Visiting Norway was both exciting and significant for me. It enhanced my English and personal growth. The highlight was meeting the mother of a Utøya attack victim. Her words affected us deeply, and they emphasised the importance of remembering and discussing past events to prevent them from being forgotten.
The project emerged from a Slovak school’s initiative to sharpen students’ critical thinking against extremism. Partnering with schools across Europe and NGOs like Amnesty International and Post Bellum, the project engaged students in interactive workshops and cultural exchanges, fostering an understanding of migration and history. It was a collaborative effort where students, educators and various organisations united to address and educate on pressing social issues.
Participation means belonging to a group of people who spend time together and cooperate on a topic, and share experiences and good practices. Naturally, participation is also about gaining new perspectives.
Viviana Bieliková, the project coordinator, shares insights into the beginnings and progress of this significant initiative.
Could you please explain how the idea for the project was born?
I represent Gymnázium Andreja Vrábla, a secondary grammar school located in Levice in the southwest of Slovakia. The idea for the project arose from election simulation results from a few years ago involving secondary school students. A concerning number of students were inclined towards extremist parties. This observation led to the development of the project, with the primary aim being the development of our students’ critical thinking skills. Most importantly, I wanted them to distinguish between misinformation and genuine news. A more specific goal was to foster an understanding of migration while combating extremist ideologies.
How did you begin searching for partners from other countries?
As a school experienced in Erasmus+, we have built many connections and friendships with other schools over the years. I sought partners based on mutual contacts from previous partnerships. For example, we have had a longstanding partnership with a school in Valencia, Spain, for more than 12 years. Through them, we met other partner schools and built up new partnerships.
How did you decide on the structure of the project?
For this project, given that it was a school partnership, we wanted to create something sustainable, like teaching materials. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic taught us the value of online materials. So, we decided to create online resources that reflect the history of our partner countries.
Regular meetings were held using platforms like Zoom, which included both teachers and students. We devised various activities during these meetings. Students contributed with essays and videos, while teachers developed online activities suitable for regular and online classes.
Additionally, we developed collaborations with non-formal entities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). We successfully collaborated with organisations such as Amnesty International, a human rights-focused international organisation, Post Bellum, a Czech educational nonprofit and several other NGOs in our partner countries.
Could you tell us more about how you started working with NGOs?
Our project’s theme was combating extremism and accepting migration, so we looked for NGOs working with historical topics, such as the Holocaust or the history of migration in our partner countries. We reached out to these NGOs for workshops and lectures, and they were more than willing to participate, either by coming to our schools or by organising activities for us.
What was the reaction of the parents’ community to the project, considering its potentially controversial nature?
We held parent meetings in each partner country to explain the project’s topics and our approach to handling them. While there were initial concerns, particularly in Germany due to sensitivity around World War II topics, we reassured the parents that our goal was to learn from history, not to place judgement. This proactive communication helped prevent misunderstandings and ensured parental support.
How did you ensure that the content provided by the NGOs was engaging and relevant for the students?
We insisted on workshops that were interactive and engaging. For example, students would role-play as political party representatives from the 1930s, making decisions based on historical contexts. This approach was very different from regular history or civics classes. The NGOs were flexible, especially during the COVID-19 era, and they organised online workshops and exhibitions. For instance, we participated in an online exhibition guided by Holocaust Museum tour guides in Slovakia. Students engaged in discussions and answered questions, and through this they explored historical periods more thoroughly than they would have in regular classes.
Could you describe the students’ involvement in the project and the roles they took?
Initially, over 90 students expressed interest in participating and they completed a questionnaire to determine their eligibility. We eventually selected 24 students from each partner school’s English department. These students, who travelled to five different countries, acted as ambassadors, sharing their newfound knowledge and experiences upon return. They disseminated information through meetings for students and teachers, thereby promoting a greater understanding of migration and extremism.
We employed various methods to engage the students actively. They participated in panel discussions, workshops with NGOs and lectures from migrants and colleagues with migration backgrounds, and they shared their personal stories. Students also engaged in history lessons focused on periods of extremism, visited museums and wrote letters to political prisoners through Amnesty International. These activities aimed to develop tolerance, understanding and a sense of responsibility among the students.
What were some learning moments or surprises for the students during the mobility activities?
In Norway, for example, a mother of a victim of the 2011 Utøya attack shared her harrowing experience, which left a profound impact on the students. When we visited the Bremen Museum of Migration in Germany, and explored the stories of migrants travelling from Germany to the US, the students found these personal narratives deeply moving. In Spain, we explored the history of ETA (i.e. an armed separatist organisation) and the impact of 1970s extremism, and we learned from the real-life stories of those affected. These experiences helped the students realise the gravity of extremism and the importance of raising awareness about its consequences.
The only challenges we faced were COVID-related. We established rules that only vaccinated students and teachers could travel, and even during the mobility, we tested the students and teachers on a daily basis and had the proper insurance, tests and face masks.
