With Europe in transition (Brexit, migration) and living in the hinterland, we try to comprehend local and international topics: we have themes which aggravate us and bring us together, but then there are local topics that are of no public interest which we should, nevertheless, learn to appreciate and regard as part of our heritage. Our goal is not only global thinking but empowering youth from local communities with pride of their identity. We research signs of the times transnationally by writing and creating visual images. In the process we will learn to master e-learning and digitalization which belong to the new skills of a citizen.
In the project 'Signs of the times' (SOTT) (EU programme KA219) there are four participating (upper) secondary schools from four European countries: Forssan yhteislyseo, Finland (an upper secondary school with 540 students, aged 16-19, and 30 teachers), Bernstorff - Gymnasium , Germany (all fields of secondary education inc. with 920 students and 70 teachers), Liceul de arte vizuale 'Romulus Ladea', Romania (a public vocational school with 480 students, aged 10-18) and SU za HNI 'Konstantin Preslavski', Bulgaria (a national high school of humanity and arts with 1536 students, aged 10-18, and 135 teachers). The school in Bulgaria is situated in the city of Varna but the other schools in the provinces/hinterlands. Bulgaria on the other hand lies at the outer border of the European Union and thus falls into the same category. It is a bonus that the participants represent both relatively new and old member countries of the EU. The schools in Bulgaria and Romania have visual arts as their speciality whereas the ones in Germany and Finland are regular (upper) secondary schools with a variety of subjects and programmes available. The school in Germany has the status of Europa Schule and experience of integrating immigrant students. The emphasis of the project lies on the inclusion in the European community but also on localities with unique characteristics, and thus on equity.
The project consists of four short-term exchanges of groups of pupils with six students and 2-3 teachers from each country participating. In-between the meetings the participants work online, the results of which are to be published in a co-edited digital magazine. Each participating school in turn organizes educational workshops with preliminary tasks and above-mentioned post work. The main method is problem/phenomenon-based learning, which is why we cannot decide on the topics of the texts to be written in advance. In problem-based learning one has to tolerate the fact that the problems of reasearch arise and specify during the process. On the other hand here lies the beauty of the method. The objective is not to memorize facts but to engage in the study of a phenomenon from different points of views. Our topic of interest is the youth in the hinterlands of the EU and their experience of the surrounding world and how to (re)present it (Signs!). Phenomenon-based learning works in cycles of six months which give natural pace and rhythm to the meetings. At the end of each cycle we study which things have been learnt but we also look forward; 'Which are the problems I still want to solve?' At every meeting we study and employ different methods such as writing, photography, a comic strip, video etc. So, the products and output are of various kinds, which is a benefit. The challenge of phenomenon-based learning lies in the recognition of learning when there is no conventional test grade as a result. Youngsters are being tutored to recognize things learnt and otherwise practise self-reflection, too. This coincides with the topic of the project ; it is our goal to increase youngsters' self-knowledge, too. Experiences of learning and improvement in study skills make young people develop. At the end of each meeting our objective is to assess the outcome and the things or skills learnt. The work to recognize learning continues in all participating schools under the guidance of teachers. Another primary method of the project is e-learning where Forssan yhteislyseo leads the field; the exams in the matriculation examination are carried out digitally and e-materials are used creatively in all tuition. There are definitely many good practises to be shared.
Apart from the increase in teachers' professional competence and increase in students' skills of study, expected results are personal growth and empowerment. It will play a significant role in raising active citizens of the European Union. The participating countries may learn from organizing such a long-term problem-based project of learning and this know-how will e.g. be disseminated at the national ICT conference in Hämeenlinna in April, 2020 (postponed due to covid-19 lockdown). In addition, teachers will write articles in their national professional papers and magazines such as Stylus (Visual arts) and Virke (Mother tongue and literature) in Finland.