Alternative education for detached youth
Galia Zalmanson Levi
At the beginning of every school year at September 1st, all the daily Hebrew papers in Israel run a common headline: ‘A million and a half students back to school today’. The radio runs careful driving ads now that children are filling the streets and TV journalists report from school yards, broadcasting interviews with excited first-graders and their parents.
For many dozens of youths in Israel, however, this day is neither exciting nor special in any way. They don’t walk to school, they don’t crowd the crosswalks, they don't wait to go to school. These are young people who have been dropped by the school system,. In Israel they are called ‘detached’ youth, and considered youth at risk. Risk of being involved in drugs and/or crime. .
Ever since the foundation of the formal school system in Israel and even before that, there has been a persistent phenomenon of youth who got disconnected form schools. This phenomenon also exists elsewhere in the world. It is related to many different aspects of the society in which it occurs, such as elites and marginalized groups, the age of adulthood, the roles schools play in certification, the existence of violence in society and schools. and the relations between rich and poor. Leaving the educational system is in some cases voluntary but more often it occurs involuntarily and with the ‘assistance’ of the system itself.
The latest Ministry of Education publications place the dimensions of students’ dropping or rejection by the system at 22,000 girls and boys from the ninth through twelfth grade, representing 7.7% of the entire student population of these age groups. Non-government sources, however, estimate that over 30,000 young people of this age group have been dropped by the educational system.
The Ministry of Education has developed services and programs for detached youth, it is called—Youth Advancement. These programs are designed to reduce the inequality and the gaps manifested in the system’s practice of dropping young people.
For four years I served as Director of the Education department at the Ministry of Education Youth Advancement section, I was responsible for educational programs for detached youth. During this period I led, and participated in, many changes in existing programs. Along with my colleagues at the Ministry of Education, I attempted to improve the programs and adapt them to the achievement of social change and the reduction of inequality. The state’s engagement with detached youth in Israel is very extensive. It allocate large budgets; professional services are developed especially for this purpose; professional training programs in various colleges are especially designed to meet its needs. Services for detached youth are provided by the government through the municipal authorities of over 100 communities. The programs include counselors in each community who provide personal treatment, facilitate social groups, counsel teachers and provide vocational training as required by the young people’s fields of interest.
The service as a whole deals with young people at risk, including those who still attend school but are in danger of dropping out, and those who have dropped out of school completely. Funding for the educational programs is based on the number of youths who have already been completely dropped or rejected by the formal educational system.
I have chosen to present the Ministry of Education Youth Advancement programs in terms of the mechanisms that lead to social change and to a reduction of inequality, and in terms of the mechanisms that work to preserve the existing social structure and the current distribution of resources.
Over the last two decades, the Ministry of Education, through its Youth Advancement section, has constructed a therapeutic-social network for detached youth that operates outside the school, within the youths’ communities and in some cases in the streets.
At present, over 4,000 boys and girls throughout the country are taking part in the program.
The Youth Advancement services operate a multi-disciplinary and multi-dimensional network of intervention, including individual and group treatment, value-based social activities, training in vocational skills and general education. The network operates on three levels: the personal level, the group level, the family level and the community level.
The program offers the student an opportunity to complete formal high school graduation including matriculations exams. The teaching happens in individual or group program, It is operated mainly in the afternoon hours in various community spaces.
The system of education for detached youth is highly successful, extremely professional and very complex. Its main goal is enhancing social equality while reducing social gaps.
I have chosen to present a critical examination of this system and to ask the following central questions: Do these programs indeed advance the goals that they intend to? Does the program really lead to social change?
I have defined the concepts of social change and social preservation within three levels. The first, the state level, involves the positioning of the educational program within the formal educational system and within the structure of the Ministry of Education. The second, the organizational level, involves the program’s structure and the methods of its implementation. The third, the pedagogical level, involves the connection between teachers and young adolescents engaged in these programs.
