November 19, 2014 Nick Preston

Science Academy 2006

Paris Montagne Association was created in 2006 and runs an annual science festival. Students and researchers at the École Normale Supérieure wished to share their passion for science and let others discover the world of research through a science festival. Paris Montagne works on a long term basis with high school students, and with the students belonging to the “Science Académie” program. The application forms are distributed in the Parisian suburbs.

Objectives of the Intervention

Objectives:
Increasing access and success of youth from underrepresented groups into science (higher) education.

Increasing the quality of science education through science communication through:

  • Recruitment of young people with a passion for science and a strong capacity to communicate and convince.
  • High quality training during a week in the best French “Grande École”.
  • Meeting point for people with a strong “connection” potential.

Fewer and fewer students are enrolling on science courses while obstacles caused by unequal opportunity make it increasingly difficult for less privileged learners to obtain high standard university places and to embark on scientific careers. The way science is taught in schools in France (heavily weighed down by theory and desperately lacking in practical content) urgently needs changing if it is to be made more appealing. It is now time for researchers to collaborate with schools to show that science can be pleasantly challenging and fascinating. Above all, a fundamental reason why science education must be improved is because citizen respect and interaction are fostered through the study of science. Everyone today is directly concerned by scientific issues. In a society where science encompasses more and more ethical questions, a common basis of scientific knowledge must be shared amongst each and every one of us. We would like to prompt researchers into showing that science can be made enjoyable, thereby inspiring students who suffer from a social disadvantage and then to offer our support to the keenest students in order to help them become talented scientists.

See article attached: “Science Academie”: Raising Scientific Passions and Fostering a New Social Link By Livio RIBOLI-SASCO* , Alice RICHARD* and François TADDEI**
* Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris, France
** INSERM,institut Necker, Paris, France

After 2011:
The Science Academy program is aimed at students with a passion for science and whose access to the world of scientific research is limited. With the project PM hope to create aspiration for science and fight against the alienation of scientific studies by the government by providing students with work experience in the laboratory during the holidays. The students have access to register to all activities of the Science Academy. Our actions attract a large number of students since participation in activities is completely free, transportation costs and meals being paid.

Size/scope:
According to the report “What should be done for schools in French suburbs”, published by the Institut Montaigne, 40% of the students living in so-called “Sensitive areas” leave school without any qualifications. In addition to this, the number of students entering university to study science fell by 32% between 1995/1996 and 1999/2000. Sciences have become increasingly unpopular amongst students at school, and in particular amongst the most disadvantaged. This situation is alarming. Researchers must get involved quickly in order to spread a new attractive image of science and to battle against the inequities of our educational system.

Enthusiasm and passion are essential characteristics of good scientists which can be easily transmitted to encourage students in choosing scientific studies. Political and educational institutions do not realise just how grave the situation is. This is another reason why researchers should get involved.

Origins and rationale of this initiative

In November 2005, riots broke out and spread rapidly throughout French suburbs, reaching unprecedented levels of violence. How can we account for this eruption of violence? Obviously there is no clear answer. There was no distinct political message, only a total rejection of a society that wasn't able to integrate immigrant children. These children were living in dilapidated buildings; they were finding it increasingly difficult to study or find employment and had nothing to hope for in the future. One incident holding high symbolic potential was enough to spark off an epidemic of violence.

It is in this social context that researchers and university students decided to set up a program that would open the doors of science and research to the disadvantaged youth. This simple course of action might seem inappropriate in face of such serious and widespread social problems. Yet we believe that initiatives inspired by the Hungarian Kut Diak movement can be the source of large-scale changes covering an area way beyond sciences. The idea was initiated by the organisation Paris Montagne.

Motivation: an increasing lack of interest in scientific university studies
According to the report “What should be done for schools in French suburbs” published by the Institut Montaigne, 40% of the students living in so-called “Sensitive areas” leave school without any qualifications. In addition to this, the number of students entering university to study science fell by 32% between 1995/1996 and 1999/2000. Sciences have become increasingly unpopular amongst students at school, and in particular amongst the most disadvantaged. This situation is alarming. Researchers must get involved quickly in order to spread a new attractive image of science and to battle against the inequities of our educational system. Enthusiasm and passion are essential characteristics of good scientists which can be easily transmitted to encourage students in choosing scientific studies. Political and educational institutions do not realise just how grave the situation is. This is another
reason why researchers should get involved.

