Universiteit Leiden

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Combining research and a good cause: Tutoring programme concludes successfully

More than a course. That was the aim of the Leiden Tutoring programme. Through weekly tutoring lessons, students did not just earn five EC. They helped Dutch primary-school children from neighbourhoods with a low socioeconomic status.

Amber Bruijnzeel

‘The programme focused on schools in these specific neighbourhoods because we know that those children are more likely to lag behind and generally have fewer chances,’ says Amber Bruijnzeel, project manager of the tutoring programme. ‘The supervision from students will give them an extra boost in their learning environment.’

Arithmetic, reading comprehension and a role model

For four months, 29 students – doing programmes varying from Linguistics to Astronomy – travelled weekly to schools in The Hague and Rotterdam, where they supervised groups of two to five pupils of around 10 or 11 years of age. The tutoring focused on the lessons the children were struggling with. That meant that some students helped with arithmetic, while others helped with reading comprehension. 

Biopharmaceutical Sciences student Vivaksh Rajan on his experience

‘When I entered the classroom, I was greeted right away: Mister Vivaksh! Mister Vivaksh! I worked on reading and vocabulary with my two students. Sometimes they found that difficult, especially because one of them couldn’t sit still for an extended time. Doing a push-up or two helped. And when he really played up, he came to me to apologise the week after. Yes, this project really did have a great aim.’

‘An important factor of this programme is the role-model aspect. The close contact between students and children meant they developed a personal connection,’ Bruijnzeel explains. ‘It was also good to see the students support each other by giving advice on how to engage the children. And through the project, we gave them extra training on how to help children concentrate, for example.’

Expanding your social bubble

‘We also found that the children were very curious about the students. They asked all about what they were studying. And it shows that it is quite difficult to explain to an 11-year-old what you do if you study Biomedical Sciences,’ Bruijnzeel laughs. ‘It was also good to see the students connect to a target audience that they don’t often meet. They also live in their own social bubble. And they could also see if they would like to work in education. It expanded both groups’ worlds, which is a nice aspect of this project too.’

On the last day of the programme the children received a diploma

Increased interest in STEM

Alongside the extra tutoring, the programme was developed within research funded by the NWO. The team wanted to know if interaction with students increased the children’s interest in STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. And whether the tutors’ background – studying a science-related programme or not – made a difference in triggering interest in STEM. 

‘We brought together students from different fields for this programme. It would be interesting to see whether a Cultural Anthropology student has the same effect on STEM interest as a Computer Science student. But getting the children to think about what they want to be when they grow up and broadening their horizons would be a good outcome too,’ Bruijnzeel concludes. The final results of the study have not been analysed yet. The team hopes to publish its article in March. 

Biopharmaceutical Sciences student Qing Qing Gao on his experience

‘I’m from a migrant background and grew up in Laakkwartier, which is known for having a lower socioeconomic status. I was the only one in my class at primary school who was placed in the senior general secondary education/university preparatory education stream. In the project, my group consisted of five children. Three of them were quite boisterous, but they were all nice. They struggled most with the word problems in maths. By taking them through it step by step, it went better – sometimes. The extra training from the programme helped me a lot too, as I learned how to calm the children by doing a little game. I am not sure if the students learned a lot from me, but I did talk a lot about my studies. Maybe I taught them a little bit by doing that.’

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