The necessity of utopia in education
Education, as scripted ingeniously by Delors in the celebrated White Paper of UNESCO in 1996, “L’éducation: un tresor est caché dedans”, is an Utopia necessary for learning and living in a global village, to create a better world in the direction of sustainable development, a mutual understanding among peoples and a renewal of democracy and to overcome certain tensions, between the global and the local, the universal and the individual, tradition and modernity, the need for competition and the concern of solidarity, expansion, extraordinary knowledge and the ability to assimilate, transcendent and material values. An education in order to be eligible to accomplish these tasks, Delors continues, that it must be based on four pillars: “learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together, learning to be “.
The vastness and complexity of these tasks presupposes that the theme of education assumes a central place in the life and choices of individuals, civil and political society and that the school, which is “the more organic and intentional communitarian space” for education (CEI, On the school, 1995), returns to be reconsidered by all, as the strategic resource of the future of a country, on which it is required to invest maximum of resources, research, innovations and experimentations.
It is in this general context of reference that the study on school dropouts can be done, as it constitutes a condition of disadvantage while facing the mandatory requirement that every individual should have the fundamental tools to be able to live and work in autonomy in a very competitive, complex and selective society and exercise his rights/duties of a citizen. Therefore it is a matter of great theoretical relevance and of great human and civil importance, that the problem should be solved with a definite scholastic policy, and also with a psycho-pedagogical and didactic support in order to achieve consistent and plausible objectives with requirements of the social and personal context.
The Project QPA, activated by Fidae, from Intesa Sanpaolo Formazione and from Européenne des Directeurs d’Institutions Lasallien with the involvement and collaboration of other universities ( Enginyeria La Salle – Universita Llul of Barcelona, and Lumsa Consortium Interuniversitario Fortune di Roma) and some Italian high schools ( Liceo Scientifico “Alberti” – Minturno, Istituto “Baffi” – Fiumicino, Istituto “Sacro Cuore” – Siracusa ), spanish ( Institut “La Salle Comtal” – Barcelona, Institut “La Salle” – Tarragona ), French ( Institut “Sainte Therese” – Auxerre), Belgium (Institut “La Salle” – Brussels) hopes to contribute a solution to this task, experimenting in the field the effectiveness of a very original method, aimed at strengthening the processes of learning and teaching, motivation and interest in the study, the educational success and, consequently, to reduce the rate of failures, repeat years, school leaving and dropouts. This project, therefore, is tuned in with the programme of European Union, also as an individual member of a nation state that aims to prevent school leaving which is a huge waste of human resources, while it should require to maintain the standards of quality of life, social cohesion, economic growth and competition with the rest of the world.
Theoretical approach to school leaving
Generally, the expression “School leaving” intends to define as abandoning the school by a percentage of students who have not completed their compulsory schooling and training. Such a definition to be correct, needs a description of “how” it happens and “who” are those who leave, it should also include “where “, “when”, “why” they leave, and then, how to “prevent” and “counter” the phenomenon. Looking at it from this point of view, means taking as a criterion of evaluation the concept of “fairness” that goes far beyond that of justice and equality as it takes care of the subjective/objective conditions of each one, with their inevitable impact on school performance and the same choice of studies that are indicated (humanities, scientific, technical and vocational).
The Legitimization of social, political and legal education, as “individual good” and as a “public good” involves the moral imperative to devote every effort to remove the causes of leaving the school whether they are primary or secondary, direct or indirect, present or remote. From this “personalized” view point ( attributing to the individual the primary and absolute value, as active citizen, the solidarity-based society, and a democratic nation), after the war, it has been eventually addressed and confronted by the European nations. “No one remains back” was the slogan, but also the design of educational and didactic innovations, of training policies that have inspired individuals, humanitarian organizations, civil and religious institutions in an effort to ensure that the school offers help to everyone according to the measure of their needs and not according to abstract and uniform standard of justice, and that equality of opportunity for admission could be translated into equal opportunities for exit as well.
