, , ,

“Oma/Opa-Projekt“ – Bridging Generations for Education


The "OMA/OPA Project - Bridging Generations for Education” is to be understood as an alliance of generations that enables (further) education, life-long (mutual) learning, personal development and strengthening of social and intercultural competences. Thanks to its easy-to-access approach, the project helps to overcome social barriers and promotes equal opportunities. Pupils are sustained in the transition from school to further education or work, thereby preventing social and/or school dropout. The strong commitment of volunteering seniors and students promotes integration and, in the longer term, social inclusion of socially and educationally disadvantaged children, as well as young people and their families.

The aim of this project is to find a positive approach to educate children, adolescents and their families; to empower women and promote dialogue between people of different social, cultural and religious backgrounds; to promote tolerance and respect; to overcome social and economic barriers; and to make equal opportunities a reality. We plan to train and secure the participation opportunities of older people.

Narrative, origins and objectives of the initiative

What kind of project is this? Please give a short description (summary) of it.

The "OMA / OPA project – Bridging Generations for Education” is a psycho-social learning aid project for socially and educationally disadvantaged children and adolescents. The project started in 2009 as a grassroots initiative with four primary school pupils and six volunteer seniors.

The outstanding element of the project is the inter-generational aspect of education. Volunteering seniors and university students help children and adolescents who have language and learning difficulties in a continuous one-to-one-relationship. The “learning couples” meet twice a week for sessions of two hours. The basis of successful learning assistance and language support is the trusting relationship between the pupils, the learning assistants and the project team.


A team of experts such as pedagogues, psychologists, communication trainers and experts in inter-cultural engagement accompanies the committed seniors and students.

Most of the disadvantaged children and adolescents have a migration background or have entered Austria with a refugee status. The one-to-one relationship between volunteer and child promotes mutual confidence and respectful communication, where problems can reveal themselves. This is one of the reasons why psychological support and coaching is such an important part within the project.

The volunteering seniors and students have the opportunity to get regular supervision, non-violent communication training and pedagogical/didactic advice.

For children and adolescents in distress we offer a sensori-motor art therapy approach: Work at the Clay Field® is a particularly efficient process-related method based on haptic perception. Work at the Clay Field involves an intense tactile experience that can link us to a primordial mode of communication - in essence, to our “body memory”.

The easy setting of a plain, wooden box filled with clay, provides a simple approach where much joy involved. The process of “reorganisation of the haptic senses” and its development on the Clayfield, is guided by a “therapist companion” because the process requires a “witness” that validates and mirrors the action of the child or adolescent.

This “haptic communication” in the Clayfield is particularly suitable for children and young people who have difficulty in concentrating, who have experienced traumatic situations or are exposed to difficult family situations in everyday life. The method proves to be helpful for children and adolescents whose German language skills are very limited because verbal interaction isn’t a core aspect of the Work at the Clayfield. The method is based on a saluto-genetic basis that strengthens the child’s resources without focusing on their problems.

Another essential part of the project is the regular exchange with the parents and teachers. Collaborations with external institutions (e.g. child protective services and social workers at schools) take place when needed.

Please tell us why, in general, this project is considered a successful one?

The success of the project is evident in the constant demand of families, schools and elderly people and students. It is very rare to find such a long-term, personal, caring and learning support model. The nature of the project of enabling continuous, intensive and ongoing care of an individual by a constantly engaged volunteer has proved to be successful. Through trusting relationships, learning becomes fun and the perception of cultural and generational diversity becomes a space of opportunities. Next to the pupil’s support, with managing their daily school routine, the project also focuses on empowering the individual's resources and on promoting their personal development through the innovative method Work at the Clayfield®.  Furthermore, the care within the project gives them a sense of security as well as a feeling of being welcomed and appreciated. Another successful part of the project is the empowerment of women.

And why would you consider it a grass-roots initiative?

The "OMA / OPA project – Bridging Generations for Education” can be considered a grass-roots initiative because the project idea was born after a private initiative following challenges observed in the neighborhood.

