Recently, I had been lucky enough to have been selected to take part in Teach First’s Insight Program. This program is aimed at STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) background university students, in order to provide an insight into leadership based teaching.
The program spanned over two weeks. The first week was a training week held in London, and the second, a four day placement at a partner school in the country. The training week consisted of various talks and activities in order to prepare us for the following week at the school, and also for the future if we decided to pursue a career in teaching. This could be through their graduate Leadership Development Program (LDP) or other routes. We heard a lot of stories from past LDP participants, about their experiences during the programme, and what careers they were currently in. A lot these ex-participants (ambassadors as they are called) had even started their own enterprises which aim to further help bridge the gap in education inequality. We also heard a lot of the vision of Teach First; something that I had grown to feel even more passionate about as the week went on. It is incredible to know that such an organisation, with a vision of overcoming education inequality, exists in a society, in a system, where it’s an problem which is overlooked or shoved to the side.
I spent the second week in a fairly small state comprehensive school, which had recently been put into special measures by Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills), and was undergoing a lot of changes to the way it was being run. The time at the school was to give us an first hand experience of the situation at schools which have high numbers of students on free school meals (FSM), and come from bad socioeconomic backgrounds, and also students who have English as an additional language (EAL).
I can honestly say I never fully understood how bad the issue was, and have never spent so much time reflecting on the education I received at my school. The students at this school have little to no exposure to great careers, and deal with a serious lack of motivation and support, which doesn’t help them realise their full potential. The little town they are surrounded by is full of those who have either never aimed high, or don’t think there is any reason to. This is the same attitude these kids bring into the school every day, and it is with the same attitude they approach their studies.
“I can’t do it.”
The one phrase I kept hearing over and over again, day in, day out. From year 7 students, all the way up to year 11 students who are going to sit their GCSEs in about a month’s time. Despite being told by their teachers, by their headteacher, that they can do it, that they just need to put in a bit more effort and it is possible, they don’t see the point in doing so. This was especially bad in STEM subjects. In Maths, there was some motivation or will to learn, but in Sciences, throughout all the years, the students did not understand why they were being made to learn this “useless” subject. Technology was even worse. Only 4 sixth form students, all boys, were taking the BTEC in Engineering. Coming from a school where there was a large number of students taking sciences and technology as A-Levels, I found this shocking.
This is what they call the STEM challenge.
The UK economy needs 40,000 extra STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) graduates each year to fill the jobs which drive our growth and prosperity. But too few students are taking up these subjects. And the problem is even worse for pupils in low-income communities, where there is a trend in low uptake and poor attainment.
You hear figures like this and you tell yourself that it is problem. But until you experience this attitude towards STEM firsthand, you don’t realise how serious it is. Coming from a STEM background myself, it is something I don’t want to accept. At their age, I was passionate about Science, as were a lot of other girls in my school. I would watch Professors Brian Cox and Jim Al-Khalili on a daily basis, wanting to learn more and more. I was reading books by Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking as a hobby. But the students I was around only wanted to know who “beat up” who, or who is dating who in their science lessons. It is a serious issue, especially when I could see so many bright students in those classrooms.
Another problem I noticed, that really hit home, was the lack of participation in extra curricular activities. Until the last day, on the train back to London, I wasn’t even aware the school even provided any, but was corrected by one of the other participants I was with. They had spoken to one of the teachers and found out that the students would rather rush off home at the end of the day, than stay in school for another hour for the extra curricular activities that were available at the school. I must admit, I didn’t take part in any during my time at school, but I knew so many people who did. I just never found anything that interested me enough to, but, for a few years, I had started a band with my friends. As someone who is so passionate about dancing and music right now, I just can’t believe these students, majority of whom are not even interested in the studies, are also not interested in exploring other areas where they might excel.
Confidence is a huge issue in these kids, especially when they are going through these horrid changes that puberty brings, undergoing peer pressure from those around them, and not finding areas of success in their studies. Extra curricular activities are such a good way to find and improve their confidence. But yet again, they don’t see the point.
This is why I want to be a teacher. Yes, in just over a year, I will have a Mechatronics degree in my hand, from a top institute in the country. But I’d rather put this towards overcoming this massive gap in the education system, and motivate pupils like those I saw this past week. I don’t think anything can be more rewarding, or even come close to this. I feel so privileged to have received great education and support from my teachers, school and those around me, but EVERY child in this country should be able to as well.