From Early School Leaving to Educational Success
Under the international purview, the reflection on policies against school-leaving, has already consolidated some fundamental theoretical steps. The very definition of “school drop-outs”, which identified new forms alongside traditional ones, has become more and more complex and dynamic, coming to include micro and macro phenomena, visible and invisible manifestations (such as the “hardship” of youth). The analysis of the quantitative data has pursued the causal, procedural, social effects and active policy enforcement. A brief history of this evolutionary path is interesting not only in its terminological and lexical aspects but also in its content and procedure, and that of the consideration of the drop outs as objective “static” evidence of which to take note, to reach educational success and to pursue its “dynamic “objective”. 
In the sixties, especially in the Anglo-Saxon world, dominated a “structural vision” of the dropouts, defined by the rates of underachieving (the ratio of students with low educational achievement and average rates of return) and of early school leaving. The school leaving was motivated by resorting to theories of socio-cultural deprivation and economic marginality, disadvantaged strata of society and immigrant minorities. In the seventies, with mass education and on the basis of theories more open to individual factors and the quality of education, made way for a broad vision of school leaving. It includes, in addition to subjects with low efficiency, even the whole area of youth problems, scholastic and extra scholastic, not necessarily identified with the economically disadvantaged.
This concept called “Emergency” was fueled by strong concerns of “deviance” as a result of failures of regulation and socialization not only by the family but also by the school. Therefore it paved the way for the need to use more complex indicators to measure the school leaving phenomena finally to include also those that remain within the system, but in an irregular mode, dysfunctional and with insufficient motivation. The casual plots and causes of school leaving were studied basing on systemic factors including socio-cultural, socio-economic, scholastic and personal factors.
In this phase, the policies are not focused only on the most targeted interventions, the so-called “weak phases”, but adopted special programs to allow schooling for the masses to improve its “sealing capability”. Thus, however opens a new opportunity to analyse and contrast the school leaving, characterized by a new vision of the phenomenon. Establishing that the school leaving could not be attributed to a single causal factor, and that it appeared by its nature as a transversal condition of the youth, so as to include forms of voluntary abandonment and self-exclusion, it began to appear that it was rooted in the experience “located” in the subjects, in their life experiences and journey to scholastic success, and inevitable prelude to irregularity and abandonment.
Therefore a shift from the individual who is leaving to the signs prior to the leaving and the context which registers them with, for example, fragile motivations, the inability to make decisions, the uncomfortable situations, transition phases, episodes of bankruptcy, the lack of material and required resources etc. These elements are not only seen as “subjective “attributes, treated with the devices for individualized sustainability as well as characteristics of “environments”, in which the subject makes learning experience at the local level. Consequently, every school in formulating its Plan of Studies should put at the foundation of its work, the goal of “educational success” for all individual students, as an indicator of quality of the education imparted.
The importance given to the theme of “quality education”, is of course inclusive of combating school leaving, and was also a reflection of the recognition of knowledge as primary resource to ensure competitiveness and social cohesion. The integral and whole education (lifelong learning) represents the “treasure” to protect and nurture all with every possible means available, because only the initial formation was no longer considered sufficient to answer the growing demand for specialized skills in the labor market. Education for all and for the whole life (lifelong learning) then represents the “treasure” to be protected and nurtured with all means, because a basic training only was no longer considered sufficient to meet the growing demand for specialized skills in labour market. Consequently, the fight against scholastic mortality became a “moral imperative” (but also “a priority in policy “) for each public institution, responsible for the formation of human resources and a protection against the risk of impoverishment and exclusion, generated by the expansionary trends of globalization.
On the basis of this new slogan, “quality”, supported also by the Promotional programme and financed by EU, school methods in Europe, including of course that of Italy, France, Spain and Belgium have changed substantially the presentation of the problem of school leaving and correlated lines of action, going from a concept of emergency type to a projection in the daily “ordinariness” and “transversal” educational process. But it is the very concept of educational success that is going to be modified. It no longer coincides with the “academic success”, although naturally it is understood as so, it does not present solely a threshold to success but it is a “virtuous cycle” to trigger a condition (status) to reach: the degree; the decision not to leave school; the employment consistent with the training programme; switching to a course of higher level of studies; the re-orientation toward a training program that best suits aptitudes and abilities, the realization of their proper aspirations and dreams, etc. Alongside the educational outcomes, therefore, it’s important to display more process indicators which cover the entire itinerary of studies, its follow up, and the “well-being” of the same individual.