Due to its location in the “Brunnenviertel” neighborhood in Ottakring, a Venetian district, the Association NL40 is situated in the middle of multicultural society. In the course of the association's work, contact was established with Turkish and Serbian citizens, together with their personal history and challenges. In this way, the Association NL40 learned about the concerns of an elementary learner who had to repeat a certain grade twice due to linguistic problems. At that point, he was still far from being able to read and write in German. Meanwhile, the father of the association founder, Michaela Dirnbacher, died and Michaela’s mother was looking for meaningful way to solves this problem. As Michaela’s mother heard about the case of the child, she proposed to offer the child regular support for schoolwork. After some time, difficulties arose, as she was not sure what material she could use to help the child efficiently. At this point, the pedagogue of NL40 offered to support her in the further learning procedure. The pedagogue and the elderly lady decided to establish contact with the elementary school teacher in order to discuss the current state of the child’s education. This communication worked very well and the lady became more and more secure in supporting the learning process of the child.

From this very personal experience arose the idea of the - literally translated - “Grandmother/Grandfather Project”. This was to offer other children the opportunity to learn German in a well-meaning and protected environment, to master school tasks, to develop personal resources, as well as acquire social skills and intercultural competencies.

What challenges needed to be solved in this project?

The project started on a small scale but grew very rapidly, which brought many challenges. It was soon very clear that the support, which had to be provided for the volunteers, the children and the parents, was far more than providing a simple space to study quietly. Fortunately NL40 had a team of multiple experts to support the volunteers on a pedagogical, emotional and personal level. In addition, psychological support had to be put in place - especially for the children and their parents. Only then could the children and parents seize the opportunity to really benefit from the project’s programme.

Of course, the main challenge was to find enough and consistent financial support to build up the project in a sustainable way.

As a pilot project, the learning sessions would take place in the Association’s accommodation but the capacity was soon exhausted and within a sport period of time, there was not enough space for all the new “learning couples”. A bigger location had to be found. This location would have to be adequate for elderly people and at the same time easy accessible to the target group of children with migration backgrounds.

Another essential part of the project, which turns out to be a constant challenge, is the regular exchange with parents, teachers and headmasters. Some parents find it hard to understand that, for organizational reasons, it is important to communicate beforehand when a child is ill or cannot attend. Even if each family and elderly person has one attachment figure or tutor in place during the learning periods, communication needs to be cultivated constantly and in a creative way.

Due to age-related issues we have to face the challenge that many seniors sometimes have to quit their engagement on short notice. If so, volunteer seniors need to have substitutes rather frequently, as they may become sick, have appointments at doctors or hospitals, go on holidays etc. An ongoing challenge therefore remains the constant enrollment of a sufficient number of engaged elderly people with resources in competence and time. Ideally, the caring person meets the same child twice a week for two hours. If this is not possible, a child will need to have two “Senior Buddies”. After the immensely growing number of incoming refugees in summer and autumn of 2015, the project faced the difficulty of finding new volunteers, as a lot of them would already be assisting cases that were more urgent and immediate. The challenge in recruitment is also intensified by the changing seasons. In autumn, there are usually more newcomers. However, in spring and summer it becomes more difficult to activate new volunteers because of their pre-holiday season travel arrangements.

Is this initiative based on any particular theoretical framework? Which one?

The initial idea was not based on any theoretical concept or framework. It was developed out of the contact with disadvantaged families in the area and then expanded to ethical principles, such as social inclusion through community connection and needs-based learning. Through the integration in the social network of the project, the participation of all participants in the social events was sufficiently ensured. The project is based on the holistic approach of "Active Ageing" and the project coordinators are constantly connected with experts and practitioners In this field, e.g. in the course of the “UNECE Ministerial Conference on Ageing” to which project leaders were invited in 2017.

(Appendix) Is your intervention standing on its own or is it a part of a bigger and more holistic approach?

