DEVELOPMENT OF LEARNING AND SOCIAL BACKGROUND SKILLS OF DISADVANTAGED STUDENTS

Short summary

A lack of discipline, a lack of engagement, off-task behaviour, concentration problems, the inability to work hard... The list of the obstacles perceived in regard to students with disadvantages – in particular, Roma – goes on endlessly in the everyday life of the schools affected, and the problems listed are considered unsurmountable in most cases.

Although we did not launch the programme to increase the number of counterexamples, but in the end we managed to do that regardless.

Our objective was to introduce and teach activities that are capable of efficiently developing learning and social background skills and can be performed with pleasure.

We chose to teach traditional archery and monocycling.

Context of good practice

Our main venue was Lyukóvölgy, Hungary’s largest settlement exemplifying spatial segregation, and our target group comprised children aged 8–15 living in the area. We had a mixed group of boys and girls.

For a year and a half, we worked with the kids in the afternoons during the school term and in a day camp or resident camp setting during vacation times.

Not exclusively, but typically the children attended the same elementary school operated by the Baptist community. The school’s management is open to innovative pedagogical methods even if they push the limits of the current public education system because the new approaches give efficient responses to their everyday problems.

The children had an opportunity to present their knowledge at various school events and were even rewarded for their efforts.

Main characteristics of the challenge, description of the target group

In the North Eastern region there are numerous schools that educate, almost exclusively, disadvantaged and Roma children, primarily as a result of spontaneous segregation processes. These children show typical symptoms of learning and behavioral problems of the disadvantaged/Roma children. However, the schools do not have at their disposal any real tool that was developed specifically for the efficient education of these children.

Success factors and processes

Owing to the nature of the activities, the students involved were aged between 8 and 15, mostly boys but around a third of them girls. About 40–50 children acquired the skills of archery and by the end of the programme about 15 kids were able to ride the monocycle independently.

The head of the programme was one of our colleagues holding a teacher’s qualification and having a lot of experience with alternative pedagogical methods and the education of disadvantaged children. Our colleague requested the help of a community organiser with in-depth local knowledge and a high-schooler who was proficient in monocycling and was allowed to offset his work against his school’s community service requirement.

The traditional tools of the education system have proven to be insufficient for developing disadvantaged, mostly Roma students. The children’s internal motivation, for the most part, dissipates rapidly on a path full of failures within the public education system, because of the wide gap between their abilities and the typical expectations conveyed by the schools. Few activities have been integrated into public education that are designed to serve carefully considered goals and are adjusted to the different abilities of the children, while also allowing the use of efficient methods and being exciting for the children as well – and not only for those with disadvantages. In choosing the activities it is important to avoid stereotypes that are prone to compartmentalising despite their positive intention. (For instance: Roma children? They will dance and make music!)

In view of the above and in line with our basic criterion that the activity should be movement-oriented, we selected two activities that had proved to be attractive to many children in the past, allow complex development and offer a sense of achievement in a relatively short time. It was important for us that, while the two activities are extremely different, they can be connected in the future once a certain proficiency level has been reached. In the end, some students reached a level where they were able to shoot arrows at a target while riding the monocycle.

Activity 1: ARCHERY with traditional bows

The activity develops skills such as discipline, precision and focus.

It requires patience and a keen eye for detail. Before the lightning fast flight of the arrow you need to draw and then release the string in harmony with your breathing, which builds up a slow rhythm. This static, rhythmic nature of the activity is very relaxing.

Activity 2: Monocycling

The activity is built on a dynamic, ceaseless rhythm which also requires great focus but at the same time, you need to finetune and balance quick movements and maintain your balance through continuous adjustments.

Results

Archery: It was extremely popular among both boys and girls from the start. The bows were available in different sizes and strengths, which equally enabled smaller and bigger kids to practice the activity. The precondition for entry was discipline and compliance with the rules. Even kids with behavioural problems understood this, and for the joy of practicing archery they were willing to meet the expectations.

Monocycling: Initially, only the two most skillful boys took the challenge and started to practice. It takes a lot of practice and perseverance for a beginner to start riding the monocycle independently. However, the fact that their “mentor” was not much older than them was a great motivation. The two boys needed four days of practice before they managed to ride 20 metres independently for the first time. Their success set off a tidal wave by the end of which about 15 children – boys and girls from 8 to 15 years old – learnt to ride the monocycle and, once the movement had become automatic, performed various tricks while riding. After having obtained the ability to move forward and turn at ease independently, the children worked together in pairs and in teams where the focus shifted to harmonising their movements, choosing the right speed and following a joint rhythm. It was a great step for the kids to experience the integration of the individual skills gained through persistent work into the joint task and, after much failure, trial and error, successfully present the knowledge that they acquired together as a team.

Required competencies: local knowledge, including the knowledge of families; openness to innovative pedagogical methods; awareness of the fact that the targets set by the school may occasionally be achieved more efficiently by using extra-curricular opportunities with a sense of purpose; enthusiasm.

To maximise their effect, these activities should be performed over the long term, integrated into the everyday life of the school. This is how their development potential could be exploited in the most efficient and targeted way.

Impact of measures taken

Perhaps the most important achievement is the sense of success experienced by these often despised children when performing activities that could be attractive to the children of any group of society. At the same time, we also had outstanding experiences regarding the children’s discipline and focus exhibited during the dangerous activities. The children gained first-hand experience on how to perform difficult, dangerous yet interesting tasks safely and successfully. This is expected to have a knock-on effect in future.

Teachers who had been around the children only in school settings before were surprised and glad to see the various skills that could be brought out from their pupils.

Leassons learned

One of the key aspects of the feasibility of the programme was the enthusiasm, perseverance and competence of the staff animating the activities. The other key to success was the school’s positive attitude and its willingness to recognise as valuable performances that are not strictly connected to the curriculum. The activities might become dangerous if the teacher is not present at a hundred percent during the activities. This requires just as much concentration on their part as on the kids’ part.

Resources needed

We managed to obtain the tools and equipment from grants and through private donations. We spent HUF 250,000 on the archery equipment and since we bought the monocycles used, we spent only HUF 40,000 for the six monocycles. The cost would have quadrupled if we had purchased new equipment. It cost HUF 10–15.000 per month to maintain the equipment and replace the parts damaged as a result of wear and tear. The programme was launched by professionals, and management of the activities was added to their job description.

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Author:

Gábor Takács

Institution:

Miskolc City Government; Sunflower Association

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