January 2020 – August 2021

The purpose of the project is to contribute to the building of resilience of young people toward risks, bad influences, manipulation, extreme attitudes, relationships and attitudes that are harmful in the long-term period. This is to be achieved through the invitation to young people to express their own world perspective, experience being heard and seen by their teachers and supported to initiate creative and innovative projects through which they can express their own talents, values and potential for growth.

As the project started on 15th January 2020 and Kick off Meeting took place on 3rd March when the Covid_19 pandemic was already at its beginning in the EU, the Consortium from the beginning tried to anticipate and explore the challenges that would happen and that were happing to young people. The worldwide pandemics of Covid-19 in 2020 and 2021 have had an enormous impact on society, with children and young people being especially affected in a wide range of areas. Governments imposed measures – lockdowns and quarantines – that were assessed as necessary in containing the virus and maintaining public health, but at the same time were affecting and violating children’s rights enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child (UNCRC). Additionally, Covid-19 measures aggravated the condition of the most vulnerable groups of children with multiple obstacles in accessing healthcare, education and other social services than their peers. Their position in societies and their voice even before the pandemics were poorly represented and heard, and now the situation is even harder.

Having in mind the general and specific objectives and the impact of Covid_19, the following implemented activities were key to sustain project’s purpose and achieving the general objective:


Interviewing the school teamsFFE (Croatia), MCEC (North Macedonia) and INOVA+ (Portugal) held interviews with school teams from 15 schools participating in their respective countries. Interviews were part of the project design and it coincided well with the beginning of the crises, at that moment schools were in the first month of school lockdowns and schooling online, so the project teams were able to get first hand testimonies of teachers about coping with all challenges. The interview session were held over the Zoom platform and each project team wrote reports thus identifying the situation in each school considering what the school teams identify as the support in the time of crises and that could be lessened through the further project activities. The reports on interviews held helped the Consortium to discuss further activities and plan the work in the upcoming months considering all obstacles and opportunities.

The research with students was key activity to take place in terms of having students’ perspectives on how they see the school community and what changes they would like to see. Following the agreement among the Consortium members and external research experts, the focus groups were postponed for the autumn (the school year 2020/2021) in order to increase chances for the face-to-face implementation and thus ensure better quality of research. This proved to be a good decision as by November 2020 focus groups were implemented in all three countries face-to-face with 260 students (29 focus groups). The focus groups were organized with the help of school teams in each school either in the large gym halls by respecting epidemiological measures or in the outside area of the school. The researchers in three countries reported motivated students, ready to express their perspective on school life, inclusion and exclusion, discrimination and prejudice, the key challenges, their perspective on what they would like to change and what they need to do it. Students claimed that they often encountered closed doors and that their complaints are either trivialised, often resulting in inaction. The comparative research report provides the findings in three countries with recommendations available in 5 language versions (English, Croatian, Portuguese, Macedonian and Albanian).

Desk research on student voice and participation – in addition to the research with students, the consortium members responsible for dissemination and policy, NEPC and SIRIUS, decided to conduct background desk analysis and literature overview on the topic of students’ participation as a preparation for the all upcoming activities: training, development of training materials and publications for teachers. The authors explored questions like: Why is students’ participation important? What are common obstacles for students’ participation? To what extent can students participate in policy making on educational level? What are the main challenges they are facing? First part of the paper, written by external expert Jelena Vranješević, explored the connection of the students’ participation and their well-being, and 2nd part of the paper, written by Mialy Dermish from SIRIUS, is focused on the students’ participation in education at the policy level. The report on English is available here.