Both: it developed out of a personal experience, but has the vision of a harmonious and respectful co-existence in a multicultural, inter-generational and gender-equal society.

Please describe the group(s) intended as beneficiaries of this initiative

Why has this group (have these groups) been chosen?

The initial group of beneficiaries – children from socially and educationally disadvantaged families, who mostly have a migration or refugee background - have been chosen because they are the ones who tend to drop out first in the Austrian education system and therefore urgently need individual learning support. The engagement with beneficiaries emerges out of actual challenges that are observed in the district. In most cases parents could hardly support the children with respect to their own language skills, therefore they had to face major obstacles at the beginning of their educational pathway. Socially and educationally disadvantaged parents can normally not afford private tutoring or don’t have sufficient knowledge about the available options out there.

After the first year of the project, pupils were also directly referred by teachers. Austrian children from socially disadvantaged families are not excluded. The project initially focused on children from elementary school, but the target group was then extended to pupils from secondary schools.


The second group of beneficiaries of the project is elderly/retired people. They are chosen with respect to their potential, their willingness to do something meaningful and to contribute to society. A growing number of elderly people have no grandchildren, or their grandchildren are living abroad. “Bridging Generations for Education“ contributes to realizing the potential of living longer, thereby enabling seniors to pursue meaningful activities. Many of the seniors attending the project say that they appreciate being able to invest in the future and to relay their knowledge and experience to the younger generation. What they gain from this are feelings of happiness and satisfaction, which contribute to their mental well-being.

Could you please tell us something about the relative size of the (of each) target group, within the school/university population, region and/or country?

In 2017, the "OMA / OPA project - Bridging Generations for Education“ included 80 children and adolescents, 115 learning assistants, 93 parents, 15 cooperating schools, 25 cooperating teachers, 20 employees and three sites (Vienna, Krems/Donau and Amstetten).

Which social characteristics are taken into account and what is the geographical area covered?

The main social characteristics are that all the beneficiaries come from socially and educationally disadvantaged families, mostly where the parents cannot sufficiently support the children in their education. Until 2015, the project was implemented in two further locations in Vienna (9th district) in addition to the NL40 association. In Lower Austria, the project was established in Krems/Donau, Baden (near Vienna) and Amstetten. In the spring of 2015 the project located in Vienna moved in entirety to the 17th district of Vienna. Due to the lack of funding, the location in Baden had to be closed by the end of the 2014/2015 school year. Learning aid at the branch in Amstetten was able to restart after a temporary break in the autumn of 2016.

On which level is the project implemented?

Please describe the political and socio-economic factors that you believe have been important enablers for your initiative

Did the initiative have political support?

The "OMA / OPA Project - Bridging Generations for Education“ are partially funded by the following Federal Ministries in Austria - as it fits into certain parts of their funding policy/programmes:


Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs;

Federal Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs, Health and Consumer Protection;

From October to December 2009, the association received political and financial support from the MA17 - Municipal Council of the City of Vienna for Integration and Diversity, which sponsored the pilot project.

Besides financial support, the Federal Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs, Health and Consumer Protection invited the project to participate as a “best practice” example at the Ministerial Conference on "A Sustainable Society for all Ages: Realizing the Potential of Living Longer" presented in Lisbon. The project was submitted by Dr. Erika Winkler of the Policy Department for Senior, Population and Voluntary Policy of the Federal Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection and Chairman of the UNECE AG on Ageing, as a “good practice” example and adopted by the responsible Commission.

How did it fit with local, regional or national policies?

Although the programme did not originate from regional or national policy guidelines, it was soon able to lean on the guidelines from the Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and the Federal Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs, Health and Consumer Protection.

Because of the most recent government change in Austria it is not clear which direction relevant policy guidelines will take in the near future.

Locally, the project strengthens the visibility of integration and participation of pensioners and it takes part in further district-activities. Neighbours are regularly invited to participate on special occasions such as Christmas festivities or farewell parties before the holidays.

Who are the stakeholders supporting the initiative?

