The Youth Volunteer Program: Long live the School!

We receive the new year with refreshing and encouraging news. The Ministry of National Education has called on Normal Schools, undergraduate programs and other university careers to participate in an ambitious and bold youth volunteer program to mitigate the impact that the pandemic had on the increase in the so-called learning gaps. This is a large-scale youth mobilization, 40,000 students of whom 5,000 will participate in the first semester of 2023.

The Youth Volunteer Programme, which the Ministry of Education hopes to launch at the end of this month, will bring youth closer to the world of schools and draw attention to the potential that this has in the social and cultural transformation of the country.

Starting in March, it is expected that the young people will be traveling to different municipalities to support the work of teachers in school and extracurricular days, strengthen the reading capacity of students, create caring environments for driving socio-emotional, support the administrative management of the Secretariats of Education and strengthen the links of the community with educational institutions.

In addition to the undeniable contribution that young people will make to the training of our boys and girls, it will be an invaluable experience for their training process as future teachers and professionals in the social areas.

The proposal is based on the concepts of “Learning Communities”, “Dialogical Learning” and “Successful Educational Actions” that Ramón Flecha (1997) and his collaborators (University of Barcelona) have consolidated from the appropriation of the so-called critical pedagogies (Vygotsky, Giroux, Freire, Habermas, among others).

Without a doubt, it will be an experience that will mark a milestone in the recent history of commitments to the pedagogical improvement of the school.

The Normal Schools and the Universities that will participate feel deeply challenged because, in addition to the challenges of making adjustments in the management of academic times to validate the practices and internships in the curricular structures of each program, we must accompany the students so that they value the experience and appropriate it within the framework of their training.

We must take this opportunity very seriously to shake off certain routines and inertia a bit and face the reality that the teachers who are there live in the daily life of the schools, managing, sometimes with their nails, the countless challenges that the pandemic has posed to them, but also the unfair and highly conflictive relationships that communities experience in rural contexts and in the marginalized neighborhoods of cities.

Surely, with the experience that this Volunteering generates, we will be able to read, through the eyes of our young university students, the immense pedagogical wealth that the practices of teachers who silently create and invent every day possess, in their effort to awaken the passion for knowledge and making the world available to its students.

The program is undoubtedly pertinent and urgent. We will be there contributing whatever is necessary for it to develop successfully. However, there are some observations that we hope will serve to refine the proposal.

In the “Technical Annex Program – Viva la Escuela – 20 DEC- 2022”, it is presented in detail, not only its foundations and the information concerning the calls and terms of reference for those interested, but also the activities that the volunteers will develop, as well as as well as the modalities and roles of the different actors and institutions. In our opinion, a more leading role should be given to two of the actors involved in the proposed institutional architecture.

In the first place, to the teachers receiving the volunteers, since it is expected that there will be some mentors, teachers with a doctorate, who will apply to fulfill the role of trainers of the young volunteer practitioners and interns; These mentors will carry out this work through a postdoctoral project that they will enroll in a university that will validate and certify it. It is also expected that there will be some supervisors of the interns and interns, who will be the professors of the universities from which they come. However, it is not mentioned what the role of the teachers of the schools where they arrive will be.

Care must be taken not to make the mistake of many programs that, no matter how well-intentioned they may seem, end up going unnoticed for not taking into account the institution’s own dynamics and, in particular, the experience, knowledge and will of those who they stay and work every day there.

Secondly, we must give a more visible place to the Normales, Universities and Programs from which the young volunteers precede. The “Successful Educational Actions” that seem to be the indicators or the “evidence” with which they intend to measure the impact of the program, can leave these institutions without a game, which are bearers of experience and knowledge of multiple pedagogical modalities. By inducing too much the work that the practitioners and interns are going to develop, they can reduce the possibilities of collecting and enhancing the pedagogical wealth that we possess. In the exercise of our autonomy, we hope to be able to contribute the trajectory and wisdom with which we have guided future professionals in their practices for years.

Finally, we wonder about the role that is being given to the researchers of the “Research Center of Excellence for all” (CREA, for its acronym in English), from the University of Barcelona. The model they have designed is interesting, but we believe that we are sufficiently qualified to interact with them and form an interdisciplinary and inter-institutional team to guide the entire strategy pedagogically.

We salute this excellent initiative and remain at your disposal.

* Rector, National Pedagogical University.

The Youth Volunteer Program: Long live the School!