How has the project influenced attitudes among students and teaching practices at your school?
The project has increased willingness among students and teachers to engage in other initiatives. It has also integrated NGO cooperation into our formal education system, blending informal and formal educational methods. We now regularly invite professionals, NGOs and museum curators to conduct workshops and lectures, making it a standard part of our educational process.
I believe that the students and schools became more open to minorities; two of the six Ukrainian students stayed to finish their studies and continue at the university in our country. They are provided with a welcoming and open-minded school background. Students showed great interest in travelling and in the Erasmus+ activities at school and in cooperating with other nations, including minorities; migrants became an acceptable topic and the students are more tolerant and open-minded.
The teachers regularly met online on a monthly basis to plan and design activities feasible in both regular and online learning processes. We cooperated through e-twinning and Zoom, and we created materials provided within the project and displayed on the website. The teachers offered their expertise with online IT tools and created PowerPoint presentations, Curipod interactive presentations, Kahoots and more to engage not only the students involved in the project but also students outside the project in the partner schools. They enhanced their collaborative skills in the transnational team and their IT tools, and they exchanged their methodologies. The project outcomes have been regularly used in Civics, English and German lessons at the partner school, continuing even after the project’s conclusion.
Can you highlight how the project facilitated cultural exchange?
A unique aspect of our project was the cultural exchange during meals, where students brought and shared traditional dishes from their countries. We ensured diverse team representation for activities, which promoted strong connections and friendships among students from different countries. This experience has motivated many students to continue participating in Erasmus+ programmes at university level.
We also emphasised the importance of openness and learning from different cultures. The students stayed with host families and provided them with valuable insights into diverse traditions and habits. This experience helped them appreciate their own families more and develop a richer understanding of cultural coexistence.
In conclusion, what were the most important aspects of the project experience for you?
The integration of non-governmental organisations played a crucial role, as they became integral to our educational systems. The involvement of various stakeholders, including school management, teachers, students, families, local municipalities and museums, contributed to the project’s success and created a vibrant and action-packed experience. The project’s outcomes are showcased on our website, which features videos, teaching materials, photos and a comprehensive project outline.
Another aspect worth highlighting is that our students significantly enhanced their critical thinking skills and deepened their knowledge, particularly in English, as they focused on history, civics, democracy and addressing extremist ideas. They learned the importance of continuous education, the critical evaluation of information sources and the value of engaging with knowledgeable individuals. This holistic approach helped them distinguish between fake and real news, which in turn led to having more informed perspectives.
Currently, we are continuing with the KA121 mobility projects, but the topic of democratic citizenship is the one we are working on now in order to boost critical thinking with other students. Preparing future voters to be more tolerant, open-minded and democratic is a value we have to protect and build up from a young age.
Alvise Franchina participant from Italy
Extremism is a harsh topic which needs to be talked about. We need to raise tolerance and respect. In order to end extremism, we must begin to learn from history.
Sarah Celine and Kristianeparticipants from Norway
I was forced to come out of my bubble and communicate, which was such a nice change. I made a few friends for whom I am thankful. I was afraid I would feel a bit alone during the exchange, but the opposite was the case. My faith in humanity and kindness was restored.
Katarína Kudelováparticipant from Slovakia
When I returned home, I felt super satisfied with myself and noticed that my English had improved and my own judgement regarding migration and extremism had changed.
Pablo Catalá Angeloniparticipant from Spain
The Yes to Migration, No to Extremism project partnered with Amnesty International and Post Bellum, engaging students and teachers in activities against extremism and in support of migration.The programme set a new trend by collaborating with external experts, like museum guides, to enrich the school’s learning environment with diverse insights.
The project effectively disseminated information about both the participants’ experiences and the project’s results. Its comprehensive website offers an overview of mobilities and activities, featuring blogs with direct feedback from participants. The website’s materials section provides access to all resources produced for and during the mobilities, including teaching materials. Key standalone outcomes of the project are two e-books created by the students themselves, reflecting their thoughts and experiences on migration and extremism.
About the project
EU Youth Programme Priority:
Inclusion and Diversity
Media, Information & Critical Thinking
In terms of the main communication activities of the project, it is essential to highlight the involvement of international students in debate teams, panel discussions, breakout rooms and Zoom activities during regular sessions, with equal participation from each partner school.
Furthermore, the outcomes, including a website, essays and videos, serve as evidence that learning about migration and addressing extremism are significant topics in the educational process. It is also noteworthy that non-formal education was actively integrated into formal education during the project, and this integration was successfully sustained afterwards.
Lead partner: Gymnázium Andreja Vrábla Levice, Slovakia
IGS Schaumburg, Stadthagen, Germany
Askøy videregående skole, Kleppestø, Norway
Liceo Statale Galileo Galilei, Dolo, Italy
Colegio Nuestra Señora Del Rosario, Paterna, Spain