UCL Minds


Transcript: Episode 27

How can we all help schools and school children during the pandemic?


pandemic, programmes, ucl, people, lockdown, support, students, schools, teachers, louise, engineering, inequalities, education, child, research, pupils, question, work, important, stem


Tiwa Jayeola, Elpida Makrygianni, Vivienne Parry, Louise Archer


Vivienne Parry  00:03

Hello and welcome to Coronavirus: The Whole Story. UCL's award winning podcast all about Coronavirus told from the perspective of UCL staff and students. My name is Vivienne Perry. I'm a writer, broadcaster and UCL alumna and your guide to the groundbreaking Coronavirus research happening here at UCL. In this episode, we're going to be looking at how the pandemic has affected UCL's, extensive and important outreach programme. UCL does an enormous amount of work in schools and local communities to help make its research accessible and to help reduce inequalities in our education system. So this week, I'm joined by guests from the Department of Engineering and the IOE, who are all involved in outreach in different ways. I want to know what ways has outreach been hindered on why is it more necessary than ever in these times of pandemic. My first guest is Louise Archer, who holds the Karl Mannheim Chair of sociology of education in the IOE. Louise researches educational inequality, and how it intersects with different identities along lines of gender, ethnicity, and social class. Louise has been conducting a longitudinal study during lockdown to understand its effects on a cohort of young people and has been developing resources to help teachers tackle the education gap which has been both highlighted and widened by COVID. My second guest this week is Dr. Elpida Makrygianni. Elpida is a UCL engineering education developer and coordinator. She's the person tasked with delivering UCL engineering's 5050 strategy that aims to increase the representation of girls and minority ethnic students. Through UCL's outreach programmes. Elpida has worked on education programmes for organisations in the private public and voluntary sectors, including the Department of Education, Google, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. And last but not least, and a very particular Welcome to Tiwa Jayeola, a UCL engineering graduate. Not only has Tiwa completed an MSc in Civil Geomatic and Environmental Engineering during lockdown, hooray! But she has also spent the pandemic supporting secondary school students as a tutor in UCL engineering tutoring programmes. Let's start with Louise during lockdown. You've been working on the ESRC funded aspires project. Tell us a bit more about that and how it's been affected by Coronavirus.


Louise Archer  02:34

So the ESRC funded aspires project is it's been going for a long time now, we've been tracking the same cohort of young people from age 10. And we've caught up with them this year. And they're currently aged 20-21. So it's a really unique way that we can follow the lives of these young people. This year, we had expected, we would normally have gone to visit and interview them face to face. But obviously they those plans were scuppered by the lockdown, they actually gave us this really interesting opportunity to talk actually at length. Young people were very, you know, they were available. And they were able to talk to us through internet calls and video conferencing, and to tell us about their lives. And in particular, this bit that we haven't seen when we put the grant in, but to understand the impact of the lockdown on them at the moment, alongside the other issues we're looking at about what makes them continue on not with science, technology, engineering and maths.


Vivienne Parry  03:33

So that was a really wonderful opportunity. And yes, academics were more excited than anything else going on in their lives. Tell me what your findings were.


Louise Archer  03:45

So in terms of the impact of of lockdown, unsurprisingly, we found that they, they recorded far, many more negative impacts than positive impacts. So the majority of them told us that in as we all know, it impacted them socially, emotionally, financially and educationally but it impacted different people in different ways. So those young people from less affluent backgrounds, or experience special educational needs and disabilities, mental health issues, they were disproportionately affected. So for example, we had young people telling us that it wasn't just the the terrible, you know, the impact socially and emotionally of the lockdown, but actually it stopped them doing really important vital paid employment. So for some students, they have no financial safety net from their families. And the saying actually, without this normal term time and holiday work, they simply don't have the income to that my need to get by. So the same thing for young people with for example, mental health difficulties, everyone found it troublesome or difficult, challenging, but for them it was even more problematic. So again, this this idea of differential impacts and impacting the most vulnerable the most


Vivienne Parry  04:59

and we've Spoken often in this podcast series about inequalities, from your experience of this work, has the pandemic widened these inequalities still further?


