Caritas Lerncafe - Free learning support

by Caritas Austria
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Caritas Lerncafe - Free learning support
Caritas Lerncafe - Free learning support
Caritas Lerncafe - Free learning support
Caritas Lerncafe - Free learning support
Caritas Lerncafe - Free learning support
Caritas Lerncafe - Free learning support
Caritas Lerncafe - Free learning support
Caritas Lerncafe - Free learning support
Caritas Lerncafe - Free learning support
Caritas Lerncafe - Free learning support
Caritas Lerncafe - Free learning support
Caritas Lerncafe - Free learning support
Caritas Lerncafe - Free learning support
Students at Lerncafe St. Polten
Students at Lerncafe St. Polten

In Austria, school-aged children are enjoying their last days in school before a long-awaited and well-deserved summer break. During the 2021/22 school year, ending at the end of June/begin of July, more than 2100 children have been supported in their learning efforts in 62 Lerncafés (learning cafés) all over Austria. In total, around 960 dedicated volunteers supported them in doing homework, preparing for tests and exams, encouraging their creativity and fostering their personal and social development.

In this update report we want to share with you some uplifting case stories collected over the school year to highlight the positive impact the Caritas Lerncafés have on concrete individuals.

All students’ names have been changed to protect their privacy.

Julya leaps over her shadow
Julya, a girl from a Viennese Lerncafé, is a very shy child who tends to keep to herself in larger groups and prefers to do her homework in a very quiet setting. Anyone who learns with her first needs time to gain her trust. But once this is done, Julya literally blossoms. She then proudly tells about a good grade or shows off one of her beautiful self-painted pictures. One particular success story was her participation in the journalism workshop, where you could see how much she enjoyed it. In the beginning, it took a lot for her to speak up in front of the whole group and actively participate in the workshop. But she managed to leap over her shadow and when her independently conducted interview was finally finished, she was glowing with pride. After the workshop, she shared several times how "cool" it was to have met a real journalist.

Samer’s dedication to get a positive degree
Samer, a 12-year-old boy, is going to a Lerncafé in Lower Austria and attends the 2nd grade of secondary school. Initially, he had big problems with German from the beginning. Especially writing and formulating essays was visibly difficult for him. German is hardly spoken in his home and environment, so it was difficult for him to formulate grammatically correct sentences after long holidays or lockdowns. As a result, he received a "Nicht genügend" (test failed) on his first German school test in autumn. Samer was very disappointed about this, but tried to improve his negative grade. With a lot of effort and practice hours in the Lerncafé, various practice materials and also the dedicated help of a volunteer, the student succeeded in preparing well for the next German school test, so he got a "Befriedigend plus" (satisfactory plus). His ambition paid off. He was able to improve his negative grade and get a positive final grade.

Sunil's transformation
Sunil joined the Lerncafé in April 2021 already. In the beginning, he hardly spoke German, was shy, introverted, insecure and lacked independence. Back then as a first-grader in 2021, distance learning was particularly difficult for him, as the Lerncafé (due to the high incidence in the district) worked for a very long time in online mode. Once physically back at the Lerncafé at the start of the school year 2021/22, his brother helped him get started, though you could see Sunil’s struggles at every syllable reading at the Lerncafé. The exhaustion was clearly visible in his face after each session. But Sunil kept on trying, practicing, learning and developing – with huge success. By the end of the year, he is now almost transformed. He reads well and fluently, has good pronunciation and most important: really enjoys reading. He is now able to speak confidently in German and is no longer tempted to answer in his first language. He is much more confident and also made some friends in the Lerncafé.

Lerncafés in numbers

  • Over 2,100 children and young people are cared for in the Lerncafés
  • 62 Lerncafé locations throughout Austria
  • Around 960 volunteers are currently involved
  • Almost 810 children and young people are on the waiting list for a place in a Lerncafé  (the need is much higher, the waiting list is limited)
  • 94% of the children and young people at the Lerncafé have a migration background
  • 96% of the participants complete the respective school level positively
  • 51% girls and 49% boys currently attend the learning cafés
Reading corner at a Lerncafe
Reading corner at a Lerncafe

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Happy to be back at the Lerncafe
Happy to be back at the Lerncafe

The Austrian-wide 62 Lerncafés (learning café) are a free learning and after-school support service for children and young people in Austria. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Caritas continued to support Lerncafé children in their learning through individualized online learning support via email, cell phone and video telephony.

Nevertheless, the years 2020 and 2021 and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the associated lockdowns have posed major challenges not least for many children and their access to education: It has become apparent that children from poverty-stricken families are particularly affected by school closures. They have lost touch with classes on the one hand and with their social environment and friends on the other. The lerncafés helped them learn and stay connected.