Most relevant stakeholders and intermediaries are schools, senior associations, family centers, refugee homes, and other social educational institutions.

Are there particular demographic changes present that are influencing the project?

In 2009 almost 80% of the beneficiaries where second-generation migrants. Since around 2015 there were more requests from children with a very recent refugee history. The project was influenced by the growing demand of parents wanting to get connected with the project and also by the obvious necessity of psychological and personal assistance.

What is the institutional strategy and culture of the (educational) organization?

“NL40 - Association for Promoting Human needs in Health, Communication, Integration, Arts and Culture” (NL 40) has emerged from the close cooperation of 20 like-minded people with a professional background in different therapeutic and counseling areas, as well as artists.

A very strong congruence of individual goals made it possible to jointly develop and implement various projects in the field of health prevention, art and integration. The individual members cover very different professional areas that complement and reinforce each other.

In the association, experts work on topics of ethics, intercultural competence, ethnology, psychology and psychotherapy, theater (drama, singing, and dance), art therapy, language teaching, coaching, healthy eating, exercise, religious philosophy and architecture.

Being in close proximity to so many different ethnic groups from the 16th&17th district of Vienna also means understanding their concerns and being able to directly and immediately respond to their needs.

The core culture of the project is based on tolerance and gender-awareness, non-violent communication, a respectful and appreciating way of engaging with each other. The institutional strategy is to strengthen the resources of children and young adults as well as to provide a safe surrounding in which they can experience and express themselves in a guided way of studying and communicating with people who they trust.

To what extent does the initiative have an influence on institutional policy (or potential influence) of the (educational) organization?

The initiative receives partial funding from public sources, but it struggles annually to secure the next budget, as it is based on one-year funding periods only. However, we do have an actual influence as the project is very often quoted as a “best practice” example in the media, but also in scientific research papers. The initiative received many official awards in different categories.

(Appendix) Is there public support for your initiative and the issue it addresses?

This question has already been answered.

(Appendix) What other factors do you think have been important for the success of this initiative?

Please describe the overall initiative design and the methods and tools used to reach the goals

Please describe the specific activities carried out.

The "OMA / OPA project - Bridging Generations for Education“ model is based on the following activities. The number of hours varies from year to year depending on school holidays and the given budget. Following data is taken of the year 2017:

Learning Support Session: 38 appointments (Mo/Wed), 36 appointments (Tue/Thurs) in Vienna, 36 appointments in Krems and 32 in Amstetten

Didactics and educational advice: 4 appointments of 2 hours per semester - 4x2x2 (semester) = 16 hours total; Pedagogue completes two appointments per calendar week (once Mo/Wed and once (Tue/Thurs)

Supervised learning support: 6 dates of 3 hours for Vienna Mo/Wed (18 hours total), 6 dates of 3 hours for Vienna Tue/Thurs (18 hours total) and 4 dates of 3 hours for Krems (12 hours total) = 48 hours total

Communication training for Volunteers: 4 dates of 3 hours for Vienna Mo/Wed and Tue/Thurs in common (2 dates per semester), 2 dates of 3 hours each
for Krems (1 appointment per semester) = 18 hours total

Communication training team: 10 appointments of 2 hours, appointments take place once a month, the dates are planned for the middle of relevant month, shifts are possible, 20 hours total

Discussions with parents: take place according to need, whereby the event of two parents (12 hours total)

Coaching rounds: 4 appointments of 4 hours spread over the year, 16 hours total

Consultations / Psychological Care, support: takes place as required, 14 hours are calculated

Women's Circle / strengthening mothers: 18 appointments in the interval of two weeks, with each woman having the possibility of 36 hours total consumption (18 appointments x 2h / appointment)

Work at the Clay Field: takes place on a weekly basis, per child 1,5 hours / appointment, on average 15 hours are needed per child for the integrative process of development. On average, 20 children are accompanied each year.

What were the key roles (teacher, student, management team etc.) within the project?