Louise Archer  05:11

Yes, I think it's important to remember that these inequalities were already there before. So, but they have been exacerbated. I think it's welcome that there's now been a shift in public discourse, and much more openness and willingness to engage with issues of inequality. We've had the Black Lives Matter movement, climate, justice, and so on. So it's been very challenging, but I welcome that foregrounding of inequalities. But I think it's also important how we think about them. So there's a lot of talk in education at the moment about the idea of the education gap. And young people falling behind this is obviously important, but the work we've drawn on from people like Gloria Ladson Billings in the States from black feminist work, that actually if we think about the education gap, as an education debt, it makes us think differently about whose responsibility is, I think we need to make sure there can be a tendency to sort of blame those who are suffering from the gaps or debt, as somehow, you know, they they're lacking, they're in a deficit, right? And it's their fault. But actually, if we reframe it as a debt, it, it shows that it's our duty as a society, to support them and to and to close those inequalities.


Vivienne Parry  06:23

So for you, in some ways, COVID has been an opportunity because you've got to have these much richer conversations. As a result of having more time, has there been anything that surprised you or which has informed how you might do research in the future?


Louise Archer  06:41

I think it's probably made all of us think very differently around how we work and how we do research. I think the importance of recognising that the time issues, how we collaborate together, and so on, at a very basic level, I think it's also really made us aware that we do we have enough resources and tools for educators to actually support them, and what does it mean to do social justice work? So we became really aware that we talked to teachers and data school educators about the importance of adopting a social justice or an equity mindset to address these issues. But what does that mean? And we became really aware through conversations with our practice partners that it's really vague. So some of the work we've been doing has been to try and make that a bit more concrete. We're just in the process now of launching a new conceptual tool. We call it the equity compass, because it's just a conceptual way to help you orientate yourself to think about what what do I need? What does that mean thinking about equity in my research? So it's a simple little diagram that has eight points on it, eight things that you can think about when you feel trying to do equitable practice. And they're like prompts, and it's, it has like a scale, so you can think you can see where you're sitting. So when you feel thinking about issues of power, or how how participator is my teaching? How much am I valuing and recognising what the students bring in their own knowledge and interests? And what matters to them? or How much is it really just fulfilling my interests or the interests of science or society? It's a simple tool that we're using the teachers now to school educators to try and help them.


Vivienne Parry  08:22

And it's got similarities, actually, with a lot of the kind of health research we we hear about where it's patient centric, you know, where the child is at the centre of an educator’s work, rather than sometimes, you know, the research pushing the research agenda, rather than necessarily the child's agenda.


Louise Archer  08:39

Absolutely. It is the same point. And I think it for us, we work in the context of science, technology, engineering and math. And I think too often, people with really good intentions see STEM as, as a destination, rather than as a vehicle to help get people towards destinations that they want for themselves. So for addressing your own personal health issues of helping solve the climate crisis, there are all these things that STEM can be really important and useful for and we want to bring that front and centre rather than seeing it as we just need to get more people into STEM for the benefit of STEM.


Vivienne Parry  09:14

I couldn't agree with that more. Let me move now to Elpida. What kinds of programmes was UCL engineering, already running to help decrease inequality in STEM attainment?


Elpida Makrygianni  09:24

So we run over 100 programmes, together with others in partnership with organisations and charities, government and also companies. The programs span from summer schools to tutoring and mentoring programmes to virtual experience programmes now and previously face to face with experience and research placement and more. One of the key things for us and for our approach is that we work with the same schools and the same communities over time in a meaningful way and sustained way that we take the same young people, and we work with them through the months and through the years in different programmes and interventions.


Vivienne Parry

So what happened when COVID came along? Presumably, it all came screeching to a halt.


Elpida Makrygianni

So, February 20, we're starting to get kind of the first hint that there's going to be a national lockdown, there's going to be school closures. And there was the the question there, what do we do? Do we kind of pause, reflect, and do what we've always been doing, which is go back to the local communities we work with and listen to them, listen to what the most important thing was for them during the crisis, and how we could support them in depth catering to their needs, and in a sustained and meaningful way again, over time, what did that look like? So in March 2020, we decided to and after talking to these communities for a while, so we talked to teachers, we talked to youth workers, we talked to community leaders to really understand the bigger picture of what they were dealing with. Everyone was shocked, exhausted, and overwhelmed. And no one had the answers of what we would need it to be done. But one thing that came across from the communities we work with was that they needed some type of ongoing support to what the schools were trying to offer, while pupils were at home. So the online learning that was taking place, so whatever we had to do had to be complimentary to what the schools and the youth centres and local communities were offering.


