Personality and relationship on trust: tools of preventing early school dropout

The Find your way to the world of work project is funded by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the EEA and Norway Grants Fund for Youth Employment.

Young people enrol in fast-track courses, look for seasonal work, emigrate in search of a better life, but there are also those who are no longer studying and don`t have a job. These are young people who leave school before completing their tenth or twelfth grade. There are others who are living in difficult financial circumstances, so that they have almost no time to concentrate on their studies, because they have to support their families or, in many cases, themselves. Many end up tired of commuting. Some come from communities where neither learning nor work represents a high place on the list of their values, with no one to encourage, support or serve as a role model. There are also teenagers who don`t go to a particular educational institution of their own choice, but because they have been placed there by the system based of their eight grade exam results, but are not interested in the course they have entered, and are therefore unmotivated to learn – I deduced the most common reasons of early school dropout from our conversation with Éva Bojoievschi, youth mentor of the Find Your Way To The World Of Work project of Caritas Alba Iulia.

There could be done a profound research about further causes, but it wouldn`t change the fact that the dropout rate in Romania is still on the rise: below five percent in urban areas and above twenty-five percent in rural areas. The Ministry of Education, the county education inspectorates, schools, social organisations and the social departments of mayors’ offices are aware of this and are making efforts, both individually and collectively to reduce this phenomenon.

Official measures
According to the Inspectorate of Education of Mureș County, the Ministry of Education considers the reduction of school dropout rates a priority. Because of this economic and methodological solutions have been adopted.

Former Education Minister Sorin Cîmpeanu, for example, told the last April that a grant of nearly 200.000 EUR per school will be allocated to 1.415 schools where children are mostly exposed to the risk of dropping out – mainly in rural areas – and are participating in the project. The grant was given to the schools in a single amount in the autumn, which they can use for field trips, camps, catch-up courses, IT equipment, sports equipment or any other programme to reduce early school leaving.

In order to prevent this, the Mures County Inspectorate of Education has called on secondary schools to use the “MATE” IT module, which collects data on children at risk of dropping out of school.

Pedagogue`s methods
What tools does a teacher have to make their sessions interesting, to make their students like the subject or profession they are teaching, or to motivate their students to finish school? – I asked Annamária Zilahi, a project manager and teacher in Tîrgu-Mureș.

I believe that the most important assets of a teacher are her skills: flexibility, adaptability, openness, humour and boundless creativity. In each of my sessions I adapt to my students, to the happenings of our environment, then with an interesting twist I smuggle the lesson in our conversation. The student is interested in what interests him at the time. So if they have questions, first I answer them. Because of this they are very grateful and become cooperative later.

I pay attention to them and I try to offer them what they need individually, too, because some of them take me aside and ask me questions, some of them tell me stories, we talk, but I’ve also had students who needed a hug or a little encouragement. For me, my students are my partners. They want to do their best, they just don’t know how to do it yet.

With nearly twenty years of experience in the private sector, I decided to choose a teaching career because children need to be introduced to the world of entrepreneurship and to be shown that it’s all about having goals and being able to express them clearly. It’s my job to make them believe that they can do that and even more. Once a student ends up to love me, he will love the subject, too.

We used to talk about real life, I teach them economics and entrepreneurship. I always encourage them to be professional: to discover their skills and interests, then to learn absolutly everything on that particular subject. We talk about research, the other forms of learning, the importance of experience, about a person`s character, the importance of self-awareness, responsibility, etc. Once I managed to made them think, plan and build their future, they will bearly wait the next session to tell me what they’ve figured out. They will definitely come to school and they surely won`t leave it, because they already have some emotional crutches.

They have to experience success. They need me to encourage them to be perseverent and to show them: it`s up to them to achieve their goals, because in order to achieve their goals, one needs to accomplish the partial goals. Once these are achieved, another goal is born. I also underline to them to be proud of their achievements. If they manage to make themselves aware of this, their achievements will improve and they will be appreciated by others, too.

Dr. Csilla Lőrincz, a counselling teacher from Odorheiu Secuiesc, spoke about the possibilities of high school students` further education and about teachers` tools that prevent school dropout.

