Combining research and good cause: Tutoring program wrapped up successfully

More than a course. That was the aim of the Leiden Tutoring program. Through weekly tutoring lessons, students did not just earn five EC. They also helped Dutch students of elementary schools in neighborhoods with a low socioeconomic status.

Amber Bruijnzeel

‘The program focused on schools in these specific neighborhoods because we know that those children more often lag behind and generally are given fewer chances,’ Amber Bruijnzeel says, the project manager of the tutoring program. ‘With students supervising the children, we want to give them an extra boost in their learning environment.’

Rekenen, begrijpend lezen and a role model

For four months, 29 students – doing studies varying from Linguistics to Astronomy – traveled weekly to schools in The Hague and Rotterdam. They sat down in groups of two to five students of the Dutch ‘groep 7’, around 10 or 11 years of age. The tutoring was aimed at the lessons the children were struggling with. That meant that some students helped with math, while others got to work on reading comprehension.

The experience of Vivaksh Rajan, student Biopharmaceutical Sciences

‘When I stepped into the classroom, I was greeted right away: Mister Vivaksh! Mister Vivaksh! With my two students, I worked on reading and vocabulary. Sometimes they found that difficult, especially since one of the two did not like to sit still for an extended time. Doing a push-up or two did help then. And when he really went out of bounds, he came to me to apologize the week after. Yes, I would say this project had a nice aim.’

‘An important factor of this program is the role model-part. By the close contact between students and the children, they developed a personal connection,’ Bruijnzeel explains. ‘Additionally, it was good to see that the students supported each other by advising on how to engage the children. And through the project, they received extra training from us on how to help the 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 with which they don’t come across often. They also live in their own social bubble. And they could also see if they would like a job in the education sector. For both groups, it expands their world, which is a nice aspect of this project too.’

On the last day of the student program children received their diploma

Increased interest in STEM

Additional to the extra tutor courses, the program was founded to do 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 Math. And whether the background of the tutors – being a science related study or not – made a difference in triggering interest in STEM.

‘We have gathered students of different fields for this program. So it would be interesting to see whether a student in Cultural Anthropology has the same effect on STEM interest has as a student in Computer Science. But even if we just let the children think about what they want to be when they grow up and broaden their horizon, it would be a very nice outcome of this program,’ Bruijnzeel concludes. The final results of this study are not yet analyzed. The team hopes to publish their article in March.

The experience of Qing Qing Gao, student Biopharmaceutical Sciences

‘I do have an immigration background and grew up in Laakkwartier, which is known for having a lower socioeconomic status. When I was in elementary school, I was the only one in my class that went to a higher education school right away.

In this project, my group consisted of five children. Three of them were quite boisterous, but all were nice. They struggled most with the more complex math calculations. By taking them through it step by step, it went better – sometimes. The extra training from the program 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 have learned a lot from me, but I did talk a lot about my study. Maybe I have taught them a little bit by doing that.’

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