Unequal opportunity to study science at university and higher education establishments:
Some talented and creative teenagers do not even apply for the best university courses as they believe they will not be able to afford the cost of long studies and that these studies are reserved for the social élite. These difficulties are emphasized by the dual French system, divided between universities and “grandes écoles”. Any high school student can apply for a place at university in France, without having to go through a process of selection, whereas “grandes écoles” recruit through highly selective competition, after two years of preparation. In order to be given an opportunity to prepare for competitive exams, students must have an excellent school track record.

Universities are allocated a third of the budget provided to “grandes écoles”. Ill reputation, combined with appalling results and student self-censorship keep a great number of students at bay from the classes which prepare for the competitive exams leading to “grandes écoles”. Thus, a social division takes place at the end of high school. The “grandes écoles” usually train their students up to Masters degrees. Afterwards some of these very bright students move to universities and start a PhD, preventing most university students from accessing PhD programs. The French higher education system is completely partitioned. Every year, the number of students that come from working class and immigrant backgrounds decreases. However, scientific research comes to be more creative and productive with people’s diversity. The contribution of international or interdisciplinary collaboration towards innovation in research can be easily understood. We would like to encourage greater diversity emerging from a variety of social and cultural backgrounds. All the different social communities have to be represented. In that way, it will be easier to pay attention to all the questions emerging in our society and that have to be translated by scientists into research programs. In addition to this, scientific professions are a symbol of social success. To those recently immigrated to France, those who suffer from discrimination or from living in disadvantaged areas, science and research can offer a chance to climb the social ladder and a bright future. Allowing a real equality of opportunity in accessing academic professions is a way to eradicate many prejudices. Intelligence is not confined to any social or ethnic group but is shared amongst all. Enabling social ascension through science contributes to social cohesion. People from different origins form an important community committed to a public mission for scientific progress.

Science is not a research experience:
For many children, from primary to high school, scientific education will remain an isolated experience. Very few of them will remember and consider this education as useful in their adult life. Scientific education is often reduced to a corpus of theoretical knowledge. Practical experiments are rarely carried out and in any case limited to a mere demonstration of what has been already taught. It is thus impossible for the students to discover and build any scientific reasoning and argumentation. If learners at school cannot discover for themselves, working on a step by step basis, it is difficult to make science and scientific careers sufficiently attractive to encourage students to find the energy and motivation needed to succeed in long and demanding studies.

This way of teaching science can be explained through an analysis of the purpose of French education at its origins. Schools were developed and widespread all over the territory at the end of the 19th century in order to build a nation, a community of language, values and knowledge. School has not been intended to develop creativity. Our social values have changed, and we now need emotion, passion and self development to lead some students to scientific studies. Obviously, not all students have to be encouraged to choose scientific careers. Yet, scientific education in high school will influence many generations of future citizens who will have to tackle technological, scientific and ethical questions. Gloomy chemistry courses combined with an increasing awareness of pollution problems (some of them due to the chemical industry) may induce a global rejection of chemistry as a science subject as well. Improving scientific education and favouring education using research methods is essential to train mature citizens, well informed about the scientific world and its importance for society.

Lack of teachers training in sciences and pedagogy:
Teachers from primary to high school cannot carry out research as well as teach in schools, although some of them have experienced research in their early years when they were students at university. This deep division between teaching and research contributes to convey a biased image of science and research in schools. The scientific knowledge transmitted to students is never shown as an evolving knowledge, rich with a lively history, full of controversial theories that are soon falsified. It is urgent to reconnect the two worlds of research and education. Indeed, the student, as the researcher, tries to learn by himself, observing and then setting up theories and experimenting with new ideas and explanations. Students and researchers may have more in common than students and teachers. We could advocate the “ignorance” of the teacher, as suggested by philosopher Jacques Rancières. “Ignorant”, the teacher is placed in the same learning process as the student. His knowledge is related to the method that has to be followed in order to discover and learn. Indeed Jacque Rancières gives evidence of such a process, showing us a group of students, helped by their ignorant teacher, all of them learning a new language together: Flemish.

