Children are young scientists by nature: they are born with intrinsic curiosity, form hypotheses about how the world works, gather information, and thus come up with new insights. However, many children believe that science is not for them. This is especially true for girls, children of non-Western immigrant background, and children without highly educated parents.
why? Because these kids don’t recognize themselves in the stereotype of scientists. When you ask children to draw a scientist, they often draw a white man in glasses and a lab coat, surrounded by cool equipment: test tubes, Bunsen burners and machines with discs. It is time to combat this stereotype.
Science has a diversity problem. That is why in 2020 the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science launched the National Action Plan for more diversity and inclusion in higher education and research. Earlier this month, Secretary Robert Dijkgraf (D66) briefed the House of Representatives on this action plan.
What has been forgotten in his action plan is that the lack of diversity doesn’t just start in higher education and research – it actually begins in primary school or even earlier. To increase diversity in science, we must give our younger generation a comprehensive view of science and scientists. An image that everyone can recognize regardless of their gender, immigrant background or socioeconomic background.
How can we create such an overall picture? By giving all children an active role in creating and conducting scientific research. This can be done at school, where children do science experiments with their classmates, such as Experiments onproefjes.nl. Or at science museums like NEMO, where kids can run experiments from all kinds of science disciplines.
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But this can also be done in scientific research in institutions of knowledge, where scientists create and conduct research with children. That’s why Lil’Scientist was launched at De Jonge Akademie, a Citizen scienceThe program that grew out of a collaboration with IMC Weekend School and is now funded by the National Science Agenda. We allow children – especially children who have grown up in disadvantaged situations – to collaborate with different scientists from all over the country to conduct real scientific research.
These activities are not only educational for children, but also for scientists. Children often come up with unexpected, unconventional and creative ideas, which can lead to new discoveries. Scientists, sometimes stuck with traditional ways of thinking, can gain new insights in this way. I’ve never looked at it that way, I hear my colleagues say.
But we are not there yet. Just doing science with kids doesn’t automatically make kids see themselves as emerging scientists. For many children, science is an elitist, complex, and above all lonely activity. This is why it is important to ground the science with children in three basic messages.
The first message is that science is about experience: try, fail, and try again. When adults talk to children about science, they often talk about great scientists like Einstein, Darwin, and Newton, who were then labeled geniuses, as if their scientific insights had just happened. This is not only incorrect, but also frustrating: children who do not consider themselves geniuses or find science difficult, drop out of school. By correctly describing science as an activity – not as an identity – children develop a greater interest in science.
In addition, it is essential that children experience that they can become better and better at doing science. You don’t have to master the scientific way of thinking right away. If you do not understand something, this does not mean that you are stupid; This means that you can improve yourself. This growth mindset—the realization that your skills are not fixed but can grow—helps children persevere and learn.
The final message is that science is about collaboration. It is not an individual undertaking but a collective undertaking. Scientists help each other, learn from each other and have a common goal: to better understand the world so they can tackle societal problems – such as inequality, COVID-19 and climate change. Children who have grown up in disadvantaged situations excel at working together.
My hope is: If we actively involve all children in scientific research, their curiosity, curiosity, and self-confidence will grow and they will learn that anyone can be a scientist. This is not only essential to increasing diversity in higher education and research, but is also essential to developing children into important global citizens. After all, the scientific way of thinking is not limited to scholars in the knowledge establishment; It’s a skill anyone can master. Because science is for everyone.
A version of this article also appeared in the July 26, 2022 newspaper