This shift in balance from school leaving to educational success, understood likewise, gives rise to at least two major consequences: in terms of knowledge, it becomes urgent to adopt broader parameters of evaluation of educational levels not limited only to indicators of education but also of participation in lifelong learning; from the point of view of the intervention, the approach to the system of educational success is called into question the combined action of all subjects (public and private) responsible for the formation, not only the school, which remains the key context in which the experiences are developed for future choices. It is, namely, to foster a meritorious circle, springing from the school as a place of incubation of the various forms of uncertainty and discomfort, which train the people and form them through the transition from school to work, without losing hind sights of objective of maintenance, development and permanent conversion of human resources.
Early school leaving in international politics
Those who face the labor market without qualified education and proper training and are yet included into the socio economic fabric are called drop outs or early school leavers (ESL). In the current state it corresponds to the secondary education of the second degree (upper secondary education) or professionally qualified, achieved according to the regulations of each country. It is ‘clear that the definition of “school leaving” relates, therefore, to conditions of local laws and, and so, it is a concept that goes historicized and contextualized.
The classic image of the drop out is associated with belonging to ethnic minorities; families of low socio-economic status and low level of culture; small families involved in the process of education and with low level of education. To these environmental features are added individual’s traits of personality problems: low self-esteem; low level of school efficiency; difficult relationships with peers; involvement in deviant actions; substance abuse; early pregnancies; little interest for a degree in studies; casual choice of a school; gender connotation, psychophysical handicaps.
The statistical survey of dropouts and the deepening of their socio-cultural, educational and personal characteristics represent only a first level of institutional action in favor of equality of opportunity for education and human capital formation (human capital building), in order to live according to the standards of quality and knowledge of society. The human and economic cost of early school leaving require timely strategies to address social policy and training with the overall goal of reducing to minimum ESL rates in the younger population, be it as in preventive view (avert leaving ), both in optical compensatory distribution- (promotion of educational return, training of basic skills and across post-schooling age). Before describing the different settings of the policies adopted for the educational success in different countries, it should be noted that the objective of the reduction / elimination of ESL is enrolled in the more general European orientation for equity in education and training systems (Equity in education and training).
As to the specific objectives of combating early leaving, they must be distinguished according to the approaches of social policy, emphasizing that they are characterized differently from country to country. As an example we can refer to the extension of compulsory education; the spread of the preschool classes; easy transfer facilities from one school to another one (walkways) the reform of curricula; the availability of monetary help for the youth at risk; orientation to institutionalize schooling and the same educational orientation; mentoring / tutoring for young people in difficulty; personalized plan of studies; programs for specialized education; teaching in small groups; the support of teachers and cultural mediators; the enhancement of informal or non-formal learning; schools for a second opportunity (second chance schools) as intensive courses or evening classes; the alternative school of work; cooperative learning; modules for reorientation; the vocational training; apprenticeship; preparatory courses (pre-vocational) for the unemployed youth; placements and internships working; tutoring services, counseling; the creation of partnership between schools and special schools; the educational community; the full-time and the active involvement of families.
The wide range of measures put in place by the countries in the EU in recent decades to prevent and combat early school leaving has achieved remarkable successes although much still remains to be done. The situation, of course, is very different from place to place. Among the Countries in difficulty and with percentages that differ from that of the goals of Europe 2020 are Italy and Spain, while France and Belgium are positioned slightly below the European average.
Not all adopted strategies have achieved the same positive indices. Those who marked the best success had: the elevation of compulsory education and training, the increase of public and private spending, the expansion of the autonomy of scholastic institutions, the inclusion of professionals with supporting roles for differently abled students (support to teachers, social workers, psychologists, educators, physicians) or immigrants (mediators of culture), the customization and flexibility of the curriculum, the introduction of new digital technologies, school to work alternation, orientation, and joint responsibility of families. All these initiatives together have certainly helped to bring European school systems to significant levels of qualification and greater correspondence with the question of educating families and society in spite of the resistance from the areas of backwardness and of shutting down the innovation.
