12.03.2018  10:00

The TEEN Project: educating foreign teenagers in logical-mathematical thinking

The Polisocial project teaching 18-year-olds how to manage daily life for independence and citizenship

Alpha is originally from The Gambia. He left alone, without saying anything to anyone or saying goodbye to his family. He arrived in Italy three years ago. He lives in Milan in a community for minors, speaks good Italian and has a solid network of friends, particularly other Gambians. For many years, he has experienced the security, but also the restraints, of community life. As an organised society, we have guaranteed him the same rights as every child: food, a house, protection, as well as learning the language and basic schooling.

In a few months, Alpha will be considered an adult and will have to deal with life as a citizen without networks and support systems, outside of the community. Having left adolescence behind him early out of necessity, and dealt with the struggles and dangers of the journey, he was then brought back to a state of “forced minority”. He no longer had the opportunity to stimulate and improve his skills in getting by and interpreting the world and its complexity with adequate tools, those same skills that he needed on his journey. Orientation, reading signs, using a mobile, linguistic ability and the ability to work to pay for the stages of the journey and at times the price for his own survival.

Data shows that adolescents are emigrating from Africa alone and at increasingly younger ages, between 10 and 17 years old, often travelling for years. In a doubly peripheral experience, of loneliness and isolation from the world. If we take on the issue of developing their skills to enable them to integrate into a setting that has different rules to the one they came from, if we understand that this generation of adolescents often have keen but underused qualities and aptitudes, we should ask ourselves collectively what other routes we can take, beyond the rationale of the initial reception.

TEEN, Teenagers Experience the Empowerment by Numbers, wants to tackle this challenge with the capability approach, that is, putting the individual and his as yet untested abilities at the centre, within a framework of challenge. Using innovative teaching methods, it aims to stimulate logical-mathematical proficiency, the ability to do maths and know how to interpret numbers so they are aware and can live in a complex world. The goal is to teach the teenagers how to use logical and mathematical tools to manage the common issues of daily life. Not abstract mathematical problems, but situations that connect the teenagers and their host communities with the outside world.

The knowledge driving the project’s creators, which is supported by the literature and examples of good international practice, is that vulnerability and poverty can – and must – be challenged by new tools and that rational thought and logic can stimulate the majority of teenagers and reveal a more lively intelligence, to support them in their individual and personal journey.

The challenge operates on multiple levels. Firstly, involving the network of teenagers who will first spread the results on the social networks relevant to them. Involving the communities by taking a structural approach to introducing the education within training programmes. Involving public opinion, developing a social media communication campaign on youth immigration, which will accompany the project as it develops from its first stages, through experimentation to the full release of the educational tools.

The issue of foreign minors must become a public and civil matter




The TEEN project is one of the winners of the Polisocial Award 2017, the competition financed by five per thousand IRPEF income tax contributions donated to the Politecnico di Milano, which supports the development of scientific research with strong social impact.