A new year, a new “Night of Ideas”. The French Institute organised the 2021 edition of the La Nuit des Idees / The Night of Ideas, a worldwide and decentralised invitation of scientific, scholar and artistic performances on the purpose of discussing novel, groundbreaking thoughts that question established “truths”. This years’ theme: Closer.
The YOUTHShare project participated in the node organised by ERUA, the European Reform Universities’ Association comprised of UniversitéParis 8, Universität Konstanz, Rosklilde University, the New Bulgarian University and the University of the Aegean.
The presentation by YOUTHShare reflected the questions looming in front of the third wave of the Covid-9 pandemic. The health crisis is closely followed by a social crisis and despite the fact that the cure of the novel coronavirus is approaching, we are still trying to assess the cost of the pandemic at our societies. Social distancing, closed markets, suspended work contracts, suspended social life and the widespread isolation question the resilience of our societies on the one hand and on the other the dynamicity of our academic communities. Most importantly though, the combination of the two shakes the outreaching role of universities.
Through various programs, projects and voluntary initiatives the Universities have for long now abandoned their solitary and monolithic role as keepers of the scientific knowledge. Quite the opposite, they have become central nodes for the dissemination of excellence among the society and for the design of innovative support among its most vulnerable members.
Unemployed youth have always been among those, aforementioned, vulnerable members. Young people Not in Employment, Education or Training (aka NEETs) in Southern Europe are the manifestation of a structural problem, exacerbated by the recent 10-year long financial crisis. The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened an already pressing problem not only for their employment potential but also for their sense of belonging. Young NEETs experience social isolation, disappointment, and disengagement under significantly different terms in the current conditions of the pandemic.
In response to the above issue, the YOUTHShare project, as many other research projects did, faced the need for a strategic adaptation. On the one hand the social responsibility of universities in outreaching the vulnerable with the aim of re-skilling or up-skilling, empower NEETs and support them in re-integrating the labour market; and on the other hand the new pressing need of NEETs for social contact… both urged for a paradigm shift. In the same way as almost all training projects, the YOUTHShare replaced face-to-face training with the online one. But this is just a minor part of a whole paradigm change.
Through delivering online communications and of course training the YOUTHShare project managed to simultaneously, sooth the isolation of NEETs, support the continuation of the outreaching by the University of the Aegean and create the sense of meaningful substantial impact for the equally isolated researchers and trainers.
The focus upon social economy and cooperative practises played a crucial role on that. The sense of empowerment involved in cooperative employment has been a pleasant surprise for the beneficiaries of the project under the grim situation of social isolation. On the other hand – the usually ignored other end of communication – the researchers, trainers and Key Account Managers of the YOUTHShare Transnational Employment Centre rejoiced their opportunity to become active again.
Digital technologies have been accused of the alienation they cause, even before the Covid-19 pandemic. The wide use of telecommunication as a response to the social distancing measures, especially in the case of e-learning synchronous or asynchronous, have deepened the pertinent fears. Indeed, nothing replaces the human contact, especially in the field of education.
Nevertheless, the story of YOUTHShare project demonstrates a rather different issue. It seems that we tend to put the blame on the messenger – that is digital technologies. In reality, the actual contact and the communication of impactful content will always be liberating, regardless of the medium. And during the social isolation measures of the pandemic, the communication is invaluable not only for the vulnerable beneficiaries but also for the isolated practitioner.
The discussion on e-learning or teleworking during the pandemic is a great opportunity to reassess the crux of education, training or work. Did they lose their essentiality and impact because of social distance? Were they ever essential and impactful?