Increasing distrust on the school
Speaking of school-leaving and drop out, you can not fail to mention one thing: the school is rapidly losing its interest (appeal) among young people. In Italy, the results are sensational and highlighted by a recent survey of Censis. But similar results are found in France, Spain, and Belgium as well as in all other European countries. More than the numbers of “disaffected”, which is also disturbing, should alarm the progressive unraveling of the “centrality” of the role of the school, its diminished relevance, its reduction to a simple agent of information, (One of the many available in the market and one more unattractive or desirable), its inability (real and / or attributed) to govern, to communicate, to intercept the new languages, the new knowledge and content of modernity, its difficulty to tune in with the educational demands of the new generation.
Educational policies, gradually put in place, in the past two decades by Governments have failed to stop the slow but steady disintegration of its “institutionalized” educational function, to strengthen the educational agreement and mutual recognition of school-family-students. This weakening of its effectiveness and significance, accentuated by the socio-economic crisis that is raging in Europe have made more alarming disconnect between education and the dynamics of the work, it has blocked the generational turnover, has alienated even more young people from the labour market, has radicalized the phenomena of over-education and job uncertainty. Of course, the vacuum of confidence that is spreading around the school does not depend solely on internal dynamics of the educational system.
“Institutionalized” function of education, to strengthen the educational agreement and mutual recognition of school-families-students. In fact, a coherent and organic design of shared development and mutual sharing of socio-economic schemes are wanting or is too vague in our countries (Italy, Spain, and France) which our educational system is called to resolve. But the uncertainty of the educational system is substantiated also with its inability to be an opportunity for young people for social and occupational affirmation. The economic growth and the consequent modification of the structure of work have contributed to determine for a good part of the twentieth century, significant phenomena of upward “social mobility”. This is also why many find it hard to listen to this call and give a deaf ear to it and instead head towards other virtual educational agencies, considered more credible, more attractive in terms of vocational and organizational profiles (with flexible time, zero displacement, wide range options of choice, individualized teaching, etc.), and more sustainable in terms of the costs.
Pretending to ignore or, worse, to support this phenomenon of flight of the young away from the school is dangerous. Despite its many limitations this still remains for almost all students the main road that can lead them to their realization as men, workers, citizens, and the place where they could compete and interact safely with adults, socialize with peers. The old “negative utopia” of the seventies of the twentieth century “de-school the society” has been demonstrated as naïve ideals of political fiction in what ended up penalizing those very popular and subaltern classes who had pretended to liberate the so-called slavery from the medium of scholastic institutions of the “dominant, cultural imperialist”.
The school is a privileged environment to get out of solitude and to establish human and interpersonal relationships, to learn and compete with other life experiences, to relate to organic and dialectic cultural traditions of their place, to confront ones convictions and behaviour, to trust in one’s own ability, to feel as a living part of a community of people that transcends one’s own family and to be introduced into the bigger realities of civil society, to acquire skills to live in a competitive society. For these and many other reasons the school deserves to be credited with trust and investment by adults, so that the young people find in it what they search, and through it their needs and rights are satisfied.
To teach the future
For several years, Europe has focused its attention on NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training), the young people who either are no longer within the purview of schooling / training, or engaged in any type of work. This is a huge waste of human and economic resources, and socially dangerous and potentially explosive. No one can feign that nothing has happened, limit oneself to exploit the situation or be aware of the problem. We need a decisive and collective mobilization. We must give hope to those who always risk losing. The lives of millions of young people are at stake and are already on very dangerous slippery grounds. The causes that have generated this situation are many and of diverse nature. It would be wrong to hold only the school responsible for it. But it is undoubtedly one of the many a reconcilable factor.