Development of training material & curriculum – after analysing the interview and research reports, the expert teams adapted the curriculum and program content to be in line with the needs of student and teachers. The FFE team created suggestion for the program, curriculum and training materials on the basis of existing materials from previous STC project and experts from MCEC, INOVA+ and the representatives of partner schools looked the materials and discussed the content in matter of the project goals but also the current situation and needs of schools. Firstly, the partners checked the learning outcomes desired for both teachers and students and decided to introduce and/or increase three new aspect: mental health, online learning tools and student voice. These elements and other topics were shared among project experts from FFE, MCEC, INOVA+, which nicely led to the following activity in this phase. I am text block. Click edit button to change this text. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

Training for Trainers – the event could not take place in-person due to the lockdowns in the pandemic situation at the time, so the Consortium organizations decided to adapt it to the online training in duration of three weeks holding workshop sessions 2 times per week – in total six modules. The content of the training focused on the student voice, socio-emotional learning, civic and citizenship education (particularly intercultural learning) and volunteering. The sessions were interactive, with sharing of lot of good examples besides having lectures and showing theoretical models. The modules that were identified as the most important and implemented within the training, covered the following topics: student voice, socio-emotional learning, interculturality, media literacy, distant learning and managing youth projects. All partners participated in the delivery of different topics and modules and participated in the discussions thus bringing in each of the country’s perspective, educational context and experience in each of the respective fields.

STC publications: handbook and workshop book – these two publications have been already developed in previous START project. As per the project design, the publication versions in English and Croatian were supposed to be firstly adapted according to the research results and also translated to Macedonian, Albanian and Portuguese. After the consortium members examined the existing publications, many discussions were held in terms of what would be useful for teachers and school from the perspective of each team and country. In conclusion, the workshop collection have been mostly accepted as helpful to all partner countries and useful in the current context of the project. However, the handbook have been primarily focused on the research report implemented in the previous project and the content of the training program and START project with parts dedicated to the school projects. FFE experts and authors of previous handbook decided to accept the feedback of partners in terms of having the handbook that would be supportive to teachers in strengthening the student voice and re-write the whole handbook. The handbook was written after publishing the comparative research report and after the training with teachers in order to better understand what content would be helpful.

By integrating expert opinion from psychiatrists, educational researchers, historians, philosophers, developmental psychologists, child rights experts, political scientists, management theorists and more this handbook shows us how to foster students as active participants in their world. Filled with testimony from children, young people and educators and quotes by thought leaders from Rousseau to Freire to Henrietta Fore we see how our children and many of our greatest thinkers align with this fundamental idea that transforming society begins with inner transformation. The great treasure is that the handbook also offers educators provocations for deep thought and reflection and invitations for exercises within and outside of the classroom.”

Mialy Dermish, SIRIUS – Policy Network on Migrant Education


The workshop collection was moderately adapted to previous editions.  The purpose of this collection is to support educators in their efforts to introduce a wide range of topics (organized here in three major areas – personal and social development, civic education and volunteer projects) into their work with children and young people, both in and outside classrooms, as part of non-formal education.

Teacher training is at the core of the Start the Change project with the vision to build the learning community of teachers from 5 project schools in each country that would be motivated to share the issues in their work with strengthening the inclusive practices of student voice. The inclusive practice was particularly referring to the voices of students who are usually never or rarely heard in the so called acoustics of the schools. However, with the Covid_19 crises, the training had to be adapted to either fully online (North Macedonia) or combined models (Portugal) but also the in-person training model (Croatia). The focus was still on building the learning community but also very much on building support community among them, teachers and project staff sharing their challenges, good practices and good ideas among each other in the abrupt online schooling and stressful working environment in various ways.

In Croatia, the FFE team organized 6 in-person training events that took place between November 2020 and April 2021. In Portugal, the INOVA+ team implemented 6 both in-person and online training events held between November 2020 and January 2021. And in North Macedonia, the MCEC trainers implemented 9 online sessions that took place in the period from November 18 to December 18, 2020. Each training event and session was carefully planned taking into consideration expressed needs of the students in the implemented research as well as teachers’ needs. All three training courses covered the topic of social inclusion through strengthening the student voices, intercultural and citizenship education and volunteering. In Portugal and North Macedonia, the course covered also topics of media literacy and in Croatia one of the part of the course covered the topic of gender equality in schools. Also, in North Macedonia they put stronger accent on the content related to the intercultural learning because of the ethnic compound of the country and schools involved. Also, all three courses had the practical workshops about implementing activities with students including the topics: motivating students, planning the projects, project cycles, volunteering in the community, etc.


