Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Teachers' Perceptions and Conceptualizations of Low Educational Achievers: A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy of Disengagement for Future NEETs

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Teachers' Perceptions and Conceptualizations of Low Educational Achievers: A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy of Disengagement for Future NEETs

Article excerpt

The NEETs phenomenon in Italy is not a recent one, but it increased dramatically after the Global Financial Crisis. As in France many different factors influence it, but the prevailing two are the skills mismatch and the youth generations' discouragement. Whereas in France the role of the school is crucial into tackling NEETs, in Italy the initiatives are mainly carried out by local authorities and small and medium enterprises. Therefore, more research is needed that sheds lights on teachers' role in dealing with low educational achievers. This exploratory study investigates teachers' perceptions and conceptualizations of low educational achievers in upper secondary schools, analysing their response to the issues connected to low attainment in terms of teaching strategies. From the study emerged strong communicative barriers between teachers and students that could lead teachers to stigmatize low achievers in their academic failure, ingenerating lack of self-esteem and disengagement in young people. Keywords: Low Educational Achievers, Upper Secondary School, NEETs, Teachers' Perceptions

In Italy over 2,25 million young people, approximately 24% of the population aged 15-29, are NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training). After a short period of limited decrease, from 2007 to 2012 there has been, as a result of the Global Financial Crisis, a substantial annual increase of NEETs, from 18,9% to 23,9%, particularly in Central and Northern Italy (ISTAT, 2014). The majority of them is female, has Italian citizenship (migrants are only 13% of the total)1, and has a low level of education, i.e. 78% of them did not complete compulsory education and reached only a lower secondary diploma (Italia Lavoro, 2011). In Italy early school leavers are 17% of the population aged 18-24 and this data is positively correlated to NEETs2. If it is expected that extremely low levels of education and functional illiteracy represent an obstacle in finding an occupation, it has to be noted that also achieving an upper secondary diploma in the vocational education track without further specialized training puts young people at a risk of becoming NEETs.

Several are the causes for the increase of NEETs in Italy, and many of them are strictly linked to socio-economic factors (e.g., the economic crisis, a blocked upward social mobility, lack of support from the welfare state) that force young people to live with their parents longer than the European average. However, one of the typical features of the NEETs phenomenon in Italy is the skills mismatch in the labour market (Gentili, 2014) and the discouragement that follows and that changes young people's attitudes and behaviours. In this sense, it is worthwhile to analyse the school context, and related factors such as low achievement levels, where probably this mismatch originates.

In the review that follows, an initial comparison between the Italian and the French educational context will serve as a basis for posing the research questions of the present study. The reason of this comparison at macro-level is that, despite the several similarities that these two systems of education show, there are substantial differences in the approaches and in the results of the actions taken to deal with NEETs related issues. Then, a micro-level exploratory analysis will support the formulation of possible interpretative hypotheses on the role of teachers' perceptions on interactions with low achievers' students and their opportunity to learn.

The NEET Generation in Italy and in France3

Only recently both in Italy and in France the concept of NEET has been adopted, and in France it is still rarely used. In Italy, youth unemployment is not a new phenomenon, with a recurrent emergency over the last three decades.

According to a study published by the Conseil d'analyse économique (Cahuc et al., 2013) there are approximately 1.9 million NEET people in France, (the 13% of the 15-29 population, roughly 10% less than in Italy). …

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