The volunteers (elderly people and students) play the major role. They frame and shape the learning sessions according to the need of her/his child. In order to allow for this in a harmonious way, it is important that a reliable assisting person/tutor is always on site. This person is the main reference to the volunteers apart from the role of the coordinator. He/she is there to support the learning couples in the learning process, to provide a playful program involving motion and games, to take care about organization of the couples beforehand (organizing replacement if a volunteer is ill or not able to come). He/she is also there to communicate with the parents e.g. in case children forget to come. One important function for them is to observe the social dynamics between the learning couples and mediate or inform the supporting team in case of problematic situations e.g. to the psychologist or coordinator.

The project coordinator takes another key role in the organisation of the whole project, which is mainly focused on the team and fundraising. More complicated matters regarding the learning couples are under the responsibility of the coordinator. He/she is also the intermediate point when it comes to connect the children to the psychologist or the Clayfield-therapist.

What ideas, tools, theories, models, methodology (etc.) have been used to reach the goals?


The project idea is to support socially and educationally disadvantaged children and adolescents through education by offering constant and individual learning support from elderly people and students as volunteers.

The aim behind this project is to promote a dialogue between generations and people of different social, cultural and religious backgrounds, to promote tolerance and respect, overcome social and economic barriers and make equal opportunities possible, as well as secure the opportunities of participation for older people.

The project framework wants to create an alliance of generations that enables (further) education, life-long (mutual) learning, personal development and strengthening of social and intercultural competence.


Learning support sessions, didactic and educational advice, supervised learning support, communication training for volunteers, communication, team training, discussions with parents, coaching rounds, consultations / psychological care  and support, women's circle / strengthening mothers, work at the Clay Field.


Inter-generational education, life-long (mutual) learning, personal development and strengthening of social learning and intercultural competence, long-term, personal caring and learning support, trusting relationship as a learning model.


The main methodologies followed is the needs-based tutorial approach and the observation of the trustful learning experiences and their long-term repercussions. In order to monitor the learning sessions with the children, experiences are documented and discussed within the group of tutors on site, within the team-supervision and of course in an individual context with the coordinator or psychologist. On the end of each semester there is a documentation of the process within the learning-couple handed in by the tutors. Volunteers also have the possibility to express their concerns in regular meetings (or in private counselling) with the coordinators and the tutors. Questionnaires are handed over to the volunteers on a regular basis in order to identify their experiences and positions towards the project.


What are the final revenues of the project?

Please describe if your project ensured its sustainability

If so, how did you ensure the short-term impact of the project?

The immediate effect of the learning aid project is that children get help in completing their homework in a secure and respectful surrounding. Likewise, during sessions children learn one or more new words through close interaction with their mentors. The children also have the opportunity to get full attention from one person and therefore a trustful relationship can develop. In this respectful space, emotions such as frustrations or worries can be expressed but joy and playfulness are also expressed. Elderly people find a meaningful task and a rhythm in their weekly activities.

And how did you ensure the long-term impact of the project?

The continuity of care has a lasting positive effect on the children and adolescents. Learning becomes associated with joy, creating a long-term interest in education. The development of social competence and the strengthening of personality has a lasting positive effect on the personal success of the participants, taking complex individual needs into account. The project team endeavors to constantly support and encourage volunteers in their work. The team tries to find individual solutions and puts in effort to accompany children over several years in order to sustainably promote their education.

Has your project been replicated elsewhere?

Please tell us about the resources used in this initiative

What was the budget for the initiative?

The budget changes from one year to the other, but overall budget sums up to approx. 100.000 EUR per year for coordination and implementation. Approx. 75% of the budget is covered from public/governmental sources, approx. 25% are from private sponsors and awards.

How much did the initiative depend on volunteers?

The project fully depends on the commitment of volunteer, as this is the key component in the concept.

How were the costs perceived by the public/the sector/other stakeholders?

To what extent did the initiative achieve its objectives?

Please describe the evidence to support the success of your initiative.

