EUROCITIES working group education explores intercultural mediators in Ghent


The EUROCITIES education met in Ghent on 18-21 November to discuss the issue of parental involvement to prevent early school leaving.

There were 25 participants from 13 different cities at the meeting. They were welcomed at Ghent city hall by Elke Decruynaere, deputy mayor for education, childhood and youth, who presented Ghent’s vision as a child-friendly and youth-friendly city. Members were then introduced to the institutional context in Ghent, before going into more depth on the issue of parental involvement. Ghent tackles this issue at all levels, from kindergarten through to secondary education. 

The main focus of the study visit was to look at Ghent’s innovative use of intercultural mediators. This began as a pilot project which started in 2011, and is now an established and funded practice. It was introduced in response to the sudden arrival of intra-EU migrants, mainly from Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria, 60% to 95% of whom were Roma people; and it is proving extremely successful. The mediator scheme is designed to bridge the cultural gap between home and school in order to encourage greater parental involvement and thus prevent early school leaving. A lack of involvement from parents can often be linked to a low level of education, a different language spoken at home, high expectations of the school due to poor self confidence, and a personal background of negative school experiences.

By using intercultural mediators, hired within the target communities, schools aim to address social exclusion and develop strategies that promote equal opportunities. The mediators support the teachers and the school in order to involve parents and communities in activities and communications about the school and their children’s education. 

Three parallel study visits took place at two elementary schools, De Toverberg and Nieuwenbosch, and one secondary school, Onze Lieve Vrouw Instituut Gent. Working group members were able to conduct in-depth interviews with school directors, teachers and mediators. They then gave their feedback and recommendations during a working group plenary session.  

Photo © city of Ghent