Lerncafés during lockdown and parallel operation

During the lockdowns and school closures, Lerncafé staff helped the children learn individually via regular contact and previously targeted surveys of the need for technical options via agreed learning times using e-mail, cell phones and video telephony. The social care component and contact with parents, which was also a focus of staff during the lockdown, further empowered the Lerncafé children. Due to Covid mandated hygiene, safety, and spacing regulations, the Lerncafés offered parallel operations during the time between lockdowns. I.e., supervision on-site as well as online. Overall, the demand for additional places in the Lerncafés was already very high before the Covid 19 pandemic and is currently steadily increasing.

What does the Lerncafé support mean for children

Maya (name changed to protect client’s privacy), a student from Lerncafé St. Pölten, fled Syria with her family a few years ago. During their way to Austria they also lived in Egypt for a few months as the girl remembers. Initially supposed to attend school in Egypt, she had to leave pretty soon because of very bad experiences with violent teachers and also difficulties with understanding the dialect. All these experiences combined with fear and trauma from their flight were clearly recognizable at the enrollment in the Lerncafé St. Pölten. Maya was very introverted and barely spoke to the Lerncafé team.

The Lerncafé coordinator responsible for the location in St. Pölten finally managed to help the family to gain trust through conversations with an interpreter and a lot of empathy. Subsequently, together with the Lerncafé team, a conversation was also held with the girl’s school teachers in St. Pölten, who was informed about the family situation and the experiences the girl had been through during their difficult escape from Syria.

Additionally, Maya’s family was also offered help through various Caritas services in the region. Now, after two years of diligent participation from the girl at the Lerncafé, she speaks German very well, is well integrated in the Lerncafé and in school and made close friends within the Lerncafé as well as in her class. Maya is still attending the Lerncafé and is planning to visit as long as she is in school. Besides Maya also her family is very grateful about that since they have found a very dedicated contact person at the Lerncafé who supports them with problems encountered during their integration process in Austria.

Lerncafés in numbers

  • 62 Lerncafé locations throughout Austria
  • Lerncafés currently support 2,000 children – still more than 1,000 children Austrian-wide are waiting for an open place at a Lerncafé
  • 96% of the children were able to complete the school year positively due to the support of the Lerncafé
  • 94% of the students have a migration background
  • The gender ratio is 50% girls and 50% boys
  • There have been about 18,000 parent contacts (Austria-wide) in 2021
Students at the Lerncafe in Linz
Students at the Lerncafe in Linz
Studying together at the Lerncafe Villach
Studying together at the Lerncafe Villach

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Lerncafe reading corner
Lerncafe reading corner

The Lerncafés (learning cafés) basically offer free learning support and afternoon care to students with and without a migration background aged 6-15 years, who come from educationally and socially disadvantaged backgrounds. The multi-professional teams enable the children and adolescents to achieve visible learning successes, strengthen their knowledge of German and their reading skills, and enjoy learning through a situation- and child-specific setting as well as through targeted learning assistance with homework and preparation for schoolwork/tests. In addition, children and adolescents experience support in their personal development and learn to deal with different cultures and religions in an appreciative manner.

Through an individual-oriented and flexible offer as well as through the stable structure (same quality standards for all learning cafés), ideal framework conditions are created to enable optimal learning support, improvement of social competencies as well as empowerment and strengthening of the children's potentials. Workshops with thematic focuses and various activities and excursions additionally promote social skills.

Lerncafés during summer break

During school’s summer break (July-August), the Lerncafés summer program offers optimal preparation for the start of school for its students. The refreshment weeks (usually 2 weeks before the start of school) aim to repeat the learning material, to compensate for learning deficits and to motivate and strengthen the children for the new school year. Since many of the supported students come from a financially disadvantaged background, the Lerncafés – especially during the summer program – enable participation in social life: As part of the learning café, they get the chance to e.g. go to the museum, learn new sports in the summer program or can often try out an instrument for the first time (some LCs have cooperation with music schools, for example).

What does the Lerncafé support mean for children

Chakib (name changed to protect the client), a 15-year-old boy, originally from Iraq, lives in Austria for over three years and attends the 4th grade of an NMS school (New Middle School) as well as a Lerncafé in Vienna. He speaks English very well, but still had difficulties in German. Therefore, Chakib had to repeat the last school year. He is very interested in mathematics and physics. Unfortunately, he is not always able to prove his abilities in those subjects – because for example in mathematics he often simply fails to understand the information given in German, although he could actually solve the tasks from a mathematical point of view.

Nevertheless, Chakib was always very motivated and wanted to attend a secondary school. When he unfortunately received a negative grade on his mid-year report card in German in February 2021, he was initially very frustrated, since that one grade meant that he would not be able to apply to a secondary school.

