Anyone who considers the issue of equal access to high-quality education important and is interested in how experiential education can work in practice should spend some time in Kállósemje in Nyírség. We talked to the founder and current leader of the Association for the Students and Youths of Kállósemje, Ica Józsefné Egri, about playful learning, projects and mission.

Every child can be developed - Lots of common experiences and close emotional bonds

The building of the association is open to the children before and after school, as well as on Saturday. They can play games, build robots or play LEGO. What's the underlying goal?

Our association was established in 2013, at the initiative of parents, with the goal of offering children and young people opportunities of playful learning outside the school, too, where they can enjoy themselves and improve their skills almost unnoticed. Our basic principle is that every child can be developed, we only need to find the right path to them. Board games are a great help in that; we have over 2,000 games, logic and board games, among which everybody from kindergarten pupils to university students and even to parents finds their favourites. Our goal is to ensure equal access for every child and youth. Our sessions are free of charge for all who attend. Our two main fields are robotics and board games. In both fields, we managed to get our students to a level where they can participate in international competitions, with great results.

What's the secret behind your success?

Playfulness, lots of common experiences, non-formal methods, patience and infinite love. They don't feel forced, and they're motivated to learn new things. The close emotional relationship established with the students greatly contributes to it. They feel safe here, and they gladly turn to us, to the great satisfaction of the parents. We are open almost every day of the year, and by now we operate as a 'tanoda' (afternoon school for extracurricular activities for disadvantaged children). During the summer holiday, we held camps for 11 weeks; last year, we had 475 student campers. The most disadvantaged children spent the whole summer with us.

Behind your continuous development, there are a number of successful project applications, too.

Yes, our involvement in international projects has always been very important to me. For us, the e-Twinning project is the simplest, since there we only need to take a virtual trip, but the benefits of the project are still enormous. We are also involved in organising Erasmus+ KA1 youth exchange programmes; we try to develop varied themes so that as many students can find the topics they like as possible. So we had sports, healthy lifestyle, robotics and the development of 21st century skills, but we also addressed the issue of harassment. This programme is also special to me because it helps us attract our former students, now secondary school and university students, who have left the town and now only rarely visit us. Some of them return to us as mentors to help younger students' work.

For several years now, foreign teachers have also attended your teacher training courses. How did it all start?

A great dream of mine was to organise further training courses for teachers, since throughout the years we had gained a lot of experience which we wanted to share with others, too. So we jumped into it, and in the topics of developing problem-solving thinking with board games and robotics we launched an international course, which we shared through School Education Gateway. We have organised such training courses for teachers for two years, and so far we have completed six training cycles. These sessions allow us to gain new experience, which we can integrate into our everyday work and our new projects to make our cooperation with the students and our partners much more effective. During the courses, we don't only give, but also get new ideas from the colleagues involved, with whom we've remained in a close relationship ever since then.

You've just closed a playful science and mathematics oriented Erasmus+ public education project where you acted as coordinators. What methods did you use in your work?

Our project was called "Fun Face of Science and Maths with Games, in which we worked with Turkish, Romanian, Bulgarian and Polish partners, collecting experiments in physics, chemistry, biology and geography, which the students performed and recorded on a camera. For maths, we looked for and also created games which may as well be used as classroom activities. These games improve memory, mental arithmetic, concentration skills, create a nice rapport and also have a positive effect on participants' social competencies. We find that most of the students aren't very fond of either maths or sciences, but they threw themselves into practical, playful, experimenting tasks with great enthusiasm. And that was our very goal: to make them like these subjects and use simple experiments to make the processes more understandable for them. Meanwhile, of course, we got to know each other's school systems and studied how in each country these disciplines are taught. We learnt about each other's traditions and diverse cultural heritages. Most students had been to Turkey and Bulgaria for the first time. It was a great adventure of discovery for them. Both the children and the parents could see that the world was also open to those living in small villages and towns - with all of its wonders. We only need to make a little effort to reach them.

What was the greatest benefit of the project for you?

The fact that all the residents of our little town, from kindergarten pupils to old age pensioners, became part of this international partnership to some extent. When our partners come to visit us, everybody works as one to prepare for the reception of the guests and contribute to the success of the visit in some way or other, as it helps spread the good reputation of the town all around Europe.

You never seem to run out of ideas; what are your plans for the future?

By now, we've built a huge network of partners, and we are constantly receiving requests for future partnerships. We want to establish another strategic partnership focusing on the issues of sustainability and safe use of the internet, and study these topics as closely as possible. We also wish to continue to be involved in youth exchange programmes, seeking to enhance youths' self-organisation and social responsibility. We want to go on with teacher training courses, and also to start courses abroad, with the help of our international partners. We're also planning a project where we could involve other institutions (local governments, perhaps decision-makers) engaged in the field of education, as well. A great dream of mine is to be able to address students learning a vocation in our town, too, and provide them international placement opportunities.
Fun Face of Science for Math with Games project:

Last modified: 05-08-2019