As a psychologist, social pedagogue, mental health professional and sociologist, I have always been interested in high school students` further education possibilities in the Romanian education system. This also was the research topic of my PhD thesis in 2017. At the Romanian level, the sample consisted of 3509 high school students. The following influencing factors on further education were identified: the student’s gender, the student’s residence, family background indicators (parents’ education level, total family income), indicators of teachers` attitude and the young person’s intention to continue their education. The results show that different inequalities that affect students` progress in the school, their further education and career choices are mutually stabilising and reinforcing each other into a resistant construction. The reproduction and depth of the disadvantaged status at school creates discriminatory cases. The children in whose life this compounding effect is present have almost no chance of further education. This accompanies young people throughout their lives and determines their employment opportunities.

I found it very important that the teacher-student-parent triad to work well together in order to prevent early school leaving. The first and perhaps the biggest problem (a flaw in the system) is, that in many cases parents are absent from this set-up, because they work abroad. Children are left unsupervised or in the care of elderly grandparents. Therefore teachers have much more work to do. Because of this, we are constantly developing our toolkit in order to motivate students to learn, to continue their studies and to prevent early school leaving. I will mention a few of them below.

For example, at the institution where I work, I recently attended a multi-day training with a few colleagues in Hungary. The course was about restorative techniques. This technique is effective in conflict-management at both short and long term. According to this, the student will be able to experience the supportive power of the school community, as well as their own limitations and strengths.

In 2022 we participated at Osonó Theatre`s two-day experiential education training in Homoródfürdő, which was organised by the Find Your Way to the World of Work project of Caritas Alba Iulia. For several years, also under the auspices of the above-mentioned programme, class communities have had the opportunity to participate in different activities in order to develop their soft skills.

In addition, the five pillars of the homerome class (as defined by the national curriculum) also contribute to the prevention of early schooldropout: self-knowledge, social relations, learning, career planning and life-quality forming.

As a psychologist, I have at my disposal not only the individual counselling along different themes, such as learning techniques, career guidance, conflict management, personality development, communication techniques, or “spiritual care”, but many other tools. Recently, for example, we worked on a one week project with eight of my psychologist colleagues in the region of Odorheiu Secuiesc on the topic: “How to prevent violence in schools”, organised by UIET and the Delphi Association. We hosted many school classes together with their teachers for two hour interactive group sessions.

In the 2022-2023 school year we participated – in partnership with Caritas – with a quarter of the total number of the school students at a performance intituled As Water Reflects the Face, during which Osonó Theatre presented seventy-eight social issues. After the performance, the director invited the audience to a discussion.

In November, we took part in the 19 Days to Prevent Abuse and Violence against Children and Young People campaign, organised by FICE. In the same school year, we collaborated with the Kalot Association, the Harghita County School Safety Office and the Delphi Association in different projects.

At the moment our teaching staff is preparing for a multi-day training intituled “Working with Disadvantaged Young People in School”, which will be organised by Caritas, in cooperation with the House of Teachers of Harghita County.

Mentors` methods
The Find Your Way to The World of Work project of Caritas Alba Iulia was launched in 2018 with the aim of embracing young people who come from difficult social backgrounds, to help them stay in the educational system as long as possible, help them choose their further educational and career path according to their abilities. The project – which will run until the 30th of April 2023 – is functioning in three Transylvanian regions: in Mureș county and in Odorheiu Secuiesc`s and Gheorgheni`s surroundings. Six mentors together with nine partner schools are continuously working on the transformation of the learning process, so that it can become interesting to students. They also try to show school from an attractive perspective. They struggle to make young people aware of the fact, that they are in control of their own destiny and they can actively contribute to their future success, they are able to achieve their dreams and to change their lives.

Alexandra Benedek and Norbert Tókos in Odorheiu Secuiesc, Zsuzsa Szabó and Arnold Madarász in Gheorgheni, Éva Bojoievschi and Áron Székely in Tîrgu-Mureș are supporting young people in deepening their self-awareness, discovering and developing their skills, becoming aware of their own value, exploring their further educational opportunities, learning about different professions, choosing a career, getting a job. They do this through group sessions in partner secondary schools, vocational schools and high schools by individual discussions, clubs, company visits, workshops and excursions. During these activities young people will get the chance to learn about different crafts, to get an insight into the career stories of professionals and to get some advice.

Job fairs, carrier guidence camps, events like Meet your Future Boss are also designed to help young people develop their self-awareness, identify their talents, broaden their theoretical and practical horizont and increase their chances to find a job. Their sessions also include playful activities, which – beside the fact that they have a lot of fun –  develop a number of soft skills, such as: social skills, cooperation, time management, conflict management and the ability of expanding their comfort zone. How does this colourful toolbox relate to the prevention of early school leaving? – this was my question towards the mentors.

