.
Thus, this project is based on two assumptions. Firstly, that there is a multitude of initiatives already operated by individual schools, NGOs and universities, that have proven success in improving inclusive participation in education. Secondly, that there is a demand from schools and other educational providers to improve their equity profiles. Thirdly, that bringing together operators of successful initiatives with those of prospective initiatives will stimulate a positive feedback loop whereby they support each other in strengthening / starting such initiatives.