Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
Despite its world-renowned welfare system, the Norwegian system creates a skewed value system that leaves little room for effective support for youth from difficult backgrounds or broken families. In all Nordic countries, there is a pattern of group behavior towards individuals (the “ Law of Jante, “ or “who-do-you-think-you-are” law) that portrays individual success and achievement as unworthy, whereas collective activity is revered, and individuals’ unique circumstances, problems and needs are often overlooked. The result is an often rigidly defined society that is blind to individuals’ unique circumstances of problems or needs. This social order translates to the education system as well: strictly organized school curriculums neglect many types of human intelligence and most visibly do not prepare young people for success in the workforce. Of the one-third of young people unable to take this social pressure who drop out of school across Norway, many fall through the cracks, their challenges and future potential going unnoticed. Once they drop out of school or the labor market, young people can follow up with a state employment agency to be placed in short-term jobs. But without actual government support and follow up through these transitions, the government’s safety net fails many, leaving thousands of young people behind without the support they actually need. If youth do follow up on their own and utilize these programs, they enter a system that is not designed around their individual uniqueness, natural interests and other resources they already possess.
The Norwegian term ““Pøbel” has traditionally been used as a negative term referring to individuals who are deemed troublesome or rebellious and are often school drop-outs and excluded from the labor market for various reasons, including substance abuse, mental health, family problems, learning and development issues, and low self-confidence and self-esteem. Some of them are also from immigrant backgrounds and have faced additional, racial exclusion challenges. Most of them, moreover, fail to recognize the talents that they already possess and the opportunities they can take advantage of in order to succeed, and they are further disempowered by repeated messages that they are underachievers and that, without twelve or fifteen years of schooling, they haven’t earned a comfortable place is society.
As the system exists today, when a student drops out of school or falls out of work, he/she may apply to the Norwegian National Insurance Scheme (NAV) that places young people in work. The majority of employment offerings through NAV do not focus on firing up young people’s imaginations, nor do they recognize that natural interests, diversity and uniqueness can be tremendous assets. Instead, NAV offers short-term solutions with an end goal of job placement. For most young people, however, job placement is not what is needed as the first step. Many of the same problems, whether they are substance, mental health, or lack of self-confidence related, will resurface upon placement in new work environment. As a result, a vicious cycle begins, one in which young people fall out of work and then return to the state for support. This reality is costly, ineffective, and most importantly does not lift the young generation up and inspire them with the confidence they need to take advantage of their own resources. Young people can remain within the system without developing the hard and soft skills necessary to re-enter the job market.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Although the Norwegian government provides well-funded conventional educational opportunities and an abundant array of welfare services to its citizens, those offerings are not designed to address the needs of thousands of young people who, for one reason or another, lack the self-discipline and social skills required for success in finding employment and/or meeting the expected performance standards. Eddi’s pøbelprosjektet, which he launched in 2009, is successfully addressing that void with an intensive, six-week training program and a rich and growing array of follow-up activities. With its “tough love” approach, the pøbelprosjektet has succeeded in instilling in its participants both a heightened sense of self-worth and a deeper understanding of the consequences of “dropping out,” and it also serves as an effective substitute for the absence of a supportive family structure in the lives of most of the project’s participants.
Complementing those activities, Eddi has also developed effective linkages with more than a thousand employers across Norway who regard the successful completion of the project’s training program as a trusted “seal of approval” when they are hiring new, entry level employees.
With these accomplishments—and attendant reductions in the Norwegian government’s welfare payments for unemployed youth—and with Eddi’s intention to replicate his initiative in other Scandinavian settings, the “pøbelprosjektet“ is also playing an increasingly important role in reshaping education policy in the Nordic region.