As we approach the end of four years of SiS Catalyst we are now standing on the summit of a mountain and looking back at our journey together. From here we can see that while we have all been climbing together we began our ascent from different locations and that our different starting points were a consequence of our unique personal histories - a complex weave of our different languages, cultures, ages and experiences, organisations and countries etc.
Now, from the top of the mountain we can clearly see the ‘big picture’ – the distance between our initial starting point and where we are today. This represents the learning of SiS Catalyst and it is a composite of our individual learning.
At the start of our journey, we ambitiously set ourselves the task of the seeking to identify how children could be catalysts for change in the long-term solutions to the grand challenges faced by society. The three sides to the mountain that we chose to climb were:
- The science communication agenda - promoting the uptake and interest in science subjects
- The social inclusion agenda - educational opportunities for under-represented groups
- Young people as change agents - enabling institutional change
Having reached the top of the mountain, what have we learned? The answer is much, but there are two especially important points to emphasise here.
First, that we must recognise children and young people as ‘societal actors’. By this we mean that we must include children in the development of both science and society. It is their future that we are creating now, therefore we must recognise children and young people as stakeholders and work with them to create our shared future.
In the words of children of Medellin, Colombia (We All Can Change the World Children’s Manifesto, April 2014):
We are the ones that will live our future, that's why we don't want adults to take decisions without taking us into account.
In 2009, when we began our SiS Catalyst journey, the expression Science in Society was being used, however the phraseScience With and For Society has now been adopted by the European Commission. This transition of thinking has been a fundamental aspect of the SiS Catalyst learning and is also directly linked to the concept of Responsible Research and Innovation. This concept requires that societal actors work together during the whole research and innovation process to ensure that research and innovation policy is driven by the needs of society. In SiS Catalyst we combined the three agendas of science communication, social inclusion and children as change agents and together they make an element of the Science With and For Society agenda.
Second, in order for science/scientists to have a sustained and effective two-way dialogue with society (children and young people) the process must be one which empowers all stakeholders. This means that the concept of children as change agents requires processes that are transparent, accessible and ethical.
If we are going to engage with children as societal actors, then the processes involved must enable the children and young people to be empowered, to feel respected and confident in their own ability to make choices and decisions.
Children intuitively think without judgement, with curiosity, ethically and authentically. Listening to children is thus the quickest way for us to learn to think differently. As adults we must try to remember what it is like to think like a child, free from the judgements that we have absorbed throughout our lifetime.
As we begin our descent from the mountain top, how do we go about translating SiS Catalyst learning into our day to day actions? This has been among the hardest parts of our learning.
We recommend seven specific actions:
1: Before it is delivered in the classroom all curriculum must be subject to a process of engagement and consultation with children and young people.
2: Teachers and those working directly with children and young people must be given support to engage in a way that is empowering, such as through appropriate training and resources.
3: Consultation events such as the ‘What We Recommend’ workshops developed through SiS Catalyst should be a mandatory element of public policy design processes.
4: Public funding for learning and teaching should take account of the social background of students and promote greater equity and diversity.
5: Governments must invest in both formal and informal learning to foster self-belief and resilience in children and young people.
6: Governments and public institutions must adopt ‘children as change agents’ strategies to enable dialogue with children and young people.
7: ‘Key players’ (as identified through SiS Catalyst) must be given support and opportunities to develop their capacity to enhance the role of children as change agents, for example through national and international networks.
This website showcases the resources developed through SiS Catalyst to help you to work with children and young people more effectively and productively and to evaluate the impacts of this work. These resources form part of the SiS Catalyst legacy and we urge you to use them wisely and often and to share them as widely as you can. They include guides, toolkits and even e-learning courses, as well as examples such as case studies which demonstrate good practice.
Finally, at the culmination of our work, I want to thank the many people and organisations who have contributed to SiS Catalyst over the past four years, especially all our SiS Catalyst work package teams, partners and advisers, mentors, facilitators and hosts. By working together – and with others who have joined us along the way - we have been able to scale the heights and it has been an enlightening, exciting, enthralling and occasionally difficult climb! Each of you – individually and as groups - has made a unique and essential contribution that has benefitted our collective learning.