Frustrated by the divide between formal educational institutions and informal learning experiences, after-school volunteer programs, community service projects, and other values-oriented extracurricular activities, Roser Batlle Suñer has created regional initiatives that bring together teachers and leaders in both fields. She works with leaders, coaches, and counselors in the informal sector to identify the educational value of their activities, and then turns to a network of teachers and administrators to highlight the ability of extracurricular volunteer organizations to bring values and relevancy to classroom learning. She provides both with ideas, materials, and contacts to pursue official partnerships. Roser hopes to use the program as a foundation for a service-based curriculum, enabling teachers to directly incorporate informal learning experiences into the classroom.
The New Idea
To combat the stagnation of the traditional educational system and the inability to transmit social values, Roser has created regional centers that serve as intermediaries between two separate learning systems: formal educational institutions and informal extracurricular programs. In this way Roser validates the educational value of the informal programs, which are based on character building experiences, and makes them available as resources to the formal educational sector. By doing so, she builds networks of educational allies, where formal institutions begin to view social involvement as critical to infuse classes with important values. For the government and the formal institutions to appreciate the educational value of extracurricular learning, Roser works with the informal sector to help it systematize the learning value of its activities. Roser trains and coaches organizers in order to teach children to identify and develop not only the social or leisure aspects, but the educational value of their activities. The students and other sectors of youth workers are able to gain a new perspective and appreciation for learning by serving the community. As the informal sector stresses the intrinsic learning value of their programs, educational institutions are beginning to view them as valuable teaching allies in building character, rather than inconsequential organizations meant to keep young people occupied outside of class. Through Roser’s centers, formal education entities are encouraged to validate informal education as an integral part of the formal system and incorporate it directly into classroom experiences. This opens up a broad gamut of options with which teachers and educators can enrich their classes and change students’ learning experience from seeming of little practical value to relevant to their lives. In addition, by combining the two sectors, Roser creates a learning experience that not only imparts academic knowledge, but also builds on the values and character needed for young people to be valued members of society.
On average, 30 percent of the students in Spain will drop out of high school to pursue work, which they find more relevant and useful than formal education. Those students who do remain in school often find themselves taught by teachers burnt-out by government intervention and promises without practical results. Every change in government has brought about different attempts at educational reform that have only invalidated any progress made by previous administrations. In the end, this process has only served to confuse the classroom with its instability and to make both teachers and parents tired of new ideas forced on them through government policy. In addition to the stagnation of the traditional educational system, Spain has seen a sharp decrease in the effective transmission of social values, a problem which has led to an increase in bullying and other antisocial behavior. Spain’s transition from a dictatorship to democracy was also a transition from a forced set of religious values to a society that has avoided imposing any particular system of belief. Because of this, most schools have become unfavorable working environments for students and faculty alike. Educators are uncomfortable correcting behavioral problems and unsure about how to instill good citizenship. The attempts to teach these values through traditional, theory-based methodology tend to be superficial and have yielded poor results. Thus, schools are graduating students without proper citizenship values, and this has contributed to the apathy and disengagement in Spain’s thirty-year democracy.In spite of this, the country has seen a steady rise in youth oriented volunteer and social programs since the 1970s. Character-building extracurricular programs have flourished in many social sectors. These programs not only yielded good practical results for the community, but have also made the youth involved more responsible and motivated towards their formal schooling. Unfortunately, these activities have only been experienced by a minority of youth and the formative effects of these programs have gone largely unrecognized by the educational community at large.Even when the benefits of extracurricular experiences have been noted, both the formal and the informal educational sectors have found it difficult to articulate exactly what good the experiences impart and how to take greater advantage of them. In addition to working in two different worlds, the two sectors have found themselves speaking different languages that emphasize their differences rather than their common goals. One emphasizes learning, while the other social action; neither knowing the proper way to incorporate both aspects of growth in their programs.
