Birmingham City University (BCU) has recently launched a new two-year international Erasmus+ project: ‘Collaborative, Community Mapping of Young People’s Learning Experiences during COVID-19’ (Co-MAP). Working with partners across five European countries, including the UK, Germany, Greece, Hungary and the Netherlands, Co-MAP will bring together researchers, school teachers and leaders, young people and their families, community artists, charities, and street newspapers across the five countries. The project explores the effects of school closures during the Covid-19 pandemic on young people, including their experiences of marginalisation, as well as the production of in/formal ‘learning assets’ through the inter-generational and inter-community networks they were part of.
A recent report for the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) states that during Covid-19 an estimated 1.5 billion children across 190 countries were confined to learning in their homes during school closures (Kardefelt-Winther et al., 2020). The school closures, or in some cases partial school closures, have resulted in wide-ranging educational, social, health and economic adverse consequences experienced by children, families, and school practitioners, including for example, ‘challenges in creating, maintaining, and improving distance learning’, ‘confusion and stress for teachers’, ‘challenges measuring and validating learning’ and the unpreparedness of parents for distance and home schooling (UNESCO, 2020, para. 2). Such challenges have been accompanied by an ongoing political narrative in the UK of ‘catching-up’, ‘recovery’ and ‘rebuilding’ (HM Government, 2020).
Drawing on the voices and lived experiences of young people, intergenerational family members, and school leaders and teachers during the school closures, Co-MAP aims to develop an evidence based approach (including positive learning ‘assets’ as well as challenges) to explore how school closures during the pandemic affected young people’s experiences of teaching and learning and the impacts on local communities. As part of this, Co-MAP will develop a picture of what marginalisation looked like across the five countries, including how experiences of marginalisation changed as a result of the pandemic due to contextual factors such as food poverty, digital access, and safeguarding issues.
The BCU team, who are leading the Co-MAP project, includes project lead Professor Alex Kendall and co-researchers Dr Louise Lambert, Dr Louise Wheatcroft, Dr Vanessa Cui, and Mary-Rose Puttick. The BCU team will collaborate with Birmingham Schools of Sanctuary for the UK part of the project, a strand of the national City of Sanctuary charity and BCU’s partner on a previous Erasmus+ project, Open School Doors. This week the BCU team launched Co-MAP with four primary schools, two secondary schools, and one college in the Birmingham School of Sanctuary network and will work with further schools as the project progresses. Regarding their key role in the project, Barbara Forbes, Coordinator for Birmingham Schools of Sanctuary said:
“For the more than fifty schools in the Birmingham School of Sanctuary network, this project comes at just the right time, as schools begin to count the cost of the last 15 months and reflect on how they coped while their pupils were confined to their homes, with only the most vulnerable children and the children of key workers allowed to attend in person.
We know that our schools rose to this challenge. Many of our schools have pupils with no internet access at home, or who live in hostels, so they supported these pupils by providing devices and dongles. All schools started to hold online lessons and sessions and some helped particularly vulnerable families to access advice and practical support from various charities.
In some schools, teachers and bi-lingual learning mentors made weekly phone calls to the parents of every single child in their class, with staff giving particular support to those regarded as having Special Education Needs and Disabilities.
Our previous collaboration with BCU was very valuable in the learning outcomes and exchange of ideas, so we are looking forward to this latest project.”
Understanding how children and young people coped during the crisis is a critical aspect of the project and young people will be given the opportunity to document their experiences through illustrated stories, working with local community artists. Community artists will be one of the key beneficiaries of the project: as well as creating work for artists who have been adversely affected by the pandemic, Co-MAP will create the opportunity for artists to focus on the needs of their local community, to react to contemporary events, and to understand the current problems posed by the various effects of the pandemic situation, bringing contemporary artists closer to a wider audience.
For young people this creative process will mean creating safe, inclusive environments where they are free to self-advocate and express concerns about the new challenges the pandemic created and learn new creative skills that will enable them to imagine vocational pathways into creative industries. For teachers this will mean contributing to the development of new creative practices and pedagogies for working with vulnerable children and their families and opportunities for integrating arts based practice and collaborations with artists into the curriculum. Co-MAP will also cultivate a better dialogue between parents/carers and schools and develop future opportunities to work in partnership to support young people’s learning.
The young people’s artwork will be published in street newspapers including The Big Issue in the UK, Shedia in Greece, and Fedél Nélkül in Hungary: starting an international visual dialogue amongst young people. Regarding their role in the dissemination phase of the project, Kepe Róbert, Editor-in-Chief of Fedél Nélkül said:
“In the course of our nearly 30 years of operation, we have seen the most serious problems of marginalized minorities such as a lack of inclusion to the majority of society and the lack of articulation of their needs.
The basic goal of Fedél Nélkül streetpaper is to strengthen the voices of the members of the quietest minorities in a very colourful way through artwork.
As a result of the pandemic, young people in Hungary faced situations that seemed so distant to them before but which many marginalised minorities have regularly encountered such as exclusion and isolation. We are delighted to be involved in this international research project and to play our part in articulating the experiences of our vulnerable communities.”
Findings from each country will be used to inform future policy by deepening understanding of the barriers and enablers to young people’s learning during school closures and the resources and infrastructure required to support successful recovery for vulnerable young people.
HM Government (2020) Our Plan to Rebuild: The Government’s COVID-19 Strategy. [pdf] London: Crown Copyright. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/884760/Our_plan_to_rebuild_The_UK_Government_s_COVID-19_recovery_strategy.pdf [Accessed 14 July 2021].
UNESCO (2020) Adverse consequences of school closures. Available at: https://en.unesco.org/covid19/educationresponse/consequences [Accessed 14 July 2021].
Winther, D.K., Twesigye, R., Zlámal, R., Saeed, M., Smahel, D., Stoilova, M., and Livingstone, S. (2020) Digital Connectivity during COVID-19: Access to vital information for every child. [pdf] Available at: https://www.unapcict.org/sites/default/files/2021-03/IRB%20202012.pdf [Accessed 14 July 2021].