Within the framework of the H2020 Project named PARTICIPATION, Task 3.4 was aimed at identifying the main challenges and contentious topics teachers may face in the classroom and school environment as part of their work with students in secondary schools, and the possible reactions and practices teachers may adopt to dealing with these challenges.
As part of an exploratory research endeavour conducted between 2021 and early 2022 across six EU Member States (Belgium, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, and Romania), employing a comparative framework, this initiative started from the assumption that schools can be seen as a microcosm of society, where diverse worldviews, modes of thought, and lifestyles intersect. Moreover, given the transitional phase of adolescence, pupils are in the process of learning and shaping their identities, particularly with regard to beliefs, values, motivations, and personalities.
In today’s interconnected and intricate global landscape, the challenges they encounter often engender sentiments of uncertainty, apprehension, culpability, and anxiety. These feelings can be exploited by extremist individuals and groups to recruit pupils by offering divisive narratives based on an ‘Us vs. Them’ or a ‘Them vs. Us’ division of the world and often promoting hateful stereotypes and conspiracy theories. Teachers are well placed to detect difficulties, discomforts and potential signs of radicalisation leading to violence in their students. For this reason, it is pivotal to train teachers and school staff to handle contentious issues in the classroom within a P/CVE perspective, through education. This research path has allowed teachers to discuss each other, compare the challenges they experience in this context, and share practices to face these issues, through a participatory approach and under the guidance of a professional ‘facilitator’ in each of the surveyed countries.
To achieve this goal, the research activity in the six EU-involved countries has been carried out through three steps:
- Desk research of the existing literature published in the last two decades on this topic, with a focus on the past projects implemented in secondary schools for P/CVE aims.
- The distribution of an online survey named Contentious issues in the classroom: teachers’ challenges and responses to a total of 156 teachers working with students mainly aged between 12 to 19 in the six above-mentioned countries. The selection of teachers took into consideration the geographical location, gender, and subjects taught trying to diversify the sample as much as possible. When possible, schools characterised by a high concentration of different socio-economic and socio-cultural profiles have been prioritised, especially those schools located in communities suffering from economic or ethnic exclusion and marginalisation.
- The conduction of two workshops (a ‘Set-the Scene’ and a ‘Follow-up’ workshop) in line with the Social Labs method of the project PARTICIPATION. The ‘Set-the-Scene’ workshop was aimed at discussing with teachers the first draft of the online survey and building a trustful relationship with them, while the ‘Follow-up’ workshop represented an opportunity to readdress some questions and ask for clarifications, especially concerning the collected open answers, better understand the specific context of each country, as well as strengthen the trust-based relationship with teachers.
Finally, a cross-country analysis has been provided. The principal findings are outlined in the accompanying PowerPoint Presentation, which delineates the most commonly encountered challenges and contentious subjects within the secondary school classroom environment. This analysis is centred on evaluating the perceived level of support extended to teachers by their colleagues and the school administration. Additionally, it examines their interactions with students’ parents and their perspectives on the efficacy of existing educational tools.
The study also documents teachers’ identified training requirements, their accounts of both good and bad practices they have experienced in this context, and the primary obstacles they face in addressing these issues within the school setting. Additionally, it highlights the key recommendations put forth by teachers to better equip them to handle such issues in the future. In conclusion, a series of recommendations targeted at policymakers and school administrations is presented, aimed at providing better support to teachers in managing challenges and contentious issues that may arise within the classroom.
AUTHOR: Davide Lauretta (EFD)