The state level
Position— In the structure of the ministry of education Youth Advancement and its educational programs are placed within the un-formal education Informal education is considered less important then formal school education. There for the location of youth advancement programs in the informal section marginalizes the program in the overall system of state education.
On the other hand it allows freedom of planning, flexibility of implementation that doesn't exist within the formal system.
Budget— The budget allows educational programs for some 4000 youth. However there are , more then 22,000 girls and boys from 14-18 that do not get those services. This budget limits the ability to lead a real social change.
Matriculation Exams— Matriculation exams currently serve in Israel as entry requirements for colleges and universities and for many jobs in the public sector. Many detached adolescents take these exams. The adolescents studying within the Youth Advancement framework do not get the same conditions and privileges as do the high school students. Thus it makes another difficulty for those who suffered failures.
Yet. it must be remembered that the possibility to do those exams is a favorable development of the last years.
The organizational level:
Populations—The population of young people handled by Youth Advancement includes two special groups: Arab youth and recently Jewish immigrated youth.
The newly emigrated Jews are about 20% of the Israeli population.
The youths experience crisis of emigration, and often is also subjected to racism and alienated indifference by society. This double crisis often lead to violence, to substance abuse and delinquency.
The Youth Advancement department trained professionals to address this issue. They hired counselors who speak the immigrant youth language, and know their culture. This policy has the potential of being a mechanism for social change.
Another group that is granted special treatment by the Youth Advancement programs is that of Arab youth. Israel’s population includes about 20% Arabs. The so-called ‘Arab sector’ is an independent section of Youth Advancement. Arab youths represent 5% of the youth handled by the programs. However 24% percent of those dropped by the system are Arabs. It is clear that Arab youth gets less services then Jewish youth. In principle, as the budgets for educational programs are allocated against individual names and Identity Card numbers, this should not happen. . There is also inequality between Jews and Arabs in Israel that are manifested in educational curricula in Arabic expression of culture and history of Arabs. These conditions reproduce the inequality between the Arabic and Jewish educational systems within the Ministry of Education.
Over the past few years, , a program has been initiated for the development of new educational curricula in Arabic. A curriculum in history has already been completed, as well as a reading comprehension curriculum in Arabic for youth. Other curricula are currently being developed. All of the new curricula are designed to incorporate cultural aspects, and Arab teachers are involved in their development. This effort represents a change in the overall social orientation of the educational mechanism. We can see that on this level in spite of the existing inequalities which serve as conservation mechanism, the new program act as a mechanism of change. It is a new promising beginning that still has a very long way to go.
Flexibility— The youth who participate in the program has the option to join the programs voluntarily they can do it at any time. After they have joined, an individual educational program is designed separately for each boy or girl by a local committee of professionals who are in contact with them. The individual program is designed to fit the wishes, the motivation and the situation of each youngster. It may change every month when the committee meets. Changes can be made in the end goals (the type of certification aimed at), in the social activities involved or in the time investment required. This creates a framework of potentially maximum flexibility, through which the individual youth can be best accommodated.
It is often suggested that formal schooling might be radically improved through the introduction of voluntary study. Voluntary study however is a basic necessity in the case of these adolescents who have lost faith in the educational system after long years of failure and disappointment. In such cases, voluntary study build trust and solidarity.
Educational programs in the Youth Advancement section are flexible in both time and place. While they are operated at the same time of the school year, they offer options for study throughout the entire year. A youth can enter and leave the program at any point in time and do so an unlimited number of times. The doors are always open for them and will consistently remain so.
Study times are set jointly by the student and the teacher. The rate of learning, the lessons and the amount of learning are set jointly by the student and teacher. As a result, youngsters who work can set their study periods at time that fit their work.
In the study process itself the teacher is committed to a high level of flexibility in learning rates. Sometimes the teaching is influenced by the living conditions of the detached youth, their work their family problems, or their problems with the authorities due to delinquency,.
