From pedagogical rap to programming robots to fight school failure, the “la Caixa” Foundation innovation awards

The “la Caixa” Foundation has recognised the innovative vision of ten social projects in the sixth edition of the Social Innovation Awards 2021. These awards are a special recognition to entities that have developed projects that provide effective, efficient, sustainable and fair responses to the complex social challenges facing society.

In total, 57 candidatures were presented in this edition, and from these, ten winners have been selected, who will receive a prize of 15,000 euros each, and three runners-up prizes of 5,000 euros each. These extra economic contributions are in addition to the funding that these projects already received in 2019 at the time of being selected by the social calls of the “la Caixa” Foundation.

One of the distinguished projects has been Tardes de Garaje, an educational and therapeutic leisure project of the Community of Madrid that connects teenagers with professionals of pedagogy and rap music, generating an innovative, educational musical work with the capacity to raise social awareness.

The objective, says the head of the training department of Garaje, Luz Herrero, is “to use rap as art therapy and artivism” as it is a very practical tool for intervention and a focus of interest for young people. “We draw a series of objectives together both in the recording studio and personally and we try to make the subjects reflect on their own lives, the world they want and what they want to achieve in life”.

Young people as references and loudspeakers

Thus, the young people are involved in the creative process from the creation of the musical base to the lyrics of the songs. The sessions are done with an educator and a music professional. In addition, they record their own video clips and do gigs to spread their message in places of special youth influence, since by putting young people in vulnerable situations as references and loudspeakers about problems that affect their contemporaries, they empower them and become part of the solution.

“Today 75% of Garaje ‘s staff is made up of young people who have participated in workshops or garage spaces in the past,” explains Herrero, who insists that the intention is that the young people who come through the organization remain linked to it even though their life cycle in the project has come to an end. This is possible thanks to its leisure and free time school, which is official and approved by the Community of Madrid.

The award has not only meant a greater visibility for the association and a help to establish networks with other entities that seek the same as the NGO network Madrid, but they intend to expand the methodology of the project beyond the Community of Madrid.

Against absenteeism and school failure

Another of the projects has been Aprendemos juntos, developed by the YMCA association in Badajoz to fight against absenteeism and school failure. A commitment to the use of robotics to learn the primary school curriculum through STEM methodology (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). What is done is that the child is first taught a computer language so that he or she can use a computer program to make a robot work and do what the child wants it to do.

“For example, in order for the robot to show the days of the week in English, both the robot and the child must have this kind of knowledge,” says the director of the YMCA in Badajoz, Mariano Enrique. For these sixth graders it’s a game, they work while playing, they learn while playing. “This increases their motivation, their relationship with their peers and their love of learning and teaching”.

Enrique explains how the project has created two types of impact: “The quantitative one that can be measured with the attendance that has been 90% and a considerable increase in the number of passes. And, on the other hand, a qualitative impact on attention, concentration, motivation, autonomy, study habits and relationships with classmates.

Thus, the big change is seen when the child “autonomously and independently” is able to handle and tell a robot to do what he wants after a collaborative work. The project has meant that the pupils have gone from being mere consumers of computer technology to be builders and protagonists of today. A challenge that the project has faced after the pandemic exposed a digital deficiency, present in families in vulnerable situations where the digital divide is much greater.

The results have been so positive that this year the programme will no longer be a pilot project but will be implemented in the YMCA’s branches in Teruel, Valencia, Logroño and Valladolid. With the award from the “la Caixa” Foundation, the organization intends to give continuity to the project and provide the organization with the necessary means so that more children have the opportunity to learn in a different and, above all, fun way.

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