The right to a second chance: lessons learned from the experience of early school leavers who returned to education
Based on a holistic perspective of education that articulates school pedagogy and social pedagogy, the main goal of this paper is to identify effective ways to ensure the right to education to vulnerable and marginalised young people who have dropped out of school. The research leading to this paper was part of a European research project which investigated how young people’s responses to conflict can provide opportunities for positive social engagement. This specific study explored early school leaving and school re-engagement from the point of view of a group of 20 Portuguese young early school leavers who later returned to school through Second Chance Education. Through a qualitative approach using individual in-depth interviews, participant observation and focus group, the study sought to offer a comprehensive reading of early school leaving and school re-engagement by addressing the diversity of motivations, experiences, factors and consequences associated with them, as well as the role that educational policies and school factors can play in it. The study’s findings revealed that, for many socially and economically vulnerable youngsters, mainstream schools are places of individual failure and interpersonal conflict where they don’t feel welcomed and from which they stop expecting positive outcomes. This favours a progressive disengagement from education that reinforces social marginalisation. However, the findings also showed that by engaging in second chance education projects, youngsters develop greater commitment to education and identify relevant positive changes in terms of personal and skills’ development, behavioural adjustment and establishment of life goals. According to the participants’ experiences, the holistic and individualised socio-pedagogical approach of such projects is particularly apt to respond to their needs. Community-based educational approaches, practical and participatory learning environments, and the emotional investment and support from teachers and staff are shown to be the most effective socio-educational features when trying to re-engage vulnerable young people in education.
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