The ENDING project, funded by the European Union and led by Fundación MAPFRE, uses peer-to-peer learning to combat school dropout resulting from the abuse of new technologies.
TEXT: ANTONIA ROJO
Adolescence is a journey of initiation by force that involves a great deal of adventure, a dose of drama, a pinch of comedy and hours of waiting, daydreaming and even boredom. The World Health Organization places its limits between the ages of 10 and 19. We all go through it and, in all cases, educational centers are a place of experience, where young people lead, at least, a double life, between the boundaries of their academic careers and their own hormonal effervescence. There are adolescents who, voluntarily or involuntarily, decide to abandon one of these lives, that of the educational system, before graduating. There are any number of socioeconomic factors related to this situation, but one of the most relevant and with a growing importance has to do with the inadequate use of new technologies.
Those who do so do not complete the second stage of Secondary Education (Basic or Intermediate Vocational Training, or Baccalaureate) or pursue any other type of training. In Spain, the school dropout rate has historically been above the European average, even in a year as satisfactory as 2021, when it fell to 13.3% (compared to 9.7% in the EU), the largest year-onyear decrease in a decade. This data should be used to continue promoting strategies to combat early school dropout.
One such strategy is ENDING, a European project subsidized by Erasmus + and led by Fundación MAPFRE, whose partners in Spain are the National Police and Pantallas Amigas; in Germany, Siftung Digitale Chancen; and in Portugal, the Center for Intercultural Studies of the ISCAP at the Polytechnic of Porto. Their battleground is this misuse of new technologies and the risks involved in a digital environment to which young people, from an increasingly younger age, are exposed.
Their approach involves an innovative method based on peer-to-peer learning, with the students themselves being the key players, supported in this awareness-raising process by their teachers and families. A goal covered, moreover, by the guiding principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been adapted to the new digital environments (and their inherent dangers): “It is the duty of parents and educators in educational institutions to promote the empowerment of children, while governments have to provide the legal framework and preconditions” (Article 3).
When ICT is a problem
The arrival of the internet, and its omnipresent popularization in the form of cell phones, apps and social media, has become the greatest contemporary disruptive element. This is also true in the field of education. ICT (“Information and Communication Technology”) has contributed many advantages in terms of improving the education of adolescents. Just think of how the different levels of the educational system have been able to face the challenges imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, with the lockdowns and restrictions suffered all over the world. Without ICT, it would have been impossible to complete the academic year. And, at the same time, it has been the families with fewer digital resources (a shortfall linked to a worse economic situation) that have suffered the most during the periods of isolation. It is clear, therefore, that knowing how to handle oneself properly in the digital world is fundamental for the future of adolescents, especially if they belong to the most disadvantaged groups.
As there are two sides to every innovation, it is important to be aware of the risks that new technologies inevitably pose. In this context, the ENDING project seeks to help teachers, families and students to detect the signs of ICT misuse, which often has an inexorable impact on the academic performance of young people and the consequent school dropout rate. Back in 2010, the Autonomous University of Barcelona conducted one of the largest studies on the use of technological devices among high school students, and the conclusion was clear: adolescents who spent more than three hours a day using ICT were doing worse in class.
But ENDING does not want to be “the typical project that tries to give answers or solutions to adolescents without taking their opinion into account”, stresses Antonio Guzmán, director of Fundación MAPFRE’s Health Promotion Area, “Instead, it wants them to be the ones to propose, from their perspectives and from their experience, how they see these problems, how they can detect them and what solutions they would provide.” It is this methodology based on peer-to-peer learning that makes ENDING a pedagogical innovation: “Here the students are the key players, both in the creation of the materials (with teacher support) and in the training of their younger peers in lower grades”, explains Guzmán. Empowering students, including them in the solution to the problem and not only in the diagnosis, and taking advantage of their ability to influence their younger peers is the crux of this method.
How does an adolescent or the people in their surroundings (family, friends, teachers) detect that ICT is being used inappropriately? We talk about those signs or indications that something is happening in the student’s life. The most obvious may be the physical ones, due to the continuous, excessive and uninterrupted use of devices. Tendinitis such as the wellknown “gamer’s thumb”; early osteoarthritis, back pain or low back pain; also obesity, diabetes or hypercholesterolemia, sleep disorders, and so on. A wide range of the physical problems suffered by our adolescents are related to this extra time spent with ICT.
At the psychological level, symptoms can appear when the level of usage goes from use to abuse and, in the extreme, addiction, where “this activity is prioritized over others, affecting the other areas of the person’s life, so that the absence of connection generates a high degree of discomfort.” Isolation, poor academic or work performance, and a lack of interest in other subjects and active leisure are the red flags.
Being a digital victim or perpetrator is another of the dark sides of the misuse of new technologies. Teenagers should be aware that blackmail, coercion, extortion, threats or even insults are unlawful actions, with greater or lesser severity, that try to condition people’s freedom through the internet. “These are, in short, easily performed actions that can constitute a crime, and whose occurrence is not only facilitated, but also amplified by the characteristics of the network”, states the Ending projec
Against all this darkness, ENDING also proposes some light, such as encouraging critical thinking against disinformation: “It is important to propose activities that help them doubt themselves, their own approaches, so that they learn to limit the hasty and vehement emission of their opinions or value judgments.” In this way, cultivating critical thinking becomes an opportunity to improve one’s personal and professional life, which explains its inclusion in the WHO’s list of life skills.