Description of my PhD project
“The intergenerational program ‘Stories of Our Neighbours’
Comparison of results of a qualitative research on Czech and Danish teenagers and their relationship to senior citizens.”
Author: Judita Matyasova - PhD student of Charles University Prague
This project is part of my PhD project at Longevity Studies at
Faculty of Humanities, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic
Non-profit organisation Post Bellum has been organising the intergenerational program “Stories of Our Neighbours” throughout the entire Czech Republic since 2012, engaging elementary-school students between 14 and 16 years of age in documenting fates of local old-time witnesses for a period of six months. Around 2,700 students have participated in the program, recording interviews with senior citizens and then creating audio and video reports. Some students created comics inspired by the stories of the elderly people, others organised lessons for younger students or exhibitions about the senior citizens. The main objective of the intergenerational program is to record the stories of old-time witnesses and thus broaden our knowledge of modern history through a specific story. However, this intergenerational program also has a number of other benefits that are less “visible” than exhibitions and presentations. Thanks to their six-month contact with a senior citizen, the young people not only learn his/her story, but also try out what it is like to speak with an old person and hear from him/her something more than the usual “Good morning / Good bye”.
To use the words of the program organisers and teachers: “The main things are changing gradually, over the six months. Thanks to this program, the children are becoming interested not just in senior citizens in general, but also in the elderly members of their own family. Often this is the first time that they begin to ask their grandparents about the family history,” says Dana Schlegerová who has been involved in the program for five years.
Research in the Czech Republic
The program organisers, Magdalena Benešová and Hana Hniličková, agree that they experienced similar reactions rather often in the past years both from teachers and children, but so far this assertion has been lacking any scientific basis. In 2017, they commissioned the NMS Market Research agency with a research on teachers’ experience with the program. The analysts asked teachers how the participation in the program helped to develop the students’ skills and improve their relationships to the elderly. However, nobody has so far addressed the participation in the program from the perspective of the young people themselves, although without the knowledge of their point of view it is not possible to systematically demonstrate the assumption that the program actually improves the relationship of young people to senior citizens.
As the transformation of the relationships of young people to the elderly during the program may be extremely complex – reflecting their past experience and considerations about senior citizens, individual motivation to participate in the program, expectations, but also fears and insecurities –, the qualitative approach was selected for the research. By means of semi-structured interviews, I will continuously monitor the behaviour, thinking and emotions of the young people documenting the life story of a senior citizen for a half year as well as the way how their participation in the program reflects in relationships to the elderly in society and within their own family. In the course of a school term, I will organise four meetings with students at four elementary schools in Prague. There will be 5 teams of students in total (with 3 to 5 children per team) and I will make an in-depth interview with each of the students. I will consult the preparation and evaluation with sociologist Michaela Kudrnáčová (Institute of Sociology of the Czech Academy of Sciences).
The first meeting will be held at the beginning of the students’ participation in the program; therefore, I want to ask them about their motivation and expectations as well as about their past contacts with the elderly and communication within the family. The second meeting will be held after the interview with a senior citizen, focusing on the immediate impression on the young people. The third interview is scheduled after the final public presentation, where the students present the results of their several months’ work. The last interview will be held two or three months after the official end of the program. This was inspired by the information from teachers and organisers, according to which the students are thinking about their experience even after the end of the program. It sometimes takes several weeks or months to start realising that the meeting with the elderly inspired them to meet their grandparents and learn more about their family history.
Research in Denmark
The “Stories of Our Neighbours” program is unique, inter alia, because it is a systematic project, which lasts for several months – you would hardly find a comparable program in Europe. There are actually two similar programs in the Czech Republic: The Neighbours Who Disappeared (organised by the Jewish Museum), monitoring the fates of the Jewish community members during World War II, and From the Place Where We Live, documenting the fates of old-time witnesses in regions (organised by One World in Schools). I approached representatives of the Ministries of Education as well as educational institutions in EU countries and I found out that they either do not have any intergenerational programs in schools at all, or that they only have one-time projects, when a senior citizen visits the school for a few hours to tell his/her story and that is all.
Since 2010, I have been documenting the fates of old-time witnesses from the Czech Jewish community living in Scandinavia. In 1939, they were 14 to 16 years old and they were forced to leave their homes to save themselves from the repression. I have repeatedly visited Denmark during the past eight years, recording the stories of the elderly, meeting teachers from elementary and secondary schools, informing them about the results of my research. It took me by surprise that there is no intergenerational program in Denmark comparable to the Stories of Our Neighbours. Therefore, I would like to enrol for a PhD programme at a Danish university to compare the results of my research carried out in the Czech Republic with the results to be obtained in Denmark, where the program is starting from scratch.
My main objective in Denmark will be to find two or three elementary or efte schools in Denmark that would be willing to participate in the program, and to motivate the teachers and – subsequently – their students to participate in this leisure activity. As soon as I have the teams of Danish students, it will be possible to launch qualitative research, which will take the same course as the research carried out in the Czech Republic. Thus, at the end of the project, I should be able to evaluate, based on the mutually comparable experience of Czech and Danish students, whether or not this intergenerational program actually has a positive effect on the relationship of young people to the elderly.
Phase 1 of the research: Czech Republic
September 2018 – children entering for the program and attending several training workshops (how to conduct an interview, how to record an interview).
First in-depth interview with students, focusing on their motivation and reasons for entering the program; furthermore, I will be interested in their relationship to senior citizens in society and within their own family
October 2018 – November 2018
Recording interviews with old-time witnesses
Research work in archives
Editing the interviews in the studio of Czech Radio
Second in-depth interview after the meeting with a senior citizen, focusing on the immediate impression
Preparation of the final presentation
Public presentation of results
Final interviews with students
Third in-depth interview will focus on evaluation of the half-year work and on changes in perception of the elderly
Fourth in-depth interview will examine the overall attitude in the past months. I will also ask the students about their plans, whether or not the program inspired them to find out something more about their family and whether or not they wish to ask their grandparents about the history of their family
Evaluation of the results of the interviews in co-operation with the consultant