Vivienne Parry  11:50

And actually, quite often schools were not offering as much as we would have liked them to offer us.



So it's quite varied. Do you have a wide range across the sector of schools that we're doing daily online classes, to schools that had a virtual learning environment, where pupils could access the particular content and resources and assignments or tests they needed to prepare. And they also had schools that send an email week with a PowerPoint or PDF. That said, you know, these are all the different things that you need to be studying for the week. And you can imagine that this was kind of overwhelming both for the parents and carers, but also for the young people themselves.


Vivienne Parry  12:36

Yeah, I mean, for the for the parents, I mean, an engineering Master's is completely out of Oh, yeah. Many parents comfort zone.



Yeah, absolutely. And they can't help at all. And the thing is, it's it's not only that it is that our students that actually supported the online tutoring programme, which is the programme that that was our answer, if he like, do the pandemic, we're trained to deliver these subjects. And we're guided always by the teachers. So the teachers would let us know about each pupils situation and about assessing the different areas whether people's needed support. So what was brilliant about what we were able to offer was that it was a tailored intervention to every young person's individual learning style, ability and pace. And that makes learning really relevant in a time where everything around them


Vivienne Parry  13:40

I think, was changing. And in fact, learning is a as you suggest, it's it's a constant, isn't it? It's something to hang on to and focus on at a time when nothing else is certain. Absolutely. I want to ask you the same question that I asked Louise. How did it change what you might do in the future?



So although COVID-19 and the the the entire pandemic has had a devastating effect in so many different areas that Louise and you've mentioned already, Vivian, we felt that there's been a real opportunity here, a real opportunity to rethink our approach to education, to remake education, as we call it, and also with regards to the debt, the so the educational gap that's contextualised as a debt which leads was talking about before, I think we have a collective duty here, we really have a collective duty right now to to step up, and to increase our efforts to support those affected the most and those that needed the most. And we can actually see several great examples of this kind of collective effort at a local level and also at an On level, and I can speak a bit more about that if you want.


Vivienne Parry  15:03

Yes. Because I was wondering how confident are you that you're reaching those students who most need you, because a lot of students who have very engaged teachers get into programmes like this, whereas the ones that actually could fly with some help from UCL, perhaps fall under the radar, not through anything that they've done, but just because, you know, their own teachers and not really aware?


Elpida Makrygianni  15:36

Yeah, absolutely. So we have been dealing with this issue long before the pandemic. All this has always been the communities we've been working with. So we have established ways of working with them and identifying them. And also, this is why I said to you before that, when in February, when we started seeing that we were going towards lockdown and school closures, we knew that the first contacts we would lose would be to the children, young people that we need to be supporting the most, they would be the ones that would fall off the radar immediately, we would not be able to contact them. And that's why we went to to them first and to their parents first. And I will just say that, on a personal level, what we did have to do with a lot of the young people, because a lot of their parents were key workers, and we're working 48 hour shifts and 72 hour shifts, we did have to say, We're available to you, anytime of the day, get in touch with us so that we can set up the online programme with you for your child. And I can tell you that everyone did get back. But it might have taken more time, it might have taken more effort. But every single parent that we wanted to work with did come back. But absolutely, that is that that was our first concern. Another way of getting in touch with these young people is through the community centres for the youth centres, because they will still and they did still go to the community centres for different reasons. So it might be that were free meals there. Or there was some type of sport activity that they could do and so forth.


Vivienne Parry  17:23

Just a final question for you. Because I'm I'm intrigued that, you know, access online access is something that depends on you having good broadband, not too many other people in your household using it. And you know that a device, and lots of kids who've just got phones and a pretty rubbish Wi Fi. And I know from where I live in, which is not far from UCL, that at six o'clock, I can't get any Wi Fi at all, because all the kids are going home and immediately into the games and using Apple broadband. But that that is a real pressing issue for people, isn't it?


