Developing and nurturing the transversal skills of disadvantaged young people through non-formal learning in unconventional spaces

CREUS was a programme, funded within the European Union Erasmus + programme, KA2 Cooperation for Innovation and the Exchange of Good Practices, looking into innovative ways for disadvantaged and NEET young people (aged 16-24) to develop transferable, and transversal, competences through engagement with non-formal, cultural and artistic learning.

Guided by one driving question, ‘In which ways can peer mentoring using creative practices in unconventional places be said to contribute to the social inclusion of vulnerable young people?’, partners undertook a programme of action research to explore ways in which they might create a methodology based upon four pillar or leading principles:
§ the use of the arts, culture and creative practice to engage with excluded young people through nonformal practice
§ the notion of ‘space’ as a learning environment, and how ‘unconventional’ spaces offer innovative and novel places for non-formal creative learning;
§ the specific contribution of peer mentors in non-formal creative learning § the transversal competences of the European Reference Framework for Lifelong Learning (ERF).

From the on-the-ground experience of developing a peer mentoring programme within less conventional spaces and places which resulted, a curriculum and a shared approach to learning began to emerge. The diverse needs of the different partner countries, and the different stages at which non-formal learning through reative approaches has been developed in each country, meant the programme was not without its challenges. But this is a common theme within many EU projects, and the sharing of experience this provokes can be also be a rich and important source of intercultural and trans-national learning. The time constraints of any project like this, were also an issue when many of the young people the partners were working with required time to learn to trust and begin to gain confidence in their own ability to be creative themselves and encourage it in others.

What emerged clearly from partners’ responses to the questions asked within the evaluation process, was that everyone involved had found the key to success lay at the intersection between peer-mentoring, informal learning and the use of unconventional spaces. Equally important was to have a diverse group of mentors, for the mentor/mentee relationship to have the potential to be bi-directional, and to have the real possibility for social impact as well as cultural and artistic expression within the projects undertaken.
What is also clear is that partners feel the approach CREUS has developed is now clear and strong. The transnational mentor/mentee aspect of the programme has led to a climate of trust and intercultural dialogue which can now be built on and the learning which has emerged can be now be used as a springboard for exploring ways in which many other topics, such as citizenship, could be addressed.

Two or three possible ways forward for the partnership therefore suggest themselves at this stage:
§ To explore ways in which this combination of peer-mentorship with experiential and practice-based approaches to learning within unconventional spaces can begin to provide a model for non-formal learning across a number of sectors and different themes.
§ To share this model, and the practice-based curriculum which has been developed, within a wider national and international context. Especially in the context of all those working with more vulnerable and disadvantaged young people.
§ To investigate ways in which this approach might be validated, and accredited, through programmes that use less formal methods to map the skills and competences acquired through creative and nonformal learning.

Especially those like the CLOCK programme1, which are able to identify and recognise ways in which the transversal competences of the European Reference Framework for Lifelong Learning (ERF) can be represented. And the learning supported through reflective practice and peer mentoring.

At the final Steering Group meeting partners discussed a potential successor project, which would further develop the empowerment of young people through engaging them in actively co-creating more innovative content (Apps, games, Vlogs etc). It was proposed the at further follow up activity could involve intergenerational learning and further development of accreditation of non-formal learning.