The issues of young people’s school failure, disaffection and disengagement has been and still is a topic of debate at the European level, made worse by the current prolonged economic crisis. At the 2000 European Council in Lisbon, the European Union defined the dimension of the school failure problem as: “The number of 18 to 24 years old youngsters with only lower-secondary level education who are not in further education and training”. An EU benchmark was set that the proportion of early school leavers should not be more than 10% by 2010 (European Commission, 2006). By 2006 only six of the twenty-seven Member States had met this benchmark (Austria, Slovak Republic, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovenia and Croatia). The average early school leaving statistics in the remaining twenty-one countries was 18% and worsened further as the number of young people not in education, employment and training (NEET) has increased across the EU. School failure is a major cause of social and professional exclusion among youngsters. Although the causes are many and complex, young people who have abandoned education cite traditional educational provision and an inability to feel included and appreciated as the main reasons of their disaffection and disengagement. This calls for innovative and young people’s centred solutions to the problem. The SAS project proposes a further alternative pedagogical approach based on a positive experience acquired outside school through informal or non-formal learning, such as participating in volunteering activities. A volunteering-based experience would enable young people to acquire and/or develop skills and competences useful for young people to return to education or work. Volunteering is part of non-formal and informal learning supported by the Copenhagen process. Specifically, the SAS project seeks to use volunteering as means to give young people the opportunity to develop skills within associations. Volunteering through and within an association would enable young people to apply theoretical knowledge learned at school, enrich and expand their social network, and acquire or develop social and professional skills and competences. Moreover, volunteering would help young people to develop a positive image of themselves; increase their self-esteem and self-efficacy, and provide them with practical opportunities to develop work-related skills. To be involved in an association is also a way to develop key competences enhanced by the European Council and the European Parliament in December 2006 (eight key competences) specifically learning to learn, social and civic competences, sense of initiative and entrepreneurship, cultural awareness and expression. The main aim of the Success at School through Volunteering (SAS) project is to expose youngsters affected by early school leaving and living in difficult areas to a pedagogical approach through a training course for young people and a mentoring training package for adults working with young people meant to valorize a voluntary involvement in identifying the relevant skills and competences acquired through volunteering. The SAS project aims to reduce the number of early school leavers and to improve learning outcomes for learners, especially youngsters from a migrant and disadvantaged background and with special needs through volunteering as an alternative pedagogical strategy integrating the “detour” approach.
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