The impact of the "OMA / OPA Project - Bridging Generations for Education” is difficult to assess in general, but the individual learning process and progress is constantly reported by the personal assisting person/tutor on site. The documentation show a great impact on the level of educational and social progress in children and volunteers. In the same way, monthly team supervision contributes to impact assessment, as they reveal the success as well as the challenges. In this regard, changes and adaptations in the programme can be implemented immediately if necessary. The continuous contact with teachers and headmasters is also providing evidence of success of the initiative.

Did the intervention lead to any unintended (positive) outcomes?

The project, initially conceived for elderly people in first instance, turned out to be of great interest for younger people such as students who want to gain some practice in the field. In some cases, students turned out to be good intermediaries between elderly people and children.

It turned out that children would like to be supported also after elementary school. The relations that had been established over a longer period seem to be extremely precious during the period of puberty, as sometimes communication with and within the family becomes more and more complicated.

What indicators (quantitative and qualitative) have you measured to demonstrate success?

The quality of the "OMA / OPA project" has been supported by and revealed through the observation and documentation of the learning aid activities by the group supervisors. After the end of the summer semester, the group supervisors prepare semester reports in which they record all important developments within their study group. Both the documentation and the semester reports are analysed and interpreted at the end of each year.

An essential element in the evaluation is the questionnaire for the project participants. Care is taken to include representatives of all the groups who are involved in the project in order to obtain the most comprehensive and meaningful picture of the project’s impact of and the satisfaction of the participants. The analysis of all available documentation has a direct impact on the yearly implementation of the project as well as required modifications. In this regard, evaluation is essential for quality assurance of the entire project.

Regular team discussions in which the group leaders report on the developments within their study groups and work on optimizing the learning support together with the project leader, are also relevant for quality development. They also lead to action set by the project team which includes, among other things, to forward children/adolescents with behavioral problems to the expert of "work at the Clay Field” or the psychologist, the initiation of talks with parents or the contact with teachers. The effect beyond the duration of the project is also reflected in the mentoring work of the learning assistants. This means that they are committed beyond the learning support to their godchildren and their families. In many cases, the seniors/young volunteers became important caregivers for the children/adolescents and their families. Families who have been living in Austria for a short time find the support by the learning helpers very helpful. In addition to the commitment of the learning helpers, the entire project contributes to many beneficiaries completing compulsory schooling and/or apprenticeship training and embark on a further education path or enter a profession.


Other qualitative indicators were assessed by group Supervisor Magdalena Kompek, BA, Master in Social Economics and Social Work at the FH Campus Vienna and Sociology at the University of Vienna. She dealt with the "OMA / OPA project" on several levels. As part of her FH master's program, she addressed the question of whether the "Social Reporting Standard" (SRS) of the Social Reporting Initiative e.V. (SRI) was suitable as an evaluation concept for the "OMA / OPA project". The result of the research was that the implementation of such evaluation tools is possible because the SRS guidance document is amenable to project work and the approach to impact is very appealing due to its qualitative component" (Kompek, op. cit., Pp. 9-10). In her Master's thesis on the study of social economy and social work, she deals with the phenomenon of extracurricular learning assistance, whereby she carries out a comparative analysis of selected learning aid projects in Vienna with regard to the (funding) structure, function, goals and impact aspects. The "OMA / OPA project" is part of her analysis, with which she pursues the goal of "first of all give an overview of the multitude of different free learning aid projects in Vienna, in order to be able to compare different offers in a next step, for example in terms of their positioning (the phenomenon of educational inequality), pedagogical conceptualization (e.g. learning setting) and other meaningful framework conditions such as the funding structure "(Kompek, ibid., p. 4). The results of their analysis are eagerly awaited and may be taken into account in future project developments or future work methodology.
However, more empirical social research is desired that addresses the added value of the "OMA / OPA project" for society in order to emphasize the importance of individual, continuous and sustainable care for the individual success of children/adolescents as well as for the success of a peaceful society.

(Appendix) How did you evaluate/monitor this intervention?