My uncle dropped out of school two years before he was due to graduate. Earlier, while in primary school, shortly after he had been diagnosed with a learning disability, his mother—my grandmother—passed away from cancer. At a young age, he was faced with challenges both and home and at school which deterred his progress through the education system. My mother still blames herself for not helping him through his studies more, for not knowing what she knows now, as a trained exceptional education teacher of students with special needs and learning challenges, about adjusting teaching techniques for individual students’ learning styles, for not recognizing the signs of a struggling student because she was the thirteen-years-old big sister and had worries of her own. After leaving school, he was hired by a relative at a family business where my uncle has worked for over thirty years now and from where he will one day retire.

However, while this topic is very personal to me and my family, my uncle’s story is only one of millions across the U.S., where I am from, and across Europe. Many youth do not have the option of turning to a family business for employment opportunities like my uncle did; most have trouble finding jobs due to a lack of competencies, skills, and/or qualifications. Additionally, in the late 1970s when my uncle was in secondary school, dropping out of school was not terribly uncommon, and integration into the labour force was smoother as a result. Since then, graduation rates have been steadily climbing in the U.S. and Europe, but finding employment as a drop out is more limited than ever and, consequently, highly competitive. Several organisations exist in the U.S. to aid in drop-out prevention services, but few programmes assist youth once they have already left school. Similarly, in Europe, while the rate of early-leavers is down from 2012, the rate of unemployment, involvement in gangs, etc. is still high among ESLs across Europe, as the lack of basic skills and competences among young ESLs tends to exclude them from the labour force.

Today, in an effort to remedy this, partners of IARS in Greece hosted an international conference called “The International Raising Awareness Conference” in which the “Drop-In” project was introduced. Drop-In is an initiative that aims to establish alternative pathways for youth early school leavers and drop outs toward ultimate inclusion in society and in the labour market. Key note speakers, including IARS’s Founder and Director Dr. Theo Gavrielides, were hosted to present the progress and discuss the advantages of life-long learning, even beyond that offered through the education system.

Upon examining reasons why youth have dropped out of school and determining what competencies are needed in order to be successful in the modern labour force, IARS (UK), KMOP (Greece), InEuropa (Italy), CARDET (Cyprus), and The Schottener Foundation Social Services (Romania) have collaborated in order to develop a holistic e-learning and networking platform to satisfy development needs of young ESLs across Europe to help integrate youth into the labour market and keep drop outs from common alternatives of crime, unemployment, and exclusion.

Dr. Gavrielides proudly introduced this programme, saying, “The IARS and the Drop-in Erasmus partnership is proud to launch today a free, EU-funded online course tailored and designed by young people who are not given equal educational chances.”

Students often encounter challenges that seem unfair and certainly far beyond their years. It is the duty of the education system and of society as a whole to reach the youth wherever he or she is, refusing to exclude competent members of society and struggling youth due to pressures outside of their control.  I think about how my uncle’s life might have been different if he had been given an opportunity like the programme developed by the Drop-In project. Would he have chosen a different career? Would he still squirm uncomfortably when old stories from university or celebrations of work successes are exchanged during the holidays?  I wonder how my community can do a better job of, not just attempting to prevent the issue of leaving school but also to cater to the needs of the youth in our society who have already made the decision. I consider what can be done to make young people aware of their options—particularly of the Drop-In program, which has already been shown to benefit the participants. As a final call to action, Dr. Gavrieldes concluded by asserting, “Dropping out of school is not young peoples’ fault. It is our failure as a modern European society to respond to their realities, and the Drop-in partnership was set up to respond to this need.”

Written by our Research and Editorial Intern Emma Pugh