[Column] A shout out to children

Columnist Birgit van Driel gives a shout out to children as society’s youngest scientist from which academics at university can learn more than they might imagine.

Birgit van Driel: When a technical degree programme suits you, it is not difficult. (Foto: Sam Rentmeester)

For my last column of the year, in the week that Sinterklaas left our country again, I want to share a positive message: if more science would be introduced in primary schools, it would have many positive effects. This is a shout out to the open-mindedness and curiosity of children: the citizens ánd scientists of the future.

Once every five or six weeks I volunteer at the IMC Weekendschool in Rotterdam. I volunteer for the second year (last year of primary school) where guest teachers – including TU Delft’s Stefan Buijsman –  taught the subject Science over the last few weeks. The introductory lesson used the ‘Wie is de wetenschapper?’ (who are scientists, in Dutch) teaching pack and the Expedition Mundus game. I think it’s fantastic that these lessons are given at the Weekendschool. It provides children with a more complete image of scientists and what scientists do. I argue that it should be a mandatory part of the curriculum for every primary school pupil in the Netherlands. Taught by real scientists of course, in all shapes and sizes.

I don’t believe that anyone needs to be convinced that it is fun and important to introduce children to science at an early age. But a more important point is that I believe that scientists should be involved in giving these lessons – possibly linked to ‘Meet the professor’ (in Dutch), about which I wrote in my previous column. Of course it helps the perception of children if real scientists are involved: If you can see it, you can be it. But I think that scientists and science in general will benefit just as much, and perhaps even more, than the children. 

For scientists it is important to regularly experience childlike curiosity and open-mindedness. Are scientists stuck or demotivated because of the high workload or a rejected grant application (problems that we of course need to find structural solutions for as well)? An afternoon spent with primary school pupils talking about science and they will return home smiling and potentially with an out-of-the-box pioneering idea.

It’s good to bring scientists and children together more often

To foster society’s trust in science, it would also be good to bring scientists and children together more often. The Rathenau Institute writes: ‘People who come into contact with science more often … have more confidence in science.’ My hypothesis is that if this applies to people in general, it will also apply to children as well. The Institute also writes that the confidence in science depends on the level of education. This is why it is important to organize these encounters at primary school before children enter different school types. A real scientist in class shows that scientists are humans with flesh and blood and it will boost the credibility of science.

I would like to end this column with a good new year’s resolution: that in 2023 we let ourselves be inspired by our childlike curiosity, our childlike creativity, and our childlike enthusiasm again. If we do that, there may be hope for the future yet.

Birgit van Driel started working as a Policy Officer at Strategic Development in 2021. She returned to TU Delft where she started her studies back in 2006. She’s been affiliated to the Faculties of IDE (first year), AS (bachelor’s) and 3mE (PhD). After earning her PhD, she worked as a Strategy Consultant at Kearney and a Program Officer at NWO-AES. 

Columnist Birgit van Driel

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