Where and when the experience took place
General, technical and vocational secondary school in the town of Visé (near Liège). It includes immigrant students. School year 2011-2012.
Main actors involved
• On student of the school (now 17 years old) particularly interested in the programme and activities offered by EPTO training. He was trained and became a trainer. He told us about his experience.
• The person in charge of “AMO - Reliance” (youth aid service) proposed the EPTO tool to the school and supervised the initiative for over a year.
Description of the factual events
The school implemented a “well-being unit” that developed actions based the sense of belonging in the school. The dynamics is to create a link between the different school stakeholders. Getting to know the other, who he/she is, what he/she does, to create a more pleasant working atmosphere and maybe avoid wasting time and energy (regarding a project for instance).
Within this framework, around ten teachers and the discipline headmistress participated in the EPTO training. It aims to challenge stereotypes, prejudices and to gather school stakeholders against exclusion. Thanks to various activities, the participants became aware of identity differences.
At the end of the training, the participants wished to trained other teachers and students in order to promote the fight against discriminations and prejudices within the school.
Third and fourth year students interested in the EPTO tool were trained. In their turn, they trained others. In this way, a hundred second to sixth year students were trained in one year.
The management supported the project, because it brings dialogue in the school, discussions about differences (such as wearing headscarf, which is forbidden in this school), work on well-being regarding the school setting.
Actions carried out to solve the situation
EPTO is a tool for group dynamics. The aim of the training is multifold: raising students’ awareness on their preconceptions about others of different origin or from a different neighbourhood, as well as solving relational difficulties in the group.
At the end of the training, young people know themselves and others better, which improves coexistence.
It is a five-day on-site training consisting of interactive activities, discussions, simulations, role-playing games, cooperation games…
It comprises two phases: awareness of one’s identity “who am I?” (my family, cultural, religious background, my relations with others …), exercises on prejudices, discriminations (to deconstruct).
With those exercises young people can think about themselves in a different way than with the school psychologist or educator. They have a fresh perspective on themselves and others.
The different exercises were presented by the responsible of the AMO and the student trainer, during a working group meeting at Inforef (made up of different education stakeholders in French-speaking Belgium: teachers, educators, school mediators, psychosocial counsellors…).
The main exercises are:
• “The ropes” bringing respect within the group
• “The flying carpet” for collaboration.
• “The Knot” thanks to which every participant find their place.
• “The concentric circles” to share more personal information.
• “The identity molecule” to realise everyone belongs to a group.
• “Migrations” is particularly relevant here. The students think about their path and their family’s. Since this exercise is playful, they can take the matter lightly is spite of the important work about themselves and their history. Then, they compare with the rest of the group and points out common histories.
• During “On your marks”, the participants go forward or backward depending on the subject. They realise everyone is different but they need to stick together.
• “I take a stand”: the participants give their opinion freely about a subject…
After the three first days of training, the participants receive the EPTO syllabus, to prepare themselves to give the exercises on the last day. During that day they determine whether they are ready to provide training and become peer trainers.
The student peer trainer who presented the initiative committed to the evolution of EPTO in his school, because the EPTO methodology keeps things moving: “I really thought I could not fight all those discriminations at school. And yet, I realised we have push things further! Not only did I gain confidence and assertiveness, which I had not and I felt “lost”, but I also realise many students are interested in this project.”
This student also recounts a process that commit students to become responsible:
• not only at school (where he became EPTO trainer for students and teachers, then training supervisor, then was requested to mediate in problem-solving related to the training),
• but also outside the school (such as daring to speak in public within the framework of other activities …)
The school considers using the EPTO tool in the beginning of term to welcome first and second year students (to know each other, to take in the school rule …).
Better contacts and cohesion were observed between the teachers who participated in the training. “We gradually felt an improving environment between teachers, and not only those trained in EPTO. This made it possible to set up new projects (such as theatre for upper secondary school).”
The support ad collaboration of AMO turned out to be crucial.
Psychology and criminology students of the University of Liège evaluated the evolution of the school environment.
According to the people in charge of EPTO Brussels (http://www.epto.org/
), there is no other school experience. The concept is little know and difficult to extend. Implementing EPTO in a school requires an external association to support the process and motivated head-teachers and teachers.
Support received by the classmates, colleagues, management and teachers
• Support from the management and the “well-being unit”
• Several education staff members were trained and use the EPTO exercises in class
• Interested classmates who sometimes become trainers too.
Strengths and weaknesses of the experience
EPTO (European Peer Training Organisation), is made up of young Europeans who us peer education to raise awareness among other young people and bring them to fight the numerous forms of discriminations that affect our societies. This method is based on the idea that a message delivered by a young person to another young person is often more credible and efficient than if it is delivered by an authority figure.
(Inforef wrote a description of the EPTO programme, available in the training source database:
• For the education team, the EPTO training is an interesting tool to promote the fight against prejudices and discriminations in the school.
• The EPTO training is used as a communication facilitator between trained people.
During the discussion that followed the presentation of the training to Inforef working group, the following questions and comments were expressed:
• Is this the right tool to establish dialogue in a school? This training brings people to expose themselves about one’s (cultural, religious…) identity. It should not end up with students showing more that they wish they had.
• This training cannot be imposed by the school. It must be organised on a voluntary basis.
Other tools are available to establish dialogue in the school, including those proposed by Université de Paix (http://www.universitedepaix.org/