A European study prevents the social exclusion of young people

Photo by Jonne Renvall

“Your research topic is very timely and important for Europe,” said Seppo Parkkila, vice-rector for research at the University of Tampere when he spoke at the launch of EduMAP, a large research project directed by Professor of Education Pirkko Pitkänen.

The project charts the opportunities of adult education to help young people at risk of social exclusion to get a foothold in the labour market and to make them more active citizens.

The Dean of the School of Education Risto Honkonen congratulated the international research group for securing funding for this project in a tough competition. Only 1.5 per cent of the applications in this programme section of the EU Horizon 2020 Framework Programme for Research and Innovation received funding, and the application of EduMAP scored the best points by far.

A Europe-wide benchmarking of good practices

“We are trying to figure out how adult education could reach young people under threat of social exclusion. In concrete terms, we will investigate both participation in and exclusion from adult education as well as factors contributing to the exclusion,” Pitkänen describes the aims of the research.

“Another point of interest is the so called communicative ecology in the field of adult education. Our aim is to analyse which information channels and means of interaction work the best in the case of young adults. We will also note good practices, analyse them and benchmark them on the European level.”

“Our aim is also to help European practitioners in the education field to reach young people on the local and national levels and to strengthen interaction. Another aim is to develop policy and practical means for guaranteeing active citizenship to young adults who are under threat of social exclusion,” Pitkänen continues.

Young people and refugees have many problems in Greece

Assistant Professor Georgios Zarifis from the Aristotle University in Thessaloniki is one of the participants in the study. Youth unemployment reached new heights in Greece at the time of the economic crisis in 2013.
“The unemployment rate of young people rose to above fifty-nine per cent. We had the smallest proportion of young people active in the labour force in the whole EU. Young people cannot find work without work experience,” says Zarifis.

In January 2015, youth unemployment in Greece was fifty per cent. The total number of unemployed was 1.2 million, which was two per cents less than two years previously.

In addition, it is estimated that about 100,000-150,000 undocumented refugees will arrive in Greece annually. Even as many as ten per cent of them can be unaccompanied minors.

“The beds the state and the NGOs offer to refugees and asylum seekers are barely enough to cover the needs of a selected number of highly vulnerable documented and undocumented asylum seekers. This group includes unaccompanied children, single mothers and individuals with health problems.”

Zarifis says that the refugees – most of whom arrive from Syria – must resort to seeking shelter anywhere they can or sleep rough in the streets and under the bridges.

“The refugees often remain invisible, walking around through the nights in order to protect themselves from the cold, violence and sexual abuse.”

The practical aspects are important

Zarifis thinks that EduMAP is a significant research both because of its practical aspects and the research cooperation.

“The EU has put innovation at the heart of its policies to solve societal problems. However, the focus to date has been on high-tech innovation, thereby forgetting that each problem has many aspects. The possible solutions can be high-tech, low-tech or no-tech. Solving problems is clearly more than a matter of technology,” Zarifis explains.

“EduMAP combines technology with topical social issues in Europe using education as the backdrop to addressing these problems. I have high expectations of this research as it combines educational development with active and participatory citizenship.”

“The diversity of the fields of research in this project is important and it facilitates specialisation because scholars have different strengths, interests and approaches to the same questions. The research will also benefit from practitioners with the help of whom we may be able to produce a more balanced picture of the situation.”

Immigrants are in demand in Germany

Senior Manager, Dr. Beate Schmidt-Behlau from DVV, the German Adult Education Association, says that German youth are in a relatively good position in terms of education and employment.

“However, we have 1.5 million illiterate youths. The latest research results show that different learning disabilities are a partial reason; the young may have problems with hearing and writing speech sounds. These youths are not completely illiterate, but they may find it impossible to fill in forms or read the user manuals of mobile phones, for instance,” Schmidt-Behlau explains.

“About a million refugees will arrive in Germany this year and the situation will naturally put pressure on the educational and employment policies. Luckily, the refugees are arriving at a good time because skilled labour is in demand in Germany. Companies, universities and about a thousand adult education centres are generally speaking ready to take on the challenge to create new opportunities for the refugees.”

Schmidt-Behlau hopes that the EduMAP research will result in helping the most vulnerable young people by producing good new ideas.

“Such ideas include communicative ecology and the Intelligent Decision Support System IDSS. It is very important to cooperate on the European level because Europe is an open space and many young people move around quite a lot, some voluntarily and some are forced to move because of the state of the economy in their countries.”

Information sciences joined the project

Researchers from eight countries use the EUR 2.5 million project budget to create an information system to support decision-making based on the research results. The Intelligent Decision Support System (IDSS) developed at the School of Information Sciences of the University of Tampere will convert the information into an accessible form and offer an environment for interaction to decision-makers, education providers and target groups.

Without vocational training, young people easily become excluded from the labour markets and the whole society. Among immigrants, additional difficulties are brought by the lack of language and cultural skills. The increasing number of immigrants in Europe is making the EduMAP research particularly relevant today.
Researchers from Finland, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Spain, Turkey and the United Kingdom are partners in the three-year research project called Adult Education as a Means to Active Participatory Citizenship.

Text: Taina Repo