Belgian ICMIF member the P&V Group has provided a budget of EUR 1 million to support 66 associations in Belgium which help young people and to reduce the educational gap. The budget has enabled 1,300 socially vulnerable young people to receive a new computer and guidance to strengthen their digital skills.
The budget will be administered through the P&V Foundation which provides financial support to organisations supplying personal care for young people. According to Olivier Servais, President of the P&V Foundation: "The objective is not to lose young people from our radar and enable them to undertake or continue their studies, training or job search."
Hilde Vernaillen, CEO of the P&V Group said: “Since the start of the crisis, the group has taken initiatives for the benefit of its employees and its clients. In addition, the P&V group has been committed throughout its history to helping to meet social challenges. The initiative launched today is part of it and constitutes our response to an important social emergency."
The P&V Foundation was created in 2000 with the aim of nurturing a sense of social responsibility in young people and active participation in the building of an inclusive society.
The current health crisis is widening the educational gap between young people
According to a digital inclusion barometer published by the King Baudouin Foundation*: “In Belgium, almost 1 in 5 young people (19%) have low digital skills. It is mostly young people who have a low level of education who are affected: 28% of these individuals have low digital skills. So many vulnerable young people, living in families with a low level of income and a low level of education, are for the most part only connected on smartphones and risk exclusion due to a lack of digital knowledge and skills. The Coronavirus crisis has demonstrated the capabilities and limits of digital. The lack of basic computer equipment increases inequalities.”
A poll, carried out by Dutch-speaking education federations, revealed that no less than 18,000 pupils in the 2nd and 3rd grades of secondary education did not have a computer at home. It was already known that in Wallonia there is a glaring lack of equipment. Distance learning and homework benefit the most engaged students at school and those better supervised at home. Since the start of the school year, the gap has widened and some young people will not be able to compensate for the accumulated delays.
Beyond equipment, there are strong inequalities linked to the use of digital technology
To respond to this emergency, the P&V Group donated EUR 1,000,000 to allow the P&V Foundation to launch two calls for projects: the first "LinkingYouth Up", managed by the King Baudouin Foundation, for the purchase of computers with a focus on strengthening the digital skills of socially vulnerable young people and the second “Guiding Youth” to offer more comprehensive support and follow-ups to vulnerable young people in their school career or their search for work.
A total of 66 associations throughout Belgium will benefit from financial and / or material support. Through these organisations, 1,300 socially vulnerable young people have or will have received a new laptop and will be guided and strengthened in their digital skills. By acquiring new digital skills the laptops can then be used as efficiently as possible by young people for their school career or in their search for work. This is the case with Interface3, one of the 66 non-profit organisations supported whose goal is to train job seekers in IT professions. “We are delighted to be able to provide quality material to young learners from home. Many of them have had difficult professional or family backgrounds. If they are better equipped, then we will be able to support them in a more efficient way” explains Jennifer Dejond, Coordinator of the educational department.
Trust and proximity
The aim is for these calls for projects to help the organisations that have a strong bond of trust with young people and socially vulnerable families. The 66 associations (20 in Brussels, 23 in Flanders and 19 in Wallonia and a few organisations working throughout Belgium) are very diverse: youth centres; socio-professional integration non-profit organisations; and homework, school and sports organisations. All these organisations have had to adapt very quickly to the new health situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic in order to maintain their contact with young people and to continue supporting them.
In Brussels, the non-profit organisation Schola ULB launched digital tutoring from the start of the lockdown. “During the first week of lockdown, 66% of high school tutors had already set up distance tutoring with their students. In total, the tutors were able to reach 1375 students during the lockdown. From the start of this school year, the organisation introduced a hybrid system. Many student tutors are mobilised in several partner schools to offer their support to students in order to help them to get back on track at the start of the school year, to boost their self-confidence and prevent students dropping out of school. The support is done in person, because this remains crucial, but can and will be supplemented by digital,” explains Claire Sourdin, Coordinator of Schola ULB.
The TAJO non-profit organisation in Ghent, a young start-up where children from vulnerable neighbourhoods are introduced to the different trades, maintained contact with young people by telephone. Claudia van Egmond, Director of the non-profit organisation, explains one of their initiatives: “We handed over the diplomas to the young people with an individual ceremony on the sidewalk, with red carpet and musicians included! It was a great experience for the young people and their families, we are thinking of repeating it!". Many young people do not have a laptop or have to share one with their brothers and sisters. With the laptops it received, TAJO wants to guide young people to independently and responsibly make full use of all the digital resources available and at the same time arm them against dangers online.
In regions where the associative network is not dense, the proximity approach is essential; especially for young people looking for work. The non-profit organisation Perspectives in Flémalle maintained remote contact with the young people it trains for technical professions. According to Bruno Schneider, Director of the association: "The most difficult thing is to maintain contact and motivation among young people. We had to adapt by organising counselling by phone and online and it worked, we did not lose contact with any of the young people! Video exchanges are experienced positively by several young people: being physically at home and when it turns out to be in a positive setting, they feel more confident and express their wishes, needs and obstacles more. Some young people have also wanted to start online training. Considering the current growth in corona case numbers, this is definitely a scenario to consider.”
* The King Baudouin Foundation’s mission is to contribute to a better society. The Foundation is an actor for change and innovation, serving the public interest and increasing social cohesion in Belgium and Europe. The Foundation seeks to maximise its impact by strengthening the capacity of organisations and individuals. It also stimulates effective philanthropy by individuals and corporations.