We mainly help with mentoring, especially with the individual mentoring. Because this is tailored to the individ and responds to personal needs. In addition, we support young people through group sessions or clubs. Here they are part of a cohesive, supportive community. This also helps the individual mentoring, because it reinforces it. Besides, company visits, career guidance sessions and all those activities which are designed to develop young people`s vocational knowledge also play a big role in keeping them in school. It`s also important to mention here, that the presentation of good examples also helps students stay in school and finish their studies. (Alexandra Benedek)

In my opinion, the most effective combination is the individual mentoring combined with group sessions. During individual sessions young people receive exclusive attention and personalised advice to help them move towards their goals. While group sessions fulfill them with the sense of belonging. (Norbert Tókos)

Preventing early school dropout is a very important goal for us. Because of this our group sessions focus on soft skills and career guidance. We pay attention to deepen young people`s self-awareness, to explore their skills, to teamwork, to communication, to lear about different professions and to plan for the future.

Preventing early school leaving is a constant concern, and all of our activities are aimed to encourage young people prioritise learning, study a profession, go to a university, get an education. We have other type of activities, such as individual mentoring, career guidance camps, company visits, career fairs, which are all about to emphasize, that investing energy into learning pays off, so it’s worth going to a school, learning a craft and working.

The most effective way is to build a relationship on trust: the young person’s trust that you, as a mentor, want what is best for them; the young person’s trust in themselves, that they can succeed and that they will grow due to the common work; the young person’s trust in the future, based on the idea, that it`s worth to plan and fight.

One good way to build a relationship on trust is camping. Another one is the method of individual conversations. Because common experiences and the time they spent together increase young people’s connection to the community of class, which will make them more attached to school. Building personal motivation and catching up with learning are also very important parts of this process. Our programme, for example, has provided opportunities for extra mathematics classes, which have helped several young people to catch up with their studies. The pupils felt more competent, their results improved, their self-confidence increased and it was easier to maintain their motivation. (Áron Székely)

I haven`t had any mentees who were on the verge of dropping out of school, so I have no success stories from this point of view. But I have many examples of students who continued their studies. What helped my students continue their studies was, that I payed attention to them. During individual mentoring and career guidance sessions I was able to identify their skills and interests that opened some ways to different professions. We got to know different professions and found some opportunities. The process of planning together also helped a lot, as all those dreams that seemed impossible to fulfill at first, now started to look feasible. I helped them more during their first steps, so that they became more confident and able to believe, that they could take the further steps on their own, because they had all the necessary skills they could use with confidence.

Some of the students I started to work with at the end of vocational school or right before their graduation exams, were motivated to continue their studies, because they had found in themselves the skills that – with persistent learning – they could turn into beautiful opportunities. This was the driving force for them to graduate or to enrol in an evening class, because they understood that further education was the driving force for the career they wanted to pursue. (Éva Bojoievschi)

Good examples
Mentors and teachers put tremendous work into motivating students. Although their efforts can be measured in numbers, this article won`t end with tables and statistics, but with human stories.

There was a young Romany girl who didn’t want to finish the compulsory 10th grade. She wanted to work. Due to individual mentoring she managed to make up for her deficiencies and complete her studies. Currently, this girl is working, but she finished her ten classes. She is the first in the family who completed the compulsory education. (Alexandra Benedek)

There was a young person who missed a lot of classes, so he dropped out from school. Now – thanks to the mentoring – he`s back in school and he`s attending the classes regularly. (Áron Székely)

There were several examples of students who didn`t wanted  to continue their studies after finishing primary school. But due to the teacher-mentor cooperation they managed to enroll in secondary school after all. At the moment two of them are working abroad. But there are some young people who – after finishing vocational school – have returned to complete their graduating exams and now are studying at different universities. (Norbert Tókos)

The Find your way to the world of work project is funded by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the EEA and Norway Grants Fund for Youth Employment.

Implemented by:

Mentoring Guide and Methodology Guide >>> DETAILS

Similar articles:
Graduating students on a filed trip >>> DETAILS
This is how water reflected the face >>> DETAILS
Young people on City Tour >>> DETAILS
Community, connections, healing through meet ups >>> DETAILS
Pointing the way for direction seekers >>> DETAILS
As our Find Your Way to the World of Work family is >>> DETAILS
Towards their dreams >>> DETAILS