Elpida Makrygianni  18:10

Absolutely. And I think that moving forward. And going back also to your previous question about you know, what, what, what does the future look like? I think that moving forward, one of the things that this pandemic is making us do is pushing us to really understand what type of structures we need to put in place with regards to digital poverty. And with regards to entire communities and families and young people that are excluded from online learning and from learning during this pandemic. But also beyond this pandemic. We we solve this in a few different ways. We've had, again, a range of situations, we've had young people that have had both an internet connection and a device. We've had young people that have had a family device that they used. And then we also had issues with internet broadband. So the ways that we we found that worked really well was that what was interesting was that family members did respect the scheduled time that we had the tutoring for the day, the the pupil had access to a laptop and the internet. Now I should explain that because we were all under lockdown. It was much easier for us to have a session at 11 in the morning or 2pm or when when there was there were not so many people constantly online. And the other aspect is that has to do with the devices is that we did two different things. The first one was look at apps and look at tools that crunched up the left less data as less data as possible. And one of the other things that we also did was look at also getting netbooks, and tablets to the young people that needed it the most. Now, I should mention here, as I was saying before, that there are several examples of this great collective effort that's currently happening, where organisations are coming together. And they're trying to support with devices they're trying to support in different ways. One example of this is Camden and Camden learning, they've been able to secure devices and connections for around 3000 pupils that needed the most. And then another example for how we came together, all connected online, is also our work with the Olympic Park and East London, were the London legacy Development Corporation brought all the different Park partners around the Olympic Park to work on a three week entirely online summer school that had arts and design and engineering and science and fashion, and the media, and everyone involved. And that gave us also a glimpse of hope, if you like, in a sense that we all came together, we shared expertise, we helped each other


Vivienne Parry  21:26

and we're all in great need of hope at the moment. So that's, that's terrific to hear all of that I want to go now to t where t you had a really rotten pandemic, because, you know, there we were trying to finish your MSC and you were also trying to do engagement programmes, the lockdown, and you do engineering tutoring, so I didn't which one, which bit of that he wants to talk about first. But let's start with what you actually do as an engineering tutor.


Tiwa Jayeola  21:59

Yes, it was quite challenging. I must say it was very strange. But it was it was to be honest. And I've said it to Elpida many, many times that doing this has been one of the greatest joys of this pandemic of the strange times. And so as I love to hear joy in a pandemic, honestly, I you know, I've been involved with them for such a long time and carrying on especially at a time like this was nothing short of fulfilling for me. And yeah, so as an engineering tutor, I basically work alongside Elpida and a wider team. And we support the students with whatever subject they choose to maths, physics, chemistry, biology, and you know, any topics that they they need help with. And we go through their curriculum, and we speak to their teachers, we get access to their online platforms, and we go through their work and try to stick to that work, and help them to feel confident, you know, I think, more than anything, it was a question of, can you help me because I don't have my teacher here. And you know, the work a lot of the work was to be supportive, and just just let them know that yes, yes, yes, I can just tell me what you need help with. And we can do it together. And, you know, it had many facets to it outside of academic as well, which was also just to motivate them, to inspire them. And to just be a be a source of comfort, I guess at a very weird time for everyone.


Vivienne Parry  23:35

It sounds like everyone needs a tea. We're in the cupboard. Just perfectly Hello, tea, where can you answer this problem about quadratic equation? But how did you? How did you have to? I mean, you do that normally? Yeah, what particular things did you have to do to adapt it? Because I'm getting a sense from you that actually, almost the emotional support was as important as the teaching element. Yeah.


Tiwa Jayeola  24:02

Yeah, absolutely. In terms of adapting, so what had happened actually, so far was, I work full time and my master's was actually part time. So there's that aspect of life. So in terms of adapting and working with students, so constantly, I hadn't actually done that much prior to, to March, you know, for that year, because work just kept being quite busy. So when it got through it, and I was also sort of, you know, getting into it, as well as, you know, learning how to do this online with the students. So what we had to adapt to was our method of sort of writing so we we've had to do a lot of screen sharing a lot of jotting things down Can you see me Can you not see me a lot of showing our, our workings on the camera, putting your notebook up close to the camera. And it was I think it was fun. It was it was To me, it was fun. I'm glad I think the students also had some fun, just in all the craziness, just muddling through, you know, even when internet connections were bad and going wrong, we just carried on and powered through with our learning. And I think it was also good because they get set homework. And what happens is, before they hand it in, they can tell us Oh, can you please help me with this question? I wasn't sure about oh, I


Vivienne Parry  25:24

so wished I'd had you too. So then you want to wait, you're doing as far as I can understand, you know, 13 hour days doing all of this? And of course, let's not forget that you were doing a job and your MSC as well, at the same time? How did you cope with the stress?


Tiwa Jayeola  