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Give you a back

July 26, 2010

The school holidays are now well on its way and most students are fully enjoying their summer vacation. They’ve got at least a full month to go and there are lots of fun activities to choose from.

There’s sun and sand, if you’re the relaxed beach break type; dance festivals and mobile discos, if you’re into crowds and heavy bass resounding in your ears and chest; sports matches, camping and hiking, if you’re outdoorsy —just to name a few. Yes, the end of summer and that first day of school seem so, so far away…

The school dropouts

Then, there’s the other group. Those students, for whom this time of year feels like the proverbial black hole. They know they will not be returning to their studies and they struggle with the crucial question: What next? They’re the dropouts.

Sadly enough dropouts is a yearly recurring dilemma in the Netherlands. According to recent statics, the total amount of students quitting their studies has diminished in the last ten years. Yet a study of the Maastricht University done in 2009, states that on average about 50.000 Dutch students leave school without a certificate.

However way you take it, it remains a huge amount. Notably, in comparison, there are more dropouts among students with an immigrant background.

Your origins versus Your future

I come from a poor background, with parents that had very little schooling. Yet they did the best they could with my sister and me. Our father taught us arithmetic tricks, told us stories about the past and stimulated our creativity by teaching us how to express ourselves with drawings and songs. Our mother practised sums with us while doing our hair in the mornings —I wrote about this in Tell me a story. One thing they were both adamant about; our education came first.

We were very lucky and very blessed that way. Not everyone is. Most reports indicate that generally your origins and the parental support you receive are determining factors whether you go for the long haul or quit. And a poor (immigrant) background and uneducated parents are not very favourable circumstances.

Life buoy and  Safety net

That’s why I became a part of the project Kleurrijk Brabant Leert initiated by Palet; an organisation promoting ethnic participation in society and education. Roughly the project translates itself as ‘All shapes, sex and (skin)colours have a shot at an education and —most importantly— a certificate; Brabant being the region.’

The plan is simple, yet straightforward. Prevent dropouts by either creating a life buoy and/or safety net for ‘problem’ students. In practice this means: the students are offered a coaching program, in which they are paired off with a mentor.



Here ten year old Sammi, a satisfied mentee, tells about his experience with his mentor Mervier and the coaching program (the video is in Dutch).

Short changed

Taking part in the coaching program is the kind of volunteer work I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I hesitated, seeing I’ve been on a roller coaster lately where having and not having work is concerned. What kind of role model can I possibly be for the student?

But as one Palet adviser sharply commented, “It’s not about you —it’s about the student. As long as you’re there to give your mentee a back when he or she needs it, you’re okay.”

And that’s exactly what I aim at. Give the mentee a back, that is. In my opinion there are too many immigrant students out there who’re being short changed by their tutors. The tutors mean well, only they’re sometimes subconsciously hindered by social prejudices. Thus tending to underestimate the capacity of the immigrant student and advising courses that are well below the students reach.

Regardless of this setback, immigrant students still make it to Higher Education and University. The road getting there is just a longer one. Usually though it’s the girls who show this perseverance. The boys either leave it at that or drop out.

Personal objective

My personal (ambitious) objective is firstly, help ‘correct’ this miscommunication between tutor and (immigrant) student. Supporting the mentee and making sure he/she knows, I believe in him/her and I’ve got his/her back. Secondly, where possible and needed, enlighten the tutor by giving a different perspective.

Like I said before, I was blessed. And grateful as I am, I’d like to pay it forward.


Palet recruits and trains the mentors. And there’s enough backing, if things don’t go as smoothly as expected. If you’re interested, just contact them.

Related reports and articles (Dutch):

De arbeidsmarktpositie van schoolverlaters en werkenden zonder startkwalificatie
Zonder diploma – Aanleiding, Kansen en Toekomstintenties
Onderzoek typologieën voortijdig schoolverlaters (Summary report)
Trots op een onderwijsblamage
Werkgevers moeten afblijven van jongeren zonder diploma
Laaggeschoolden vinden moeilijk werk
Minder schoolverlaters zonder diploma (Interesting comments)

Publications and videos Palet (Dutch):

Betere schoolprestaties met mentoring (Directed at schools)
Successcore mentoring 80%
Kleurrijk Brabant Leert mentorenproject

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