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Bright young schoolchildren attend lectures in Leiden

Thirty bright young schoolchildren from the Schilderswijk district of The Hague came to Leiden on Saturday. They attended a lecture by Judi Mesman, Professor of Diversity in Upbringing and Development. The aim: to boost their self-confidence.

Bridging the gap

For junior school pupils in the Schilderswijk, a neighbourhood in The Hague with a high density of ethnic minorities, the university is a very distant place. They know very few people who study and many parents know nothing about the academic world. These thirty bright young children came to Leiden last Saturday to bridge that gap. This was part of the Schilderswijk University initiative set up by Leiden University. The University of Applied Sciences in Rotterdam and the Technical University Delft are also involved in the initiative.

Boys and girls brought up differently

Generally, when Judi Mesman, Professor of Diversity in Upbringing and Development, is lecturing, there is little sign of diversity in the lecture hall. Her students are almost all young, white women. Males make up only 2 per cent of the class. On Saturday the lecture hall was very different. Ethnic minority children and a group of parents listened to her explanation of the difference in upbringing between boys and girls. After the lecture the children followed a workshop on virtual reality and they talked about their ideas for the future with Law student Birgül Açiksöz. The parents were invited to take part in a walking tour of the town, taking in buildings that mark the 400-year bond between Leiden and the Middle East.

Forty Saturdays of extra classes

Via the Schilderswijk University, set up in Leiden by Annebeth Simonsz from the Pre-University College, pupils at seven junior schools are offered extra lessons on forty Saturdays in the year. And the lessons are very different from what they are used to: they include research, are more challenging and are in a different environment with more ‘like-minded’ pupils.

‘These children are gifted, motivated and eager to learn,’ coordinator Jeannette Beenhakker explains. ‘We really see them blossom in the classes, because we recognize and applaud their abilities, and they feel that. But their overall general development is quite low and their language development can be poor. That’s what lets them down.’

Getting to know higher education

The main aim of the programme is to give the children a chance to get to know about higher academic education, and to explain what they have to do to get there themselves. 'We want to use this experience to give them confidence and show them that the university will be very happy to have them as future students.'  

Aiming too low

‘I have a son and a daughter. I think I bring them up in the same way. But is that really the case?' Annabel Simonsz asks in her introduction. 'Nooo,' comes the response from the lecture hall.

Saloua Tahhare is sitting at the back. She is nineteen and has come with her 12-year-old sister. As her parents had no idea about secondary schooling, she herself set her sights too low and went into pre-vocational education (VMBO), while she was capable of higher secondary education (HAVO). ‘I've always known that I wanted to study at university,' she says. And that's what she is going to do. She will be studying an applied sciences programme after the summer, and intends to apply for university after that. 'My father encourages me to keep on with my studies. He regrets that he didn't do it himself.' Saloua's sister hopes to follow higher secondary education (HAVO). 

Success

The project is already showing visible signs of success. One of the mothers who came along to the lessons last year is now studying Law in Leiden.

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