Target groups intended as beneficiaries of this initiative

Raising aspiration for science and increasing access to science education should start as early as possible.

Target group for this program:

  • Children in primary education
  • Youth in the first and second year of high schools

In both cases the programs focus on youth from underserved and marginalised groups. In Paris these are children from the Banlieues.

Two main criteria have been used to carry out their selection:

  • their motivation towards sciences and
  • the handicap created by their social background (immigrant families, profession of parents, underprivileged schools, number of brother and sisters)....

Political and socio-economic factors that you believe have been important enablers for your initiative

Science education in French schools today is suffering from two major problems. Fewer and fewer students are enrolling on science courses while obstacles caused by unequal opportunity make it increasingly difficult for less privileged learners to obtain high standard university places and to embark on scientific careers. The way science is taught in schools in France (heavily weighed down by theory and desperately lacking in practical content) urgently needs changing if it is to be made more appealing. It is now time for researchers to collaborate with schools to show that science can be pleasantly challenging and fascinating. Above all, a fundamental reason why science education must be improved is because citizen respect and interaction are fostered through the study of science. Everyone today is directly concerned by scientific issues. In a society where science encompasses more and more ethical questions, a common basis of scientific knowledge must be shared amongst each and every one of us. We would like to prompt researchers into showing that science can be made enjoyable, thereby inspiring students who suffer from a social disadvantage and then to offer our support to the keenest students in order to help them become talented scientists. Helping them to belong to a broad network and training them in popularising science will help us inoculate a “science virus” into schools and on a broader basis in society. By intervening locally, with a global approach, changes can be made on a broad scale, i.e. national or European, provoking a cascade of changes in the educational system leading to what could be called a new “equilibrium” of education.

In November 2005, riots broke out and spread rapidly throughout French suburbs, reaching unprecedented levels of violence. How can we account for this eruption of violence? Obviously there is no clear answer. There was no distinct political message, only a total rejection of a society that wasn't able to integrate immigrant children. These children were living in dilapidated buildings; they were finding it increasingly difficult to study or find employment and had nothing to hope for in the future. One incident holding high symbolic potential was enough to spark off an epidemic of violence. It is in this social context that researchers and university students decided to set up a program that would open the doors of science and research to the disadvantaged youth. This simple course of action might seem inappropriate in face of such serious and widespread social problems. Yet we believe that initiatives inspired by the Hungarian Kut Diak movement can be the source of large-scale changes covering an area way beyond science.

According to the report “What should be done for schools in French suburbs” published by the Institut Montaigne, 40% of the students living in so-called “Sensitive areas” leave school without any qualifications. In addition to this, the number of students entering university to study science fell by 32% between 1995/1996 and 1999/2000. Sciences have become increasingly unpopular amongst students at school, and in particular amongst the most disadvantaged. This situation is alarming. Researchers must get involved quickly in order to spread a new attractive image of science and to battle against the inequities of our educational system. Enthusiasm and passion are essential characteristics of good scientists which can be easily transmitted to encourage students in choosing scientific studies. Political and educational institutions do not realise just how grave the situation is. This is another reason why researchers should get involved.

Overall Programme design and the methods and tools used to reach the goals

Paris Montagne: A Science Festival:
Paris Montagne Association was created in January 2006; one month after violent riots broke out in French suburbs. Students and researchers at the Ecole Normale Supérieure wished to share their passion for science and let others discover the world of research. This association set itself the task to contribute in bringing young students from underprivileged backgrounds to scientific studies by fighting self-censorship towards long studies at university or in “grandes écoles”. It offers individual mentoring and financial support (grants). In addition to individual support, Paris Montagne offers collective support through local intervention in underprivileged high schools. We try to trigger positive dynamics through “science clubs” which are directly set up by young students that have been previously trained. Paris Montagne supports reflection and research on educational topics, pedagogy and didactic.

