Spain: Returning to school in 20/21 to recover with equity and inclusion

It was september 2020, and we returned to school in a way that we all would remember in the following years. Amongst new measures, precautions and incertitudes, thousands of social and educational entities in Spain and around the world maintained pulse with the Covid-19 pandemic, having the certainty that the right to an inclusive and equitable education was, along with the vaccine, one of the most important antidotes to recover without leaving anyone behind.

“Our time to act is still now because there continues to be injustices and inequalities to fight for” Zaira, young student from the I.E.S Arcebispo Xelmirez I school in Galicia

The beginning of the school year has also implicated infinite diverse challenges to the project led by Entreculturas with the support of Inditex, “Integral and inclusive education in contexts of social vulnerability”: how could we accompany schools and social entities during these defying times? In what new ways could we get together and how could youth lead their action initiatives in this new scenario? What kind of education did we need to strengthen amongst all in order to respond to the pandemic with equity and inclusion, without giving a single step back?

From the Autonomous Communities of Galicia, Asturias y Castilla y León in Spain, we initiated a new school year with the inner compass full of experience gathered during the first months of the pandemic. To begin with, the awaited interregional youth Assemblies across all three territories, with facilitating the encounter between groups of young people and educators from diverse schools, social and educational entities participating in the project.

This year the message was clear: Our time is still today. The global crisis we are living through has united us more than ever, and it is here and now that young people’s voices and actions can intrinsically contribute to reconstructing our contexts in an inclusive and integral way, with everyone’s participation. The Assemblies counted with more than 50 youth and 16 educators from diverse rural and urban regions of the Autonomous Communities, learning about gender equality, peaceful living together and inclusion in times of Covid-19, as well as designing activities to inform, mobilize and advocate their local contexts during the 2020/2021 school year. As one of the young participants at the Galician Assembly declared during a final activity:

“Our time is still now, and my compromise for the upcoming school year is to continue working for making this world a better place, by raising awareness amongst others around me to do the same” Isabel, young student at San Estanislao de Kostka school, in Castilla y León

With the emotion and motivation to work together, so did the new and defying year begin, accompanied by many proposals of change led by the youth groups and the educators who participate in this project.

And so did the long-term socio-educational activities also begin, working with youth and schools, with particular attention to those identifying greater challenges, exclusion and inequality deepened by the crisis. In Galicia and Castilla y León they began implementing accompaniment processes with youth groups in contexts of greater vulnerability, who had shown particular motivation to address urgent issues in their environments, and in so doing, exercising their capacity for social change as global citizens.

From a participatory and horizontal approach, they learnt about the social and gender inequalities that most concerned them, and designed diverse initiatives, creative murals and actions within and outside their educational contexts, in order to remind their communities about the importance of gender equality and social inclusion and indispensable antidotes to respond to Covid-19.

Alongside this intervention, various trainings with educators were developed, looking to integrate a gender perspective into their work, and strengthening this educational approach with the distribution of an educational material designed within the project: “A world in equality”. This material was sent to 84 schools and educational institutions in Asturias, Galicia and Castilla y León, prioritising those participating in the project and in contexts of greater social vulnerability.

The last months of the first intervention year are particularly of note due to the success of the Seminar in Educational Practices in Galicia: “Building an inclusive and equitable citizenship in times of incertitude”, a two-day long event that summed 66 professionals from educational and social organizations involved in promoting social inclusion and gender equality as priority responses to address the gaps deepened by Covid-19. During the online talks and workshops, a total of 10 professionals, young people and organizations intervened, sharing their experience in promoting an education that guarantees equal opportunities, effective inclusion, and gender equality, in the first line of intervention before and during the pandemic.

And so, this Seminar of Educational Practices, reminded us the certainties that we do have to continue this path together: the importance and voice that youth have in processes of social transformation and in the rebuilding of a world in equality and inclusion, as well as the need and value of an inclusive, equitable and transformative education if we are to recover from this pandemic and the global crises that affect us.

As a particularly creative and innovative event, the Community Arts Festival: “Yout art builds hospitality” had an invaluable impact within the project, promoting new narratives of inclusion and solidarity towards youth, migrants and refugees, in contexts of greater exclusion, from the powerful means of the arts. A total of 23 youth organizations and educational entities participated, presenting artistic proposals to promote interculturality, hospitality and inclusion as a response to growing exclusive discourses and prevalent inequalities in their contexts.

Finally, as an essential objective in this project, the Violet Network initiated, bringing together youth movements from the participating social and educational entities, with the aim to promote gender equality. Within the awareness-raising, mobilization and advocacy activities driven this year, we can distinguish the creation of a campaign in social networks designed by youth in the 3 participating Autonomous Communities, alongside other young people both nationally and internationally. A key to the campaign included the elaboration of a Manifesto that highlighted the proposals and petitions young people gathered to guarantee gender equality in all contexts, with the message #Iluminemoselmundoporlaigualdad, on the 25th November (International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women).

Despite the considerable limitations and incertitudes, the first year of the project “Integral and inclusive education in contexts of social vulnerability” has demonstrated its inalienable pertinence to respond to the Covid-10 crisis from the work of citizens and the educational community. More than 700 educators, young people and citizens have actively participated in initiatives promoting gender equality, social inclusion and peace culture, outdoing the expected numbers that were set at the beginning of the project. This shows once again the drive for change that young people hold in reconstructing new normalities of solidarity, resilience, peaceful living together, social inclusion and gender equality in Spain and worldwide. We continue together in 2021 with everything that we have learnt!