Cross-national peer-to-peer mentoring update – Girona Exchange 2019

The cross-national peer-to-peer mentoring scheme began in February 2019. This pilot initiative, developed by Dr Alex Masardo and Dr Miquel Alsina, is a collaboration between the Universities of Gloucestershire, UK and Girona, Spain. It is being funded through the Janet Trotter Trust, the School of Education and Humanities (UoG), the Faculty of Education and Psychology (UdG) and Erasmus+ mobility funding.

The pilot scheme involves six primary teacher trainee students and two early childhood studies students from the University of Gloucestershire and eight double degree (Primary and Early Years) trainee teachers from the University of Girona.

For the past three months, the students have been working closely together on an e-learn platform that they co-created during the first workshop series at UoG. The platform has given them the opportunity to reflect on their training and placement experiences and, in particular, the cultural and policy differences that exist across the diverse national contexts. Concepts such as ‘risk’ and ‘community’ have been useful umbrella terms from which to explore some of these differences.

For a week in May, the UK team headed over to Girona to visit our Spanish peers. This consisted of a homestay- either with host families or in the host’s student accommodation. Caitlin (2nd year BEd student) says:

I stayed with my peer mentor’s university friends in a flat in Girona, we were made to feel so welcome. At the breakfast table and in the evenings we had conversations about the differences in our cultures as well as Brexit and the issues in Catalonia surrounding independence. This helped them to practice their English and allowed me to start to learn some Catalan as well. We ate traditional Spanish foods which were very tasty!

During our stay, the students were involved in several workshops at the University of Girona, these included hearing about a number of Widening Participation initiatives, including PRINPAR (working towards a more inclusive university) and ‘The Nightingale mentoring project’, in which a university student gets paired with one mentor child between the ages of 8 and 12. The mentor and child get together for 2-3 hours once a week over a period extending from October to May.

During recent years in Spain, the question of social and ethnic diversity has come sharply into focus. In order to improve diversity in universities there is a need to recruit students from cultures and societies where there is little or no tradition of children being involved in higher education studies. The Nightingale Mentoring seeks to help redress what is seen as a major imbalance in Spanish society.

The idea behind the concept is that the mentor gives the child a positive role model by establishing a personal relationship with the mentor child. This in turn helps strengthen the child’s personal and social confidence. The goal is that the child will perform better in school and in private and will be more likely to apply for university when the time comes. The concept is based on the idea of “mutual benefit” – benefit for both child and student.

The students also got the chance to visit contrasting primary schools in both rural and urban areas and reported on the successes of the project and how it has developed our understanding of education systems in the UK and Spain.

Students also took part in the first International Symposium on Cooperative Learning in University Teaching hosted by the University of Girona while we were there. This photo shows Evie and Petya standing in front of our team’s Poster Presentation submission on the cross national peer-to-peer mentoring scheme. Evie, Petya and Alex attended the session with Professor Celine Buchs from the University of Geneva who was discussing (in French) her work on learning and social skills development. Evie took down comprehensive notes, which she had translated into English, which Alex in turn used to ask questions from the floor.

There was also a huge science fair happening in the city centre, which hundreds of school children came together to participate in. This was extraordinary because the amount of organisation that must be in place to run such an event seemed so effortless! The children enjoyed getting ‘hands on’ with the activities, and understanding safety precautions in order to successfully interact with the activities. We were all given the yellow T-Shirt!

Elliott (2nd year Early Childhood Studies student) says: Going to the Fira De La Ciència (Science Festival) was fascinating to see how big of a project it was. Lots of schools being able to walk around from activity to activity was really interesting and you can see that the children really enjoyed it. This is something that I feel would be really beneficial over in the UK. I think that it would be a great opportunity for schools to get involved in and enhance the joy of science within children.

We visited at an exciting time- the Festival of Flowers was occurring so we were able to see how the hidden locations were being decorated for the festival and it was very impressive to say the least. The Game of Thrones fans among the team were also impressed at seeing the locations used for filming!

Jessii (2nd year BEd student) says: The project will continue now as the second year BEd students go onto the Stage 2 placement, which requires an increase in teaching demand. This will inform reflections with our Catalan peers as the placement lengths and requirements for Stage 2 are considerably different to theirs. Overall, the trip to Girona has been an incredible opportunity and very eye-opening into a different cultural norm of society and education!

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