David Rimbelschi was struggling with his studies, lagging behind in academic assessments, and not keeping up with his classmates. The teacher, perhaps overcome by the high ratios that exist in Catalan schools, chose to give him a booklet. “They gave me a dossier to do exercises while everyone did normal class. That’s when I started to lose the desire to go to high school”, explains this 17-year-old boy. Shortly after the pandemic arrived, and with it, online classes. “I was doing ESO fourth, I stopped connecting, and they only wrote me two emails to ask me what was wrong with me. I didn’t really drop out of school, she dropped me, ”he laments.

After a period of not knowing what to do, David is now one of the more than 3,500 students trying to re-engage in the system through a school for new opportunities, a center where he completed a Training and Insertion Program (the so-called PFI, which makes it possible to the entry into the educational system of young people between the ages of 16 and 21 who have finished the educational stage without obtaining the ESO degree), which has allowed them to start studying an intermediate degree in Administration. “It has been the opposite of what it was in high school, it has been very magical. Now I see myself wanting to do a higher cycle and university. In the future I would like to have my own company, ”he sums up.

In Catalonia there are 13 schools of new opportunities. They function as a springboard for young people who have abandoned their studies to re-engage in the educational system, finishing secondary education, studying a PFI or taking professional activities that prepare them to enter a FP. They are also a tool that serves to alleviate the high rate of early school leaving (17%), the rate of young people without ESO (20%) or the high percentage of youth unemployment (30%).

But behind these figures, there are many personal stories. David went to the Marianao Foundation, while Nerea Castilla went to the El Llindar Foundation after having a bad experience in ESO. “I repeated ESO first and second, I quit. I didn’t have the level of my peers and I felt rejected”, she explains: “Not because they told me they didn’t want me there, but because when you don’t follow the rhythm, you don’t get an eight or a nine, they leave you a bit aside. They even physically separate you and put you in a separate class. I felt empty, fatal. But maybe Mathematics is going very badly for you and other things are going well, or maybe there is something more than the academy”. Now, at the age of 16, she has started the fourth year of ESO in El Llindar, where she has been for three years, one of them that of the pandemic. “I have matured a lot, I have settled down. I feel more accompanied and it makes me want to continue. I have always wanted to study Law or Psychology, although I know that I am not good at theory, or Physiotherapy, and when I said this in high school, they told me that I couldn’t. Here they tell you that you are worth it and they guide you according to what you are good at ”, she highlights.

Last Friday, the seven most important schools (the El Llindar, Marianao, Adsis, Comtal, Gentis, Intermèdia and Salesians foundations) held an event in which David, Nerea and other young people explained their experience. Some of the examples gave an account of the pressures to which students are subjected, not only academic, but family. “At home I had problems, but in class they also saw me as a problem because I was failing my studies, so I quit and stayed at home playing, doing nothing,” explained Héctor Pujol. “I got good grades and went to high school. But my urgency was to find a job because I wasn’t well at home and I wanted to leave, plus I had to take care of my brother. It didn’t give me life, and I dropped out. I would have liked them to listen to me more in high school, as they have done in the school for new opportunities”, adds Leyre Ferández.

At the event, a study prepared by the UAB was presented, demonstrating the success of these new opportunity centers and the need to review the educational system. “We tend to think that school dropout occurs because there is a rational decision to look for a job, but in reality, most of the time it is an emotional decision, because students do not find a satisfactory school experience. The experiences of failure show that the system is profoundly unfair”, affirmed Aina Tarabini, PhD in Sociology at the UAB and author of the study, who wanted to point out that failure is not the responsibility of the teachers either, but of a system endowed with few resources that does not guarantee the right to education for everyone equally.

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School failure, youth unemployment and the need to reform vocational training —especially after the avalanche of demand that has occurred this year and that has overwhelmed the Government and other communities, such as Madrid— contrast with the reality of the labor market, which is that there is a lack of professionals. The schools of new opportunities want to be a complement to the educational system and an entrance ramp to the labor market, but they suffer from a lack of recognition. They cannot approve titles, their financing depends on subsidies for projects that may or may not arrive, and they do not have an economic structure shielded from budgets or social agreement. For this reason, they have submitted an amendment to the draft law for the reform of vocational training that is being processed in Congress, to request official recognition of these schools as part of the educational system.

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