With the exception of Matriculation certificates, which are issued by the Ministry of Education at set intervals, examinations in the Youth Advancement programs are conducted on dates that are agreed between the teacher and student. This flexibility allows each student to take an exam only when they feel prepared. Another flexible element is study place . Study takes place in a Youth Advancement educational center within the community, but it can also be conducted at many other sites, for instance: in the youth’s home, at a neighborhood school during afternoon hours, at a community center, or at any community space that may be relevant to the study.. All of these are truly potential mechanisms for social change. They distinguish the Youth Advancement programs from the formal educational system, that has a structural unity of time and place and mandatory studies.
To sum up the examination of the organizational or structural level of Youth Advancement work, it exhibits a great deal of potential for social change.
The pedagogical level:
My examination of the pedagogical level will be based on the principles of critical pedagogy. The leading philosopher formulator of this pedagogy was Paulo Friere, a Brazilian educator. Critical pedagogy proposes educational methods that lead to social change, towards democratizing society and reducing social inequalities. The critical reading of reality by the teaches is a necessary condition for their work towards social change. A critical reading of reality identifies the social structures and the structures of power within a given society even when these are hidden. Teachers with a critical reading of reality will not place the entire responsibility for dropping out upon the student themselves. They will be able to identify the responsibility of the formal system within this process. Such a viewpoint will affect the way they work, turning it into a mechanism for social change.
The critical reading of reality expressed for example by Sarah, a teacher at the Youth Advancement program, who makes a comparison between her own work at the present and her previous work at a formal school in the past.
. At the school she worked in the past, mediocre students were considered students who ‘weren’t worth investment’. Teachers at regular schools, she says, invest their time in nurturing the outstanding students, the elites. “When supervisors visit, it’s the work of the strong students that’s displayed and that makes me angry…” The school isn’t proud of the achievements of its weak students and when this is compounded by disciplinary problems, such students are seen as a disruptive factor.
Another aspect of teachers’ critical reading of reality is manifested in their sense that the formal system exhibits a dismissive attitude towards children whose parents’ jobs aren’t socially prestigious. “… if the father is a lawyer, the teacher will pay more attention to the child than she will if the student is a son or a daughter of a market vendor… there are weaker students from middle class families and the teachers invest more in them. They update their parents regularly; meet with them in the afternoons…” These teachers have identified the social mechanisms employed by a strong group in dealing with a weaker group.
The critical awareness of Youth Advancement teachers regarding the formal educational system is crucial. It is directly relevant to their work because it explains the process that led students to drop out of school, or of being dropped by this system. Their perception of the process of dropping is highly important to how they treat their students and what they expect from them.
In their work at Youth Advancement, the teachers relate to the system in which they are working as an alternative to the educational system that has dropped these students. Within the formal system the student was unwanted, he was dropped by it, The Youth Advancement teacher sees this student as highly wanted, and she does her best to teach. Teachers expose their students to the central role played by education in the stratified structure of Israeli society. In recent years the training programs have begun to include content regarding critical readings of the educational system and of Israeli society at large. This content has resonated powerfully with the teachers’ assessments of their students’ capabilities. They base their assessment on close personal relations with the students, and on the recognition that the educational system serves as a mechanism for selection and mainstreaming. The shift in teachers’ consciousness is expressed through their conversations with the student and even more through their work. Over the past few years the number of students within the program successfully achieving certificates has doubled, and the number of students achieving matriculation certificates grew by several dozen percent. There is no doubt that these data testify to the teachers’ recognition of both their students’ and their own abilities to achieve these goals. This is a distinct mechanism for achieving social change, which has a direct impact upon success levels among the youth engaged in the program.
