Jessica Okoro has long held a desire to get children excited about learning and to change any thoughts that science isn’t fun. This passion has led her to set up BeScience STEM, a UK based social nenterprise, which creatively explores STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) within the community for children from 5 years upwards. The aim is to get more young people – especially girls – involved in STEM subjects to avoid a future skills shortage in years to come.
It’s a hot topic currently with the BBC running their Terrific Scientific campaign, but Jessica’s vision is different, but complementary – and it’s been created here in Leicester. So inspiring, it’s even caught the eye of our Prime Minister, who said “Your innovative interventions demonstrate that science can be creative and fun”. So, if you have, or know anyone with children in this age-range, you need to read on…
First things first, what is BeScience STEM? “BeScience STEM is a fun way for people to learn within their communities. The statistic that only 15% of 10-14 year olds wish to pursue a career in the sciences demonstrates that many feel disconnected from the subjects and our aim is to reignite their interest through early intervention, fun and relevant learning. Our STEM Juniors club aims to excite children from as young as 5 years old about these subjects and provide a fun environment for extracurricular learning, but we cater for children up to 15 years, too.” BeScience STEM offers programmes that are accessible to everybody, with many their participants coming from home-schooled families, as well as across the community. The basic premise is to explore STEM subjects using tried and tested methods that are both fun and engaging for the young people and their families. Some of these are done in workshop environments or libraries, some in the kitchen with the family.
Shouldn’t this be something that they learn in schools anyway? “In an ideal world where time and resource are not an issue, yes. But that’s not the scenario for most schools. BeScience STEM runs alongside the curriculum and allows parents or guardians to get involved and take control of this part of their child’s education – these are subjects that are not only of critical importance, but can be fun. The fun aspect is lost, somehow, in many classroom environments. BeScience STEM brings this back!”
You’ve created and trialled this in Leicester? Yes, BeScience STEM was trialled in Leicester and will receive a soft regional roll out in 2017 before a national roll out in 2018. We’ve also received support from The Crucible Project, De Montfort University’s business start-up and incubation programme, who we continue to work with. Percy Emmett Independent Business Consultant and Lead Trainer and Mentor for The Crucible Project, added, “BeScience STEM has been such a success since launching into the community in 2016. Jessica has developed a fantastic programme of learning for a wide range of individuals and this recent research demonstrates just how much we need social enterprises such as BeScience STEM to help keep the next generation engaged in these subjects.”
How have children and parents reacted to the sessions that you’ve done so far? They love it! We’ve had such fantastic feedback from those who have taken part.
Do you think that the statistic that only 15% of 10 to 14 year olds aspire to work in science will change in the future? The reality is that this statistic will only change if there are influencers or programmes available to young people. This will involve time, resources and hard work.
What is your main goal from running BeScience STEM? To make STEM accessible to ALL. It’s just about enabling everyone to be able to enjoy and explore the STEM disciplines with confidence.
What do you think are the gaps in the curriculum, which make things like BeScience STEM and Terrific Scientific so important? When I was at school I struggled to relate what I was learning to my everyday life. At BeScience STEM, that is the core of our exploring principles. We apply it to what we know and interact with everyday, which makes learning a less tendentious experience.
What has been the biggest challenge since founding BeScience STEM? Funding. Getting organisations to fund these free initiatives for the young people in the community can be tricky. It’s often then case that funders tend to have more interest in the academically ‘gifted and talented’, whereas I feel strongly that more young people should get the opportunities and be inclusive for all.
Will the programmes be rolled out nationally? Yes, I am currently on the Crucible programme at De Montfort University for this year where we are developing our programmes to take it nationally.
Did you enjoy science as a youngster? No, not at school. My love for STEM really grew as I changed my learning style to exploration and hands-on, which is what I hope to bring to the programmes and other children through BeScience STEM.