Learning through play how inequalities build over the life course

Learning through play how inequalities build over the life course

The Swiss National Center of Competence in Research LIVES – Overcoming vulnerability: life course perspectives (NCCR LIVES) began a series of workshops in French-speaking Swiss schools in spring 2015. The Kalendaro workshop is the result of a project between social science researchers and the education system. It involves group play and data collection, to make connections between contexts and personal stories, observe the interdependence between different life domains and move from an individual to a general outlook in a resolutely systemic approach.

"When my grandfather left the Congo, he was very young and had to learn everything again in Switzerland. He did a lot of different jobs, as he had to look after his family. He had to be responsible. But I didn't know that he had also left a lot of children back there, with other women…" When this pupil from the Collège des Terreaux in Neuchâtel recounted his discoveries to his classmates, he took the whole class on a journey through time and space, and revealed the extent to which family, residential and career histories are interlinked. The story of this African grandpa also illustrated how our values are the product of relative norms, and how individuals retain a certain ability to act, even in the most difficult situations.

All this took place on 19 May this year, during the second part of the Kalendaro workshop, which has been available to secondary classes in the French-speaking cantons of Switzerland since spring. On the first day, pupils were made aware of certain notions through a board game based on the trajectory of a fictional life, with its associated tragic and joyful events. There are accidents, which make you lose time as well as health, training phases that contribute resources, the economic crisis, affecting players to differing degrees, but also encounters and separations, celebrations and bereavements, as well as difficult choices, coinciding with career transitions or the birth of the first child.

Then the organisers ask the pupils to make links between the events that occurred in the game and think about how they might impact different areas of life. Stress at work that leads to a divorce and moving house, sometimes with depression to boot; a disability that makes it impossible to do certain activities; a lack of money that limits education opportunities: the pupils understand all this very quickly and can imagine a whole range of interactions.

The life calendar

Then comes the time to see specifically how these interactions play out in a real-life situation. To do this, pupils are given a "life calendar" to complete based on an adult of their choice, if possible aged over 50. This tool, which is also used by the NCCR LIVES researchers in actual studies on life course, documents the important events and phases of someone's biography. In the Kalendaro project (the word means "calendar" in Esperanto) this task contributes an interesting intergenerational dimension, in addition to introducing pupils to real empirical data.

Pooling observations leads to a deeper understanding of social inequalities in the second session. Through the analysis, the pupils are able to perceive the glaring differences between the life trajectories of men and women from different social backgrounds, and the extent to which certain non-normative events strike individuals and have long-term consequences on their life course.

Cross-disciplinary skills

According to one of the teachers in Neuchâtel, where the first sessions took place, "this workshop fully meets the objectives of the French-speaking secondary school curriculum to give pupils cross-disciplinary skills. Furthermore, it is ideal at the end of compulsory education, at a time when young people are making a major transition and have to think about entering the labour market and the implications this brings."

"It's a very good resource, clear and pleasant to use, and the topics it deals with enable teachers to subsequently revisit certain themes, such as gender issues or migration, for example", noted another teacher on 23 June after another session at the same institution.

This is precisely the objective of the citizenship education pedagogical team at the Applied University of Education of the canton of Vaud at the start of the next academic year; it has included Kalendaro in the induction course programme for future citizenship teachers. It is up to the trainee teachers to come up with possible developments and implement them in their respective classes, in connection with the other subject they teach, often history, geography or economics, and sometimes French or foreign languages.

Nothing would make the members of the National Center of Competence in Research LIVES and its partners happier. The same also applies to the Science-Society Interface of the University of Lausanne and the éducation21 foundation, which were involved in building this project and producing the associated training guide.

Their hope is that the interdisciplinary approach to the life course perspectives will attract other educational institutions across French-speaking Switzerland. See you at the start of the next academic year!

To find out more (in French)

>> www.nccr-lives.ch/kalendaro

Project team

  • LIVES Researchers: Ana Barbeiro, Nora Dasoki, Jacques-Antoine Gauthier, Nadia Girardin, Andres Guarin, Jean-Marie Le Goff, Davide Morselli
  • UNIL (Science-Society Interface): Nicolas Schaffter
  • éducation21 foundation: Florence Nuoffer
  • Graphic design: Vincent Freccia (Secteur B)
  • Illustration: Luc  Frieden (MEYK)
  • Coordination: Emmanuelle Marendaz Colle