Due to the government’s previous over-involvement and under-commitment in the education sector, Roser realized that if teachers and youth workers are going to adopt a new methodology then change needs to come from the bottom-up. To achieve this, she created Centers for the Promotion of Service Learning that involves existing members of the informal learning community to bring about the change, rather than it being yet another government imperative. From this platform, she reaches out to both the informal and formal sectors and helps bridge the gap, so that they can work together. It is a process of refocusing both groups and helping them communicate in the same language and on similar levels.Roser works with the informal sector to help them understand their role as educators, and guides them to structure and systematize the learning value of their programs. She makes a strong effort not to be perceived as someone inventing or promoting a new miracle cure methodology, but instead finds those initiatives that already contain elements of social impact or community service, and validates them as learning experiences. Roser’s organization provides seminars and training about the pedagogic potential of volunteer experience and facilitates the proper tools to systematize the process to extract the learning value and make the most of it.In the formal sector, Roser educates teachers and administrators about the potential that extracurricular volunteer organizations have to bring values and relevancy to the classroom. For example, by coordinating a literature class with a visit to a nursing home; students share their knowledge with the elderly (reciting poems or discussing a story), while deepening their understanding of the value in both activities. The initiative then provides ideas, materials, and contacts, to formal and informal organizations. Roser’s team follows up on various projects; studying and learning from them to improve further coordination between community service programs and classrooms. This way, they create networks between various players in youth organizations, including teachers and informal educators, schools already implementing this methodology, and those who wish to, as well as teachers in various subjects with organizations ready to contribute. These studies and relationships serve Roser to make changes on a larger scale, influencing regional government policies and policy makers. The goal is to see 10 percent of Catalonia’s 4,000 schools and 1,500 social centers using this methodology as a formal educational option over the next four years. Ultimately, Roser hopes to see as much as 50 percent of the education sector using these methods. Roser’s networking has reached outside of her immediate region and continues to gain allies and support on a regional and national level. Contacts have been made with organizations outside of Catalonia that seek to promote similar teaching methods and ideas. Her initiative has also gained allies in the Ministry of Education, who provide contacts to help her expand her model across the country more successfully. Throughout this process Roser has consistently emphasized the need for a bottom-up approach, in which the national network is made up of regional branches that modify the model according to the needs of local teachers and organizations. These are driven and run by the educators and not as another government plan. She is also reaching out to the rest of Europe through the institutional relationships and networks that her partners have across international boundaries.Beyond these networks, Roser is seizing the opportunity to help create an active service-based curriculum for a new official school subject called Citizenship Education. This subject is being used in other parts of Europe and is the formal sector’s official venue with which to teach values. By having Roser’s methodology as a viable learning option, teachers can use the informal learning experiences and incorporate them into the classroom, rather than having to create another new, and maybe less interesting lecture. By offering the schools a proven methodology that requires less preparation on behalf of teachers and, and has been structured and systematized, Roser is laying the foundation for this to become a permanent option in formal education curricula across the board; enriched and spread by the citizenship course, but not limited to it. Roser is getting many different players in the education sector to work together towards a common goal: To help youth become well educated and socially conscious members of society.
Roser has dedicated her life to developing the potential she sees in young people. For over thirty years she has founded and built after-school learning centers to counteract the current social values crisis. During her late teenage years, Roser volunteered in after-school programs. As time went by, she went from a volunteer to a full-time founding member of an emerging local organization using extracurricular activities to engage the local students in community service. Impressed with her work, the local administration asked her to develop a youth program. Much of what she developed remains today, especially her contribution formally structuring how extracurricular workers are prepared for their work, using a 150-hour training program with proven results.After successfully starting this local community organization, Roser left to found a city-wide organization, with no money or guarantees of support. In few years this organization, Movibaix, was so successful it became a national benchmark in informal learning. Later, Roser again stepped away to found another organization to expand her approach.Roser recognized the need to link different programs and organizations in multiple cities around her region, but she also knew the initiative would only work if it operated independently from the formal and informal system and from the government. She quit her job and, together with two key partners, spent three years founding and consolidating the Catalonian Esplai Foundation, a regional entity aimed at developing and encouraging extracurricular education. The organization is a leader in the field and works to improve the quality of extracurricular opportunities for children the region of Catalonia. Thanks in great part to Esplai, and in coordination with other institutions, the informal education sector has seen youth involvement skyrocket from virtual nothing prior to the 1970s to around 40 percent of Catalan youth participating in at least one of its activities.In 2000, Roser became more involved in exploring the educational value of informal education and began to see the essential role it played in the development of the youth involved, though she understood that a mandate from the government would not work. It was then that she also developed her bottom-up approach, working to coordinate the formal and informal educational sectors. In 2003 Roser convinced three education organizations to join together and founded the Center for the Promotion of Service Learning. The Center provides the platform from which she can further encourage the growth of a new educational model that structures concrete educational lessons from informal learning experiences and also validates them as resources for the formal sector. She is showing all the major players in Spanish education that teaching youth through social involvement is the best way to encourage personal growth and to motivate them to achieve excellence in every aspect of their lives.