CEU festival, credit: Janos Posztos

CIVICA high school activities help young learners imagine futures


A key component of the civic engagement work package, the activities are aimed at high school students from underprivileged backgrounds.

Civic engagement is the focus of CIVICA's Work Package 7 (WP7), comprised of representatives from all alliance institutions and led by Central European University (CEU). Following the successful launch of the CIVICA Public Lecture Series Tours d’Europe, the group has implemented their work with high school students this fall.

Modeled after the governmental programme Widening Participation in the UK, the CIVICA high school activities address students historically under-represented in higher education. CIVICA’s programme, attended by 35-40 students at a time, is designed to illustrate the possibilities that higher education can yield, specifically connecting with students who have refugee backgrounds or socioeconomic challenges.

“The essence of the programme is to encourage students from underprivileged backgrounds at an important age (13-15), during which they are making the decision whether to continue in high school or attend vocational school,” says Flora Laszlo, CEU’s Director of Community Engagement and organiser of WP7 high school activities. She adds, “It's a pivotal decision to make because it is hard for students to change paths later. You need a high school degree to attend university.”

Laszlo has been conducting a two-part high school programme to get young students thinking about their upcoming educational decisions even before her work with WP7. The high school activities taking place this fall have been re-launched through the CIVICA framework, with plans to expand to CEU’s Vienna campus and Favoriten neighbourhood this spring, and additionally incorporating the voices and experiences of CIVICA Ambassadors who represent the various institutions of the alliance.

During the first part of the programme on 22 October, Laszlo with CEU researchers Iulia Savos and Dorottya Kreschner visited a class of high school students in Budapest, identified specifically for the outreach. During the visit, they led a conversation and an informal educational activity about the importance of education and employment opportunities in the future. “These puzzles let the students imagine the future possibilities and consequences of studying certain subjects and what you need to put effort into for certain paths,” explains Laszlo.

The second step is a visit to CEU’s Budapest campus on 5 November. For many, this will be the first impression of a higher education environment. The students arrive in the morning and spend time in interactive experiential learning activities led by Savos and Kreschner in CEU’s Cognitive Development Center.

After meeting with the researchers, the visiting students enjoy a snack followed by a question and answer session via livestream with the CIVICA Ambassadors. The Ambassadors, who come from all over the world, will share videos about the paths to their current studies, illuminating the many considerations and decisions that were part of the process.

In addition to the potential for opening students to the possibility of higher education, Laszlo notes the indirect impact and discoveries that emerged from past iterations of the high school activities. She remembers for example a young student from a disadvantaged background asking in amazement if the place they were visiting – the university campus – was actually a school. “In this student’s mind, a school was something run down looking, not this clean environment. So the fact that a school can be appealing and attractive was completely new for this student.”

The next project of WP7 currently underway is the development of “CIVICA For All” – a common platform for refugee learners to share their educational and employment experiences. 

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Written by Julie Potter (CEU)

Photo credit: Janos Posztos, CEU