But Chakib and the dedicated Lerncafé team persistently searched for ways to enable him to go to a secondary school. And it paid off. After a long search, together they found a secondary school for economic professions (HLW) including a transition class, where he could register despite the negative grade and then transfer with a positive annual report. In the second half of the schooling year, Chakib worked extremely hard and prepared very well during the Lerncafé sessions, especially for tests. On the day before his German school test, he even called the Lerncafé teacher he was working with in the evening and went over several discussion topics again. The effort was definitely worth it, because he wrote an excellent essay, considering his knowledge of German, and thus secured the positive grade. In addition, he presented an excellent German paper, for which he even received a grade of 1 and was able to move on to the secondary school for economic professions.

Lerncafés in numbers:

  • 62 Lerncafé locations throughout Austria
  • Lerncafés currently support 2,000 children – still more than 1,000 children Austrian-wide are waiting for an open place at a Lerncafé
  • 96% of the children were able to complete the school year positively due to the support of the Lerncafé
  • 94% of the students have a migration background
  • The gender ratio is 50% girls and 50% boys
  • Almost 700 children and young people participated in the 2021 summer program
  • There have been about 18,000 parent contacts per year (Austria-wide) in recent years
Lerncafe summer program
Lerncafe summer program
Lerncafe Vocklabruck
Lerncafe Vocklabruck

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Remote support at the Lerncafes (c)Caritas
Remote support at the Lerncafes (c)Caritas

Like all educational institutions, the Caritas Lerncafés had to close down during the lockdown measures in Austria most of the time during 2020 as well as the beginning of 2021. Physical learning with the children and young people was not possible over most of the time. However, the staff and volunteers of the Lerncafés quickly adapted and found alternatives in order to stay close to the students despite social distancing measures. The clear goal was to continue the support for children and adolescents facing absolute unprecedented times.

The dedicated Lerncafé colleagues were available to the children and parents at all times by phone, email or other digital media tools (e.g. Zoom, etc.). Some Lerncafés have arranged fixed learning appointments with the children by phone and were in regular contact to solve learning tasks together and to work out new learning methods. The telephone was an important communication tool, as not all children had a laptop or an internet connection and therefore found it particularly difficult to cope with the demands of home schooling. Some Lerncafés also created support folders for sensory perception training, as this area should also continue to be supported in addition to the school requirements.

Beautiful successes in challenging times

In 2020 about 2000 children and adolescents were supported at 56 Caritas Lerncafés all over Austria. Despite all the challenges with school closures and home schooling, remote support for the Lerncafé kids proved to be highly successful – and welcomed by our students. In total 96% of the Lerncafé participants successfully completed the respective school level and could advance to the next class. More than 950 volunteers supported the employees at the Caritas Lerncafés.

How big the demand for such free learning support really is in Austria can be seen on the waiting list for free Lerncafé places. Currently almost 1000 children and youth are desperately waiting to receive learning support within the Caritas Lerncafés.

What does the Lerncafé support mean for children

An 11-year-old Syrian girl has been in Austria for about a year. She attends grade 1 of a NMS (new middle school) and has been in a Lerncafé in St. Pölten since spring 2020. The language barriers of the child and the parents were very big at the beginning. The parents described the girl as very inquisitive and as one who learns very easily. As the girl had very little German language at the beginning, the team hoped that they could help her in the Lerncafés and that the communication between the learning facilitators and the child would be reasonably successful. To achieve that the Lerncafé included a trained DAF teacher (DAF = Deutsch als Fremdsprache; German as foreign language) as a volunteer who was able to support the child well in her learning. They not only worked intensively on homework together, but also went through certain DAF topics week by week. The volunteer even took private practice utensils for the girl to the learning café. The girl was extremely inquisitive, very motivated and ambitious - she often asked questions and always made sure she did the tasks correctly. She talked a lot with the Lerncafé team and the children and also regularly asked them if she was pronouncing words correctly, what article the noun had and what certain things were called. She often emphasized that she would like to speak even better German and constantly asked for practice sheets for home. Thanks to the great commitment of the volunteers and the ambition of the child, immense learning progress was quickly achieved. In the meantime, she can conjugate verbs in all tenses – after almost not being able to communicate in German at all one year ago. The girl's parents are also very eager to learn German quickly and well and are very grateful for the support in the Lerncafé.

Remote support at the Lerncafes (c)Caritas
Remote support at the Lerncafes (c)Caritas
Covid measures at the Lerncafe (c)Caritas
Covid measures at the Lerncafe (c)Caritas

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Caritas Austria

Location: Vienna - Austria
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @CaritasOsterreich
Project Leader:
Andreas Jagersberger
Vienna, Vienna Austria
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