Young Europeans on stage

  • 2010-10-06
  • By Ella Karapetyan

INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Sakala Private School is participating in the Comenius project for the first time.

TALLINN - Comenius School Partnerships are bi- and multilateral cooperation between schools in different European countries, focusing on common interests of the participating schools and helping them to work on a common project. In bilateral School Partnerships a grant covers the costs of a reciprocal class exchange. A recent study showed that Comenius School Partnerships help foreign language learning, improve ICT skills and foster intercultural awareness in schools. They also help create positive attitudes to learning among students and to new and collaborative teaching approaches among teachers.

The European Commission’s Lifelong Learning Program enables people at all stages of their lives to take part in stimulating learning experiences, as well as helping to develop the education and training sector across Europe. With a budget of nearly 7 billion euros for 2007 to 2013, the program funds a range of actions including exchanges, study visits and networking activities. Projects are intended not only for individual students and learners, but also for teachers, trainers and all others involved in education and training.

There are four sub-programs which fund projects at different levels of education and training: Comenius for schools, Erasmus for higher education, Leonardo da Vinci for vocational education and training, Grundtvig for adult education.
The Comenius Program was launched in 2007. It focuses on all levels of school education, from pre-school and primary to secondary schools. It is relevant for everyone involved in school education: mainly pupils and teachers but also local authorities, representatives of parents’ associations, non-government organizations, teacher training institutes and universities.

Part of the EU’s Lifelong Learning Program, the Comenius actions aim to help young people and educational staff better understand the range of European cultures, languages and values. They also help young people acquire the basic life skills and competences necessary for personal development, future employment and active citizenship.

The program addresses issues strongly related to current discussions and developments in school policy: motivation for learning and ‘learning-to-learn’ skills, key competences, digital educational content and inclusive education. Comenius aims to improve and increase the mobility of pupils and educational staff across the EU. Also, it aims to enhance and increase partnerships between schools in different EU member states, with at least 3 million pupils taking part in joint educational activities by 2010. What is more, Comenius encourages language learning, innovative ICT-based content, services and better teaching techniques and practices, as well as enhances the quality and European dimension of teacher training and improves pedagogical approaches and school management.

The program is currently focusing in particular on improving language learning; greater literacy; making science more attractive; supporting entrepreneurship; and reinforcing creativity and innovation; digital educational content and services; school management; addressing socio-economic disadvantages and reducing early school leaving; participation in sports; teaching diverse groups of pupils; early and pre-primary learning.

A 2007 study of the impact on participating schools showed that Comenius School Partnerships not only raise the intercultural competence of pupils and teachers, but also have a positive influence on everyday life in schools. Nearly 8,000 teachers from participating schools all over Europe responded to a questionnaire on how they viewed the impact that the School Partnership had on their institution. The survey revealed that more than 80 percent of teachers noticed that pupils became more interested in other countries and cultures. They considerably improved their knowledge about living and school life in partner countries, and also showed more tolerance towards other cultures and people from other countries. Ninety percent of the teachers also improved their own knowledge and understanding of the partner countries’ school systems, and 82 percent established lasting personal contacts with teachers from partner schools.

More than 75 percent of the pupils became more motivated to learn foreign languages; 62 percent improved their proficiency in English substantially, and 23 percent did so in another language. In addition, two-thirds of the teachers improved their English skills, and one third also gained better skills in a language other than English.
This year the well-known private school in Tallinn, “Sakala Eragumnaasium” (Sakala Private School), is taking part in the Comenius project for the first time. According to the project manager, the project is called “Young Europeans on Stage: YES!” which is going to last during two school years and end in July 2012.

Apart from Estonia, there are Poland, Italy, Spain and the UK participating in the project. The goal of the project is to get introduced to partner countries’ cultures, to improve language learning, to promote folklore games within intercultural communication as well as involve children in sport activities.

“In our globally developing world children are addicted to computers and, instead of spending time outdoors playing active games with their peers, acquire antisocial manners. Hopefully, involving our young students into this partnership, we will be able to make them healthier, more communicative and even more cheerful. All in all, we are aiming to make their childhood happier and full of joy,” says Ljudmilla Andreishuk, the school coordinator of the Yes project.

According to Jekaterina Gridneva, the headmistress of Sakala Private School, it’s the first time the project has been implemented in their one-year-old institution. Gridneva says she sets hopes that the project would be a real success.
Andreishuk added that at the very beginning there were representatives of eight EU member states intending to participate in the Comenius project “Yes.” But in July 2010, it appeared that only five National Agencies had approved of the presented applications of participation. “In each country there are specific budgeting criteria for project participants. Our school, for example, has been granted the sum of 20,000 euros, which is to be spent on 24 mobilities (Comenius ‘mobility’ actions enable individuals to travel abroad to take part in a project) and various activities related to the agreed topic,” says Gridneva.

“The school is newly established, so we are aiming at creating a friendly and energetic school community where each and every person, although coming from different backgrounds, could experience integrating into Estonian society within the European Union. The mission of the school is to create conditions for the children to efficiently study and prepare themselves for independent life in the future. At the moment there are about 200 non-Estonian speaking children aged 6 to 19 studying in our school. Sakala Private School provides general education for Russian-speaking children, according to the national curriculum, developing their abilities and skills and preparing them for further higher education,” says Andreishuk.

She adds that “Participating in the project, we could contribute into our partners’ awareness of multicultural Europe. Welcoming representatives of various nationalities in Estonia, our school might promote Estonia as a place where democratic values are being developed.” Staff and pupils will actively keep in touch by means of modern technology, exchange any information and experience. They will also be actively occupied by completing their tasks and aims included in the schedule, and write regular reports. The partnership will improve communication skills as well.
Andreishuk mentioned that “The partnership will develop ways of communicating with other countries with different languages. The school children are going to learn how to use the English language by teaching our own traditional games to each partner and through learning their traditional games. Through partnership with other countries it will be possible to gain more knowledge of how to play a greater variety of games. From our point of view, with this partnership we will be enabled to build long lasting friendships and links with partner countries and develop greater understanding of other cultures.”

The first partners’ meeting to launch the project took place in Tallinn, from Sept. 30 to Oct. 3. A group of school principals and teachers headed to Tallinn from the four above-mentioned countries to meet each other in person after a half-year long virtual collaboration. The guests were met by the host, Sakala Private School family, which prepared a special program for their visit, which included city tours, sightseeing, a special medieval party, a visit to the open air museum Rocca-al-Mare, and more.

The discussions of the future cooperative work were held during the four day visit, where all the participants shared their vision of the step-by-step activities, leading to the final product in summer of 2012.
Diana Skachkova, a student from Sakala school said, “All my classmates and I were looking forward to seeing the guests, showing them our school. We are making posters about the partner countries. We are very excited to take part in the project and we hope to go and visit our new friends. We have a great chance to play traditional Estonian folk games at Rocca-al-Mare. And we are very glad to have this unique chance to participate in such an interesting project.”