Dots speaker Dr. Becky Parker is director of The Institute for Research in Schools (IRIS), which gets school children involved in real-world, groundbreaking science projects for institutions like NASA, CERN and The University of Oxford.
Alongside IRIS Becky still teaches as well as being a visiting professor at the School of Physics and Astronomy, Queen Mary University of London. She holds an MBE for services to science and education.
We had a chat with her about the inspiration for IRIS and the problems she wants to see addressed in the UK education system.
What was the inspiration for IRIS?
How often have you heard a note of surprise when someone explains how competent a young person has been in a task?
IRIS’ work is inspired by the young people I teach and meet in schools and colleges. We see that young people make phenomenal advances in cutting edge research. I wonder why we don’t enable them to contribute as a standard part of their education. Young people are generators of ideas and innovation, yet we constantly treat them as passive consumers.
Seeing the change in confidence, aspiration and understanding that young people develop when they do real science makes me convinced that if we opened up genuine scientific and engineering research to young people everyone would benefit.
How do you connect the dots between school curriculums and the amazing research that you get kids involved with?
If you are more informed and interested in the science that you’re researching, then you’ll do better in the curriculum. Much of the content we work on is in or extending the curriculum.
What’s the biggest challenge that you see facing education over the next 5 years?
A very limited and narrow curriculum which doesn’t necessarily excite young people or give them a good experience of science and engineering. It certainly doesn’t allow many opportunities for them to contribute.
Another problem will be a serious shortage of science teachers. This is partly because the curriculum is very dry. However, involvement in IRIS and making research activities part of a more 21st century curriculum would give young people a chance to contribute to solving world problems while they are at school.
What’s your biggest achievement to date?
Having a gorgeous daughter! For IRIS, having fantastic interest – over 400 schools in just over a year. We’ve got involved in amazing research projects, have a fantastic team, and we’re hopefully making some change in education!
Are there any Dots speakers who you’re particularly looking forward to seeing?
I’m really excited to hear Amanda Azeez from the NSPCC.
To hear more from Becky, and many more fantastic speakers, join us for Dots on Friday 29th September – get your ticket before it’s too late.