After the teacher training, the schools started planning their work with students, other teachers and parents in initiating the changes in the school and local communities. The schools in Croatia and North Macedonia developed and partly implemented short –term and long-term projects together with their students and implemented most of their short-term projects with developed action plans to continue implementing the long-term projects in September (new school year 2021/2022). The project topics are various, from tackling the key issues like lack of student voice on school level decision making processes to the initiatives related to the diversity and intercultural character.  The schools in Portugal made preparatory plans and were presented with the particular package called School Box that contained all steps of the planning and implementing the projects and the implementation itself would start with the beginning of new school year (mid-September).


Bridging analysis, policy and practice of youth participation was one of the key goals of this project, while also upscaling the good practices from the previous Start the Change project. While investigating the roots of radicalization of young people in the 2015-2017 project, some of the key causes that emerged were among others: feeling of alienation and withdrawing from the wider (school, local) community (while feeling loyal to the radical community), trying to meet deep psychological needs of belonging and personal value, and finding one’s own identity in a more and more complex and heterogeneous society. These basically understandable and common needs and goals of all young people can also be satisfied if a young person is connected and involved, valued and respected, therefore the Start the Change 2020-2023 project consortium agreed to put the emphasis on the voice, initiative and purpose of young people.

The comparative research report has shown that children and young people do not actually have a say in a wide range of issues and problems in society and that they often feel not heard and/or respected. At the same time, policies and laws exist on children’s rights and participation, so it was interesting to see what prevents policy makers and adults in general from listening to and valuing the needs and opinions of young people. Seeing that it is a mix of beliefs about young people, lack of competences and procedures, and inconsistent focus on it, the project steered into these issues putting more energy and expertise into developing tools that would enable both experts and policymakers to establish meaningful child and youth participation.

With that in mind, the key policy activity: Policy Lab No.1 „Policy and Practice To Start The Change“ (led by the partners NEPC and SIRIUS) was implemented. The event was supposed to take place in North Macedonia, however with the pandemic circumstances the event was implemented online on May 18th 2021. It gathered over 60 participants: policy makers, teachers, school leaders and support staff as well as NGO representatives from the project implementing countries and NEPC region together with the Consortium. Goal of the First Policy Lab was to introduce and raise awareness of the topic of students’ participation and importance of student’s voices in connection with policy change. Various speakers presented findings of the different researches implemented by the project teams and external researchers and it allowed for participants to further discuss and comment on the findings and suggest further ways into influencing policy and school level practice in strengthening the student voice, particularly in crises times when children voices are not heard or asked at all.

Main conclusion was that there is lack of awareness about the importance of the students’ participation both on national and school levels. However, the need for the students to be involved in decision making, especially on school level was recognized as the basis where students can experience the democratic participation first-hand, make biggest contributions and their participation can have the strongest impact which is extremely important and beneficial for students but also for the society in general. NEPC and SIRIUS, as a lead partners in charge of policy, promotion and dissemination of results prepared follow up report providing the overview of the policies on students’ participation in the project implementing countries, as an introduction into the current situation regarding the topic and preparation for the future policy activities that require the understanding of the issue in the national policy context.


Consortium will continue to raise awareness on the importance of students’ voice and participation trough implementation of the school projects and other project activities on school level. Especially now, in the context of pandemic and distance learning that left significant impact on students’ learning, wellbeing and their ability to participate in the decision-making process. Moreover, intent is also to work on raising interest and involvement of educational stakeholders regarding this topic trough future policy project activities. Next policy activity will be the second Policy Lab that will be dedicated to developing national Policy Road Maps which will outline the country specific policy issues and provide recommendation for policy actions.

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