Helping Disadvantaged Youth Continue their Studies 👩‍🎓👨‍🎓

Published: Feb 3, 2023 Reading time: 7 minutes
Helping Disadvantaged Youth Continue their Studies 👩‍🎓👨‍🎓
© Timothy Rose, Unsplash

Marcel was one of the few people from his family who decided that he wanted to go to university. So for the first time ever, he packed up his things and moved away from his home in one of suburbs of Ústí nad Labem, a town in the north of the Czech Republic. Now, he is a sophomore at the Technical University of Liberec where he studies computer science. He dreams of one day working for a big company that will allow him to travel the world and provide for his entire family.

Five years ago, when Marcel was still a high school student, he first joined People in Need’s scholarship program. The program works with children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds and encourages them to stay in school. The overaching goal of People in Need's scholarship program, and its career counseling in general, is to increase the qualifications of young people so that their employability on the labor market increases, regardless of their degree level.

People in Need’s Retrospective Scholarship Program (called Retrostipendijní program, in Czech)  is financed by the Albatros Foundation and has helped 164 young people to date (96 of whom were direct clients of People in Need, while 68 were individuals from partner organisations). 

Oftentimes, support from a family who are themselves struggling socially or financially is not possible. Parents from these families may only have a primary school education themselves. Past studies suggest that nearly 60% of the population achieve the same level of education as their parents. “We see the greatest correlation in the level of education attainment between parents and their children in families where the parents have reached either received primary or vocational certifications. So, if a child lives with parents who themselves only completed primary school, it is very likely that that child will not exceed this level of education and will achieve the same,” points out career counselling methodologist and retrospective program coordinator Rut Veselá, adding: “Intelligence is a minor factor determining a child's good results at school. Equally intelligent children from different family backgrounds do not achieve the same level of success in school. The main reason for this is that our educational system largely transfers the responsibility for a child’s studies to their parents. And parents with a low level of education are less likely to be able to meet this obligation and adequately support their children in their studies.”

Planning to study at university? Miracles can happen

Enter People in Need. We work to provide students with the additional support that sometimes their parents cannot. In this way, our students can manage to study and successfully graduate from secondary school. Out of our most recent cohort: seventeen of our students were able to further their studies at post-secondary schools or vocational colleges and six of our students were even accepted into three-year Bachelor programs at university. In total, we’ve already supported seven students with university scholarships and five more with applying for grants.

“When we started the scholarship program for children aged 15+, we did not think that a few years later we would create a program for university students as well. We consider it a great success for all of our clients when they get to a high school, and we are even happier when they successfully complete their studies or even further with their studies. But passing the university exams and graduating from university? We consider this a true miracle, and it happens,” Rut Veselá tell us, failing to hide her enthusiasm about the results so far.

The scholarship that helped Marcel

Take Marcel for example. Marcel has been interested in computers and technology from an early age, and now thanks to his scholarship (he receives a stipend of about CZK 2,000/€84 a month) he is able to buy the necessary materials for his courses. “I've already created a few projects of my own, but I want to continue things further,” he says with a healthy sense of self-confidence.

Even in high school, he began to make the most out of any opportunity. For example, the scholarship paid for an international English language exam (which he passed!)

"My parents didn't have the opportunity to get an education, but they encourage me every day to follow my dreams. They both know how difficult it is to find a permanent job these days. My mom lost her job during the COVID-19 pandemic and had to register for unemployment at the Labor Office. The scholarship helped ease my family's budget and gave me more time to focus on my studies, because by leaving home I needed to find my work out my own accommodation, food and transportation. I also needed to get supplies and books to study,” explains Marcel.

Marcel's career advisor, Kristýna Isabella Nová, considers him to be very smart, and compared to his peers, he is an unusually responsible, kind and capable boy. “Already in high school, he had an internship at the Czech Technical University in Prague where he helped program an autonomous driving system — a system for driving a car without a driver. From my point of view, that’s an incredible achievement for a (then) sixteen-year-old boy. His parents did not have the opportunity further their studies, so they try even harder to support their two children in their studies. In order to earn extra money for school expenses, Marcel has a part-time job," she adds.

“All of our clients are great fighters! They would've never gotten to where they are without their drive. I admire them a lot,” Rut Veselá praises the students.

How educational support works

Career counselling generally seeks to extend the educational process beyond nine years of compulsory schooling. The counsellor helps identify the students’ strengths and weaknesses and, based on this, help them choose a suitable field of study at the end of their primary schooling. This is followed by support in preparation for successful admission to the chosen school and more.

"When providing this service, we apply an individualistic approach to maximize the potential of each individual. The fundamental role of a career counsellor is systematic support during studies. A large proportion of pupils from socially disadvantaged background end their secondary-school studies after the first couple of months. This is influenced by a number of factors, mainly by the fact that studies after primary school are no longer compulsory and it is not the norm in these families to continue with them. A number of their peers already have part-time jobs and earn money, or “do nothing,” and in such a situation, even many of the more promising ones do not persevere and choose to leave school,” describes Rut Veselá.

Another major factor that leads many to drop out of school are learning disabilities. Career counsellors try to detect these in time and prevent any potential failures with appropriate intervention, for example additional tutoring.

Finally, the financial burden placed on families also has a significant impact on whether or not a student chooses to stay in school.

Conditions: good attendance, good grades, good behaviour

The conditions for inclusion in the career counselling scholarship program are: regular school attendance, decent grades and acceptable behaviour. It is also essential that the highest level of education completed by at least one of the child's parents is no higher than primary school as it ensures that the scholarship is directed to the individuals within the target group. We deliberately do not use basic sorting criteria like material hardship benefits or unemployment information. The amount of the scholarship for secondary school students ranges from CZK 1,000- 1,500 (€40 – €60) and depends on their performance in school.

A student who has worked with us for a long time and without any problems in the Retro-Scholarship Program for high school students can then apply for a university scholarship. At the end of each semester, they submit a statement that they've fulfilled their study obligations (Výpis o splnění studijních povinností, in Czech), and if everything is in order, they are eligible to receive a stipend of CZK 2,000 (€84)/month for the next semester as well. Similar to the program for high school students, an individual and regular support of our career counsellor is an integral part for the university portion, as well. This means that the counsellor and the student meet at least once a month, discuss the studies, and, if necessary, arrange tutoring or an opportunity to borrow the necessary equipment.

You can read more about the Retrospective Scholarship Program here (currently only available in Czech).

Author: Eva Kroupová

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