"Be careful about schools! Classrooms are associated with stress … and stress kills creativity.”
Abdelkarim Bellafkih is an engineer working for the Flemish government. He is very socially engaged, trying to solve major societal challenges mainly by connecting people and empowering them. For instance, he co-founded Muslinked, a network organization for high potentials with an immigrant background. In 2011 he founded the youth- and volunteering organization Free Hands which focuses on inspiring and activating youngsters in an urban context. Also, in 2017, he was elected as the chairman of the umbrella-organization of Moroccan organizations in Flanders and Brussels on March 2017.
On March 1st 2021 we had a meeting with Abdelkarim about SPEED-You-UP. He had some very interesting reflections and thoughts on the project, which we are happy to share with you!
“Be careful with the schools!”
No, schools are not dangerous places --. But for young people who are disengaged already, lost their trust in schools and teachers, and lost faith in themselves, a project in a school might not be really what they are waiting for. It might seem to them as another way to get them out into a separate trajectory, or to make them fit into a system they already distaste. Abdelkarim can link this to his own – let us say mixed … - experiences in secondary school. To give some examples:
“After just fifteen minutes in the lesson, the Dutch teacher thought that I had to register for additional Dutch tutoring classes, as my parents were born in Morocco.”
“When I had been in school for a month, the geography teacher informed me that there are no suitable schools for me anymore, because there are no schools where you don't have to do anything.” (quotes from an interview in 2017, published https://www.vrt.be/vrtnws/nl/2017/05/05/ik_had_geen_halalnodigomnaardeunieftegaan-abdelkarimbellafkih-1-2969710/)
Because of his social commitment, Abdelkarim often comes into contact with young people and therefore also NEETs. During walks he noticed that many of these young people recognize talents themselves but hit a wall of not being able to use them. Projects that could be useful do not interest them: “I am tired of school and you want to put me back in school now?”
So is a project on entrepreneurship in schools totally useless? No, because it can actually allow you to make changes from within. According to Abdelkarim, this would be challenging, it would require teachers to work with students in a different way. It would ask from them to invest in building trust with young people and to have a positive look, challenge themselves to search for talent and potential in every young person, even if this seems difficult at first.
His own example shows how this can work. During his school career, he encountered negative experiences but there were also teachers -he calls them “talent whisperers” – who believed in him and urged them to develop his talents.
Another tip from Karim is to work with role models. It is important to show young people that ‘it can be done’. Ask young people who already completed the trajectory or who became entrepreneurs to work with the schools.
Even when you offer the project in a school, his advice is, try to disconnect it from the traditional school structure. If it feels to much like being in school and class, re-motivating and re-engaging students will not be successful. A very concrete example of this is to offer the project not in a classroom but in a separate space which young people can refurbish themselves or move to a space outside of the school.
“Classrooms are associated with stress … and stress kills creativity.”
Make sure the room and the set-up are inspiring and help young people – and teachers – to think out of the box, to be creative and venturous.
A final recommendation is to not only work with young people, but also with the teachers. Make sure they can reflect on their work, on building trust with young people, challenge them to rethink their approach and their work.
“Let teachers get back to their initial motivation: why did I become a teacher?”
Adbelkarim is currently working on a new project for NEETs in the city of Antwerp (Belgium). Doing something for themselves and doing something for others, that's what the young people yearn for, but they don't get the chance. That is why Adbelkarim is working on Talentbar: a coffee or tea house run by NEETs. The goal is to have a physical bar by the end of 2021 where at least 3 NEETs will take charge for a period of 6 to 9 months. They can then continue with their own project or they can be deployed on the labour market.