Paris Montagne organizes annually a summer science festival on the Montagne Sainte-
Geneviève (Paris) and entertains a wide audience, coming from disadvantaged suburbs near Paris. This festival takes place in the “scientific campus” of Paris that is to say the Latin quarter. This festival has a social perspective. Showing science through a huge festival, through pleasure, is a way to open it widely. It’s a way to reconcile adults with science; theatre and funny experiments are a powerful therapy. For younger ones it’s a way to discover a new face of science (different from the scholastic one), and to meet the challenge brought to them by researchers.

PM & Science Académie 2006: at least a starting point:
Paris Montagne also works on a long term basis with high school students, and with the students belonging to the “Science Académie” program (inspired by the Hungarian Kut Diak program) in particular. These students are selected at the end of their first or second year of high school. Two main criteria have been used to carry out their selection: their motivation towards sciences and the handicap created by their social background (immigrant families, profession of parents, underprivileged schools, number of brothers and sisters).The application forms were distributed in the Parisian suburbs.

It is through these high school students that the association hopes to have the greatest impact possible as far as the goals it has set itself are concerned. We hope to support them in their studies and to offer them all the opportunities they need to gain quality training and a scientific career. Moreover, these students will set an example to other pupils, proving that “science is possible”. These students are not selected according to their marks at school, and we anticipate that at the age they are at, nurtured passion for science can lead them to scientific excellence. To count on young talents is all the more important as creativity and scientific productivity during the first years of work create an advantage that remains during an entire career.

Simonton (1991), followed by Stephan and Levin (1992) showed that most exceptional scientists had a high scientific creativity and productivity, that remains steady and then decreases slowly, whereas for a medium range scientist no increase is ever observed.

Paris Montagne offers the young high school students a new concept of training and support:

  • During the Festival “Paris Montagne: le Pari des Sciences” they take part in a week of training, supervised by high level researchers and PhD students.
  • They become familiar with scientific questions and with the daily working life of researchers.
  • They also learn how to write up a project.
  • They conceive and realize a whole experimental protocol during the week.
  • They visit many laboratories belonging to the most important scientific institutions (École normale supérieure, Institut Curie, ESPCI, Collège de France, Universities).
  • They take a first step into a network that will link, in the long term, high school students, talented researchers and students. This network is sponsored by the French Academy of Science and reaches out to Hungary and Croatia.
  • It provides a daily support for the studies, but above all offers the possibility of short internship in the best laboratories.

On the occasion of the Paris Montagne Festival, these young students gain self confidence as they are trained in scientific communication. On this basis they will be able to create science clubs in their high schools, with coaching by professional associations. They will spread their passion for science, and will appear as an example of success in their schools and in their social environment. Eventually they will break down some barriers in our societies.

Describe if the project ensured its sustainability

Ensuring sustainability depends heavily on funding and commitment by the participating universities. The young researchers who started these initiatives have proven to be successful and sustainable since they have been asked to develop similar activities in other areas of the world such as Kosovo, Egypt, Spain and other parts of France. Some of the founding members of PM started the organisation L’Atelier des Jours à Venir http://www.joursavenir.org

The human capital of volunteers working at the project is not a problem. But to sustain the continuity of the project a dedicated partner like the Écoles normales supérieures and the Grandes Écoles are equally important as well as funding from the Government and foundations.

Resources used in the initiative

No information provided.

Did the intervention reach its objectives?

Results:
We observed an overall increase in enrolment since the program began. After a very strong start between 2006 and 2008, probably due to the innovative nature of the program, the registration numbers have stabilized for 2 years. This period corresponds to a restructuring of the functioning of the association and clarification of the objectives after three years. Since 2011, setting new goals, new target schools and new program activities have led to a further increase in enrolment. This is a sign that we have been able to adapt, manage and strengthen our communication to young people. Increasing enrolment should not be the only objective and the association should be careful to remain able to respond to this
growing demand.

Monitoring:
Every year the activities have been evaluated through interviews with parents, volunteers and children. If necessary these reports of annual research are available.

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