On 27 November 2013, I spoke with Marlot van der Geld from the Stichting voor Kennis en sociale Cohesie (Foundation for Knowledge and Social Cohesion – SKC) in order for her to tell me more about its mentoring project and other work that the SKC carries out in the field of inclusive education.
SIRIUS: Why was SKC set up?
In 1998, The Mentor Project was set up by Mimoun Ouariachi with the support of the Government of Amsterdam in order to tackle the challenges posed by the youth in Amsterdam at the time. In order to provide positive role models for primary school children of a migrant background (particularly Turkish and Moroccan), mentors from the same cultural background were trained to teach social and learning skills to the children.
To guarantee the continuity of this project and in order to cover further gaps that were apparent for the improved education of young people with a migrant background, the SKC as such was founded as a non-profit foundation in Amsterdam in 2005. Since then, it has developed additional projects and has expanded its network to work with a wide variety of actors in the city, including primary, secondary and post-secondary schools.
SIRIUS: How is SKC run?
The SKC has ten project leaders, who were previously mentors themselves. The Board meets every six weeks to discuss the developments in each project and in the SKC itself. The Foundation Director is also the overall leader of the projects.
SIRIUS: How does the mentoring project work?
We believe that every student of higher education can become a mentor, and encourage the mutual participation of everyone who lives in Amsterdam. We encourage knowledge exchange between mentee and mentor in order to create new knowledge as each side learns from the other.
The SKC currently has 300 mentors, of which 20% are volunteers and 80% are interns. The interns are recruited through agreements with universities of applied sciences, and receive ECTS credits for their work. Mentors come from diverse backgrounds, about half of which have an immigrant background.
On the one hand, this project trains young adults to positively engage with young people with a migrant background or from a vulnerable environment. Each would-be mentor is interviewed in order to see if they fit the profile that SKC wish to have. Once they have passed that phase, they are given basic training on the organisation, its philosophy, its vision, its working methods etc. Thereafter, the mentors are further coached in one-to-one sessions in order to acquire the pedagogical skills necessary to become a successful mentor.
The children, aged 10 to 14, are guided by their mentor in order to develop their own potential. The main content of the programme focuses on learning skills and social skills necessary for the successful transition from primary to secondary school. 1500 mentees are currently assisted through this project, over 90% of which come from a migrant background. SKC only works with schools in lower social neighbourhoods, so-called ‘black schools’ in Amsterdam, which means that over 60% of the school population has a migrant background.
The mentor project is completely funded by the local government in Amsterdam. The network of schools involved is now rather substantial, but when we get further funding, we always try to increase our reach.
SIRIUS: What else does SKC do to support inclusive education?
SKC also runs projects such as homework classes or weekend classes in which students develop their cognitive and civil skills. These projects are funded by the schools themselves, or are supported by the foundations with which we work.
SIRIUS: What are your future objectives for SKC?
We would like to expand the work that we are currently carrying out to other cities in The Netherlands. Big cities all around the country face the same challenges Amsterdam, and we think that our experience could be useful to schools and local governments in other cities. We hope to see this expansion starting in 2014 already.
SIRIUS note: Since October 2012, the SKC has been a member of the European Network for Education Support Projects, run by the SIRIUS network. It is amongst the highlighted projects mentioned in the Brochure on Mentoring.