Dialogue— Dialogue creates a democratic model of social relations between teachers and students. It builds up an authority basis for teachers who do not have a formal authority. It creates relations where teachers believe that they may learn from students no less then students may learn from them. This kind of communication creates mutual respect. Cultural knowledge constitutes part of the process of dialogue. Israeli society, is a society of emigrants, it has many different cultures based on country of origin, descent, age, current geographical placement, social and economic class, etc. Cultural knwledge, the recognition of diversity and the legitimization of each different culture, are necessary conditions for relations of dialogue to hold between individuals and groups.
The concept of hope, as a component of dialogue, when translated into terms of educational action, includes several elements: teachers’ expectations from pupils, the hope for a more egalitarian and just society,.
An examination of the dialogue taking place between teachers and students in the Youth Advancement programs shows a complex situation. There are clearly relations of mutual respect between teachers and students. The teachers share their work methods with the students and reach joint agreements with students regarding the learning process. The teachers and students set together the learning goals, the assignment and the meaning of the process of learning. It is important to keep in mind that the young people who attend these programs come of their own free will. If they are not respected by their teachers , they may "vote with their feet’ by not coming. The teachers respect their abilities, their difficulties, and their aspirations. In the course of the joint process the teachers indicate the goals and the hopes for change.
The positive expectations of the students are central in the dialogue and form a highly significant component. It is not only the teacher who hold expectations. All the participants in the dialogue including students, teachers, parents, and counselors are aware of what is expected. The adolescents’ expectations from themselves, to advance themselves and to improve their employment by better education, are high relative to their current situation. The expectations of detached youth for their future is similar to that of the normative youth. 60% expect to finish learning with a certificate of some kind. Some aspire to become professionals and others expect to do skilled industrial work. The fact that they did not give up the dream to integrate in society and still have higher expectations is used in building motivation for study. Expectations are known to be self-fulfilling, the adolescents’ expectations from themselves and the teachers' expectations are highly important therefore.
The teachers understand that that problematic daily functioning of the students such as failure to get up in the mornings, dysfunctional home conditions, etc. cause the problems in their academic progress, and not lack of potential for learning, This perception of the student as possessing high capabilities and the understaning of their living conditions is very significant. However, it is also important to ask what the teachers and counselors actually do with the youths in order to develop their consciousness and their own ability to grasp the connections between their living conditions and their academic achievements. The teachers and counselors must assist them in building an understanding of their own life-courses and their rejection by the school within the relevant social context, rather than seeing it as a personal fate. This type of dialogue has begun to take place in recent years between teachers and youths engaged in the Youth Advancement program and it is effective in influencing the youth's self-images.
Expectations from the students are higher then the expectations they experienced within the formal system.
An additional element is love. Given that the framework of study is either individual or conducted in small groups of up to 5 students, personal and emotional relations are formed. The teachers truly love the children and care about them in a personal sense. It is not uncommon for teachers to phone young people at home to find out how they are, to work overtime in order to maximize a student’s chances of success at an exam, or just to spend time talking with the youths about personal problems which are not necessarily related to their studies.
Dialogue among the teachers and students within the program creates a mechanism for social change. The dialogue process has been introduced into training courses for the program in the past few years and has resulted in a dramatic change in success rates, and in the numbers of students currently studying towards higher certificates. Dialogue in all its aspects is a powerful mechanism for social change that operates within the Youth Advancement programs. Of course there is still considerably more to be done in this field.
Curricula— Curricula in schools is not just the textbooks and workbooks but it also includes every single activity taking place within the school, both formally and informally: Curricula contains the relations between students and teachers, the learning environment, the organization of knowledge, the control of time, the design of textbooks and the meanings assigned to them, the school regulations and rules, the social relations within each class, etc.
According to critical pedagogy, meaningful learning is possible when the curriculum is formulated within the school, using advisors, and other resources. Curriculum that is based on the real life of the learners is more meaningful then a pre-packaged curriculum that might not suit the students or teachers.
