What impact do our cooperative volunteer projects have in centers of learning? The course ends and we get grades. Not the type that rates us but the kind that gives us ideas of how we can improve. We are aided by Mariano Martín, director of one of the centers for secondary learning that United Way Spain has been working with the longest.
We always write EDUCATION in capital letters so that our commitment is clear, because we know that problem of school dropout in Spain has the potential to lay the foundations for a bleak future. On the other hand, the 2022 College Trends Survey, conducted by the University of Francisco de Victoria, showed that 75% of EBAU applicants claimed to not have received sufficient information to choose their field of study after high school.
One of our methods to combat these two problems is to implement corporate volunteering in the classrooms to generate a possible image of future work for those who are unsure whether to continue school.
Mariano Martín, director of one of the institutes in which we have been working since 2018, has a very concrete idea about the role of the productive sector in educational centers: “Companies have their role, but they should not dictate how the educational system functions, they should protect education. We train people, not just productive people.” Martín’s institute has been receiving personnel from companies that administer work motivation workshops around professions with a strong future. He has no doubts about this: “Companies are made up of people who want to do more things. If institutions can gather that will, their outcomes are enriched, which is good for everyone. It’s a give and take.”
The work of United Way consists of promoting this exchange. We identify a purpose, we design a custom project, and we propose it to a company that provides financial and human resources so that a specialized social entity can carry out the activities. In the case at hand, they are workshops with technology companies that combat school dropout under the title Tech4Change which is part of the umbrella program Youth Challenge.
According to Mariano, the success of the program is based on several key factors. First, an effective integration of the activities into the class schedule, to ensure that they fit in with the curriculum. Then, conscientious training of the volunteers so that they know how to transmit their knowledge well. And third, an activity outside of academic evaluation (that is, without a grade), so that the workshops acquire a certain playful character.
But no less important: “The impact on the kids is high due to the novelty factor, because they work with an adult who is not their teacher, is not a parent, who can be negative mentors. It is someone with whom they can have another attitude.” Mariano also values planning: “With United Way there is a very remarkable point, and that is that it is not just doing something small and leaving, there really is a journey in the activities, there is a living relationship that grows and that we enrich. In this sense, the methodology is of great value, United Way controls the ecosystem of volunteering, business and collaboration very well. And as we have continued our methods for several years, our collaborators know very well how we work, they know the messes we have, they know that there are things that do not come easy, they know how to adjust. It’s a really comfortable collaboration.”
But what Mariano highlights the most is the qualitative effect. The students’ change of ideas about themselves is the seed of real change: “These workshops are very useful for students who have greater difficulties in their academic life, because for once they are able to shine and to be successful. It gives them an opportunity to get rid of the labels of a good or bad student which directly influences their self-esteem.” This is something that we hear teachers, students, and volunteers say over and over again in this and other projects that we coordinate.
We asked Mariano if there is any special reason why his institute hosts programs like ours. Once again, his answer was clear: “I don’t think we are an exceptional institute, we simply try to be agile and take advantage of opportunities. At the beginning there were very few students, and it was strange for teachers to have an outsider in their classroom, but the teaching staff has become more comfortable, and the program has grown. We try to make it easy and try not to be afraid of complicating our lives, even if it means a little more work”. It is true that Mariano’s institute is very attentive to STEAM (an acronym that indicates the most competitive disciplines of the future, including the A for Art), has a wide range of languages, is committed to a holistic education, including even the management of an orchard. Regarding the promotion of technology, Mariano insists on an important nuance: “We are aware of its enormous social weight and precisely for this reason we insist on promoting its conscious and moderate use.”
So far, therefore, it seems that what we are doing in schools is on the right track. Is it worth it, then, to involve more companies? “I imagine that some companies may find it very complicated. They must be encouraged to take a simple leap and overcome inertia. A little, over the years, is a lot. Our experience is that it works best when companies let themselves be guided. I would say that, in general, the most important thing is to start with simplicity, and with humility. It is also very interesting for the teaching staff because they are able to interreact with the current circumstances of various fields”.
The website of Mariano’s company says: “Our work is an exciting job. We work with people. We help them discover and take advantage of their assets, know and overcome their limits, and observe the world that surrounds them. Educating is not only transmitting knowledge, it is much more.” We could not agree more on this approach; it is the same one with which we engage companies so that they can abandon the label of productive machines that many still carry. We help them take part in the best possible way —together with those who need it most— in the task of building the bridges that unite us for the future we must build.