Youth, education and vulnerability

On many occasions, education confirms the existing social inequality. In the case of Belgian schools, the future secondary school teachers usually do not belong to ethnic-cultural minorities nor groups with low socio-economic status and, therefore, often have no sympathy for the young people they teach. In this context, we face pressing challenges to recognize diversity and work to reduce social inequalities.

Based on a valuable service-learning project, Leuven students of Master in Education get in contact with youngsters (approx. 12-18 years old) from families with a low socio economic status or from an ethnic-cultural minority. Such contact takes places within their families or their neighborhood, rather than in the school environment, which provides students with insights related to young people’s social vulnerability and inequality, and their relationship with education. This way students can consider and take actions that allows them to answer key questions such as: ‘How can I, as a teacher, take into account the possible pitfalls, in order to provide them optimal possibilities for (personal) development?’.

Throughout the project, students become familiar with the problems of both target groups and acquire knowledge on the interaction between school and family in a vulnerable situation, the impact that specific problems faced by people in these target groups can have on the school performance and the progress of youth learning, the school role to generate or reduce vulnerability, and strategies to limit the impact of vulnerability on school life.

Based on the exploration and knowledge of the existing organizations and initiatives in the field, the participatory observation, and the service- learning experience with youngsters in their own environment, the students of the University serve the community and reflect about their own practice as future teachers. During the process, they also become familiar with the service-learning pedagogy in secondary education and think about the ways in which they could contribute to its further development.

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