The pre-set curricula of the educational program are only frameworks. Every subject required towards achieving a given certificate includes a list of headings, contents and skills that the student needs to cover in order to achieve this certificate. Beyond that, the teachers themselves are responsible to construct the teaching processes, select the texts and the core contents. The curriculum is designed in a process of dialogue between the teacher and the student, this process clarifies both the final objective of the learning process and the manner in which the process will take place. As most of the learning processes in the program are individual or involve small groups, with no external intervention, decisions are reached jointly. The teaching process as described by teachers within the Youth Advancement programs begins with the adolescent describing they are interested in. That is the starting point. At times the teachers simplify texts for the students, adapting them to their individual reading levels. This enables the study of high-level content even when reading levels are relatively low. Teachers attempt all the time to make connections between the students’ daily lives and the contents of study. Such connections run through current events, routine tasks, through media items concerning youth. Relevant texts are selected by the teachers based on their knowledge of the student. Some teachers transform students’ spoken texts into written texts. The teachers’ responsibility is absolute. She is the one who determines the student’s levels of knowledge and ability. She is the one who rewrites texts accordingly.. Connections to everyday reality are made, for the most part, by the teacher, and the reading assignments are chosen by her, based on her concept of what will interest her pupils.
In the trade-off between content and process the teachers clearly prefers the process. Sarah, a teacher in the program, says for example that one of her students is interested in the field of computers, an area she knows nothing about. She tells him, “You’ll teach me,” and she does reading comprehension work with him through texts about computers, meanwhile acquiring a new field of knowledge from the youth. In addition, she integrates play into the lessons. The games she includes don’t necessarily teach content but they teach important skills and modes of behavior such as: reading instructions, following rules, taking turns, accepting failure.
For the most part, the Youth Advancement educational program curricula reconstruct the standard content of the formal educational system. They do so on the assumption that in future the young participants will need to become part of this system.
In the past the fundamental assumption of low-level study and simple texts dominated the curricula developed. In recent years new curricula have been developed to include innovative approaches to the teaching of math and language, tests were designed to include understanding and thinking rather than accumulated knowledge alone. A unique Arabic curriculum in history has been developed, integrating an examination of the complex history of the Arabs in Israel within Israeli society. These curricula are all based on a joint teacher-and-pupil process of knowledge creation, on relevance to the students’ daily lives, and on a high level of expectations.
None of the curricula ignored or try to by pass the teacher. On the contrary, they give the teachers an a lot of responsibility and initiative.
As stated, the curriculum is more than just content and learning methods. It also includes the physical place where learning happens and the atmosphere in which it takes place.
In many communities that operate Youth Advancement programs learning take place in old buildings that, in some cases, are badly in need of repair, Some communities, however, have allocated special buildings that are appropriate for learning. When learning happens in a neglected physical site this signifies both low-level status and low expectations, and above all it signifies the marginality of these adolescents and their study relative to other investments made by the state and the local municipalities.
To a very large extent, most components of the curricula represent mechanisms for social change. The element of the learning environment, constitutes a mechanism for social preservation, as it reconstructs the youths’ sense of marginality relative to those who study at the large, formal schools.
To sum up the pedagogical level, it would seem that most of the mechanisms within this level operate towards social change, with major options for enhancing this orientation even further.
Only examination of the entire context, the relations between the various levels in which the Youth Advancement programs operate, can provide an accurate view of the full meaning of the mechanisms for social change and preservation at work in these programs.
The national or policy level , oriented mostly towards social preservation The organizational, structural level is contains contradictory mechanisms operating in both directions simultaneously, towards social change and towards social preservation. However, the effort towards social change is more powerful. The pedagogical level is consructed entirely by mechanisms operating towards social change. The orientation of these mechanisms is clear and obvious.
The larger the number of mechanisms operating to achieve social change, within the educational program, the greater the degree of change will be in achieving equality. It is clear today that a majority of mechanisms within the program are already oriented towards change, and especially those related to the program’s structure and the pedagogy practiced within it.