With a suggestive title “Teaching the future,” the famous “Club of Rome” published way back in 1979, a report by J. W. Botkin – M. Elmndjra -M. Malitza. Fundamentally, the thesis was visionary, challenging, and even more relevant for today. In a world of rapid and profound transformations, the school has to play a specific role: not only to “Pass on” the sedimentary knowledge over time, but also to help young people to “decode”, “interpret” the world in which they live, and especially to “foresee”, “anticipate”, “build” what’s to come. It is an ambitious goal that can be achieved on condition that the school becomes the center of such action and of the interests of the ” individual student” and their potential interacts dialectically with the surrounding reality, to give more privileges than the transmission of content, or be subjected to strong obsolescence, methods of acquisition, organization, reworking of sources of knowledge; that promotes mental capabilities such as intelligence (i.e. the ability for intuitive reading), the critical approach, creativity, imagination, wonder and a desire for life long learning, the passion for the unusual, wisdom; that develops positive behaviors like willingness to cooperate with others, responsibility, loyalty, honesty, solidarity, altruism, generosity and sense of the common good; having inquisitiveness and interest in acquiring knowledge and explore the vast world that is beyond ones limited boundaries(language, culture, traditions, religion, socio-political organizations), of ones family and country
It is necessary for a school of this type and it is guided by subjective and objective conditions. Certainly they are indispensable for economic resources, building structures, the teaching tools, as well as rightly ordered legislative structures, but much more important are the qualifications of those who make them operative. These are the secret managers and teachers of every innovation. The modernization, the quality and their excellence penetrate through their passion for daily learning.
It must be said that, in recent years, no nation has been sitting idle with folded hands in confronting this situation . Limiting ourselves referring to four nations, we can say that Italy, France, Spain and Belgium, have been involved in our project QPA, and have made necessary reforms in their systems of education and training. Also the European union did not fail to make its contribution to reflection, stimulus, resources constantly inviting every nation to accelerate the process of modernization, to renew the curriculum, the teaching, not to dismiss those students on the fringes, who due to personal difficulties or of unavoidable situations are struggling to achieve the same standard of their companions, or even continue to attend classes while they still are on the way to end in the immense reservoir of school drop outs, who are the people of NEET.
Even the report, just published by the European Commission, “Modernization of Higher Education in Europe: access, persistence, job opportunities “(2014), goes in this direction. The only possibility for the old continent to win the big challenge of globalization and guarantee its citizens, not only in line with abstract principle, but their right to education and training, which is already in itself a noble conquest, has to pay heed to the socio-economic well-being, the social cohesion and the reconciliation between the generations.
“To make Europe’s economy, based on intelligence, more competitive, inclusive and dynamic in the world “, as envisaged in the European strategy 2020, and not to be reduced to empty slogans of propaganda and political rhetoric must be built in concrete and effective action.
In this ambitious design school occupies an area of great significance and effectiveness. With the realization of this project QPA the FIDAE, INTESA SANPAOLO FORMAZIONE, ASSEDIL want to contribute concretely to the optimization of processes of learning and teaching so that the students involved are put into the proper environment to achieve good intellectual and professional grades and, thereby, would acquire a better chance to secure their future life as citizens and workers. It was not a service of little significance given the unease in which many young Italians, Spanish and French found themselves in.
Quoting and paraphrasing a speech by Pope Francis, who had invited a group of teachers to take stock of the problems of their students, asked them not to abandon especially those who are most in need of assistance, to be definite about the implementation of Project QPA, not with a pathetic approach but as an act of “love for school “, because it should be love that guides an adult to help a young person to have self-confidence to know more and “to be more” to realize one’s dream to be happy, love should guide an adult to help a young person to have self-confidence to know more and “to be more”, to realize one’s dream to be happy, to enhance and realize one’s potential, to rise up after a failure and resume the interrupted journey. In other words, we have used a proven methodological and didactic ground to help the schools involved to achieve the fundamental objectives for which they have been established that is “Teaching to Live”, the title given by the sociologist Edgar Morin in one of his recent saggio 
A great modern educator, Don Milani, who has been and continues to be a reference for generations of teachers, wrote in his famous book, “Letter to a Professor” (1976), the” main problem that the school confronts is the loss of students”, that those students who are expelled from the circle of school and education, those who are thrown into the streets, but also those who while continuing to attend it are not helped to come out successful. To be engaged in the Project QPA and to make a contribution, even though modest, to prevent or resolve this problem, is a responsibility based on professional ethics, and their “vocation” as teachers and educators.
(Translation of Anthony Vayalil)
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