Posts Tagged ‘equity’

Photo: Time magazine, 2020.
At 15, scientist Gitanjali Rao made history with a device to detect lead in drinking water. ‘You don’t need a PhD to make a difference,’ she says.

More kids are getting into science these days, and I think their enthusiasm is going to benefit us all.

Anne Branigin reports at the Lily, “Gitanjali Rao just finished her final exam of the year and, like any other teenager, is eager to begin her summer.

“The 15-year-old is, in many ways, not your typical teen. She landed on the cover of Time magazine in 2020 as its inaugural ‘Kid of the Year’ for her scientific achievements, which include building a device, Tethys, that detects lead in drinking water.

“But Rao doesn’t see herself as exceptional. In fact, when she was younger, she didn’t even see herself as ‘the science type.’ She was driven, instead, by trying to find solutions to problems in her community. Once she discovered science and technology could be a means of finding those solutions, there was no turning back.

‘Using science and technology as social change became something that was intuitive to me and something that I wanted to keep doing,’ she said. …

“Rao says her passion for STEM has shaped her days and her goals — she is working on creating a global network of young innovators to tackle global problems. It also fuels her relentless optimism for the future and all its possibilities. …

“Anne Branigin: I’m curious what a normal day looks like for you during a very not-normal year.

“Gitanjali Rao: A normal day obviously involves being your normal high school student, just, you know, maintaining a social life, still doing homework every single day, studying for exams. But then there’s this added layer of my research and innovations. A lot of my work has been focused on running my innovation workshops for students all over the globe, which is also taking up a little bit — a lot of my energy and time trying to maintain that sort of situation as well. And also just being, even remotely, in the public eye obviously comes with its own perks, but also disadvantages of being able to manage that as well. …

“I love helping people. I love using science and technology to do that. So that priority always comes first. … I don’t do eight things at a time. I might do eight things in a day, but not eight things at a time because I know what I need to focus on. I know how to prioritize my work. …

“Anne Branigin: On the subject of your generation, there’s a recent study showing that interest in STEM is at an all-time high among young people.

“Gitanjali Rao: It honestly makes me really happy to see younger generations engaging in science. Today’s kids are tomorrow’s innovators and they [will] make the world better, stronger and more sustainable in the future. …

“Anne Branigin: What do you think makes your generation’s approach to science unique?

“Gitanjali Rao: So a question that I commonly get is, what is one word to describe your generation? And I like to say, hotheaded — but in a good way. Our generation, if we put our mind to something, we want to get it done. That’s how I have been. That’s how a lot of my friends have been. …

“Anne Branigin: In the past, we haven’t always seen people of color and women and other members of marginalized communities really be the drivers of this technology. I’m curious how you’ve been thinking about equity and how those conversations have come up with your peers.

“Gitanjali Rao: My generation is destined to be innovators more than any generation that came before. And we’re the first generation to grow up as natural innovators because of how we live, where we live and what we have access to from a technology standpoint.

“Where I want to see that equity change is in education. Access to resources is something that obviously people have faced across the world. It’s an issue still to this day. It’s the 21st century, and we’re still talking about girls and women struggling to get education. But what it’s important to recognize is that a lot of times, the ideas start in the bare minimum.

“With my device, Tethys, to detect lead in drinking water, I started with a cardboard box and a couple of drawings on a piece of paper. And honestly, what that turned into was not looking at what resources I had, but dreaming big and then thinking back to reality.

“So equity is something that we need to work together to make a difference. But until then, it’s about using what we have on hand. Most of the innovators that I talk to online don’t have their driver’s license. I don’t have my driver’s license. But at the same time, it gives me this opportunity to be like, ‘Okay, with the resources that I have on hand, without having money to spend, what can I do?’ “

More at the Lily, here.

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The Atlantic magazine says Estonia is the new Finland, meaning that it is doing a bang-up job with quality education for all. Educating the poor turns out to be a salient strength of the system.

Sarah Butrymowicz writes, “In 2012, Estonia’s 15-year-olds ranked 11th in math and reading and sixth in science out of the 65 countries that participated in an international test that compares educational systems from around the world (called the Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA).

“In addition to beating out western nations such as France and Germany and essentially tying Finland in math and science, Estonia also had the smallest number of weak performers in all of Europe, about 10 percent in math and reading and 5 percent in science.”

In comparison, the United States hovers in the middle of the pack.

“While there is less income inequality in Estonia than in the United States—and, with 1.3 million people, the country is significantly smaller—the Baltic nation also has its share of cultural diversity.

“When it achieved independence from the Soviet Union 25 years ago, Estonian became the official language and the language of school instruction. Yet about a fifth of its students come from families that still speak Russian at home, and they have historically lagged behind their native speaking counterparts on tests such as PISA. …

“Marc Tucker, president of National Center on Education and the Economy in Washington, D.C., visited Estonia last year to find out what they’re doing right. He said that after the fall of the Iron Curtain other former Soviet satellites, such as Hungary and the Czech Republic, transitioned to a system preferentially suited to the needs of its elites. Estonia, however, kept giving equal opportunities to students of all backgrounds. …

“There are many factors that may contribute to Estonia’s success on PISA beyond their focus on equality. Education continues to be highly valued. Teacher autonomy is relatively high, which has been shown to be related to better test scores. Teachers stay with the same students in grades one to three – or sometimes even up to sixth grade – allowing deep relationships to develop.”

Maybe we could learn something from this small Baltic state. Read more here about why Estonian students are so successful on tests and whether they are happy with the system and why the country is trying to encourage more individuality and creativity without losing rigor.

Photo: Ints Kalnins / Reuters
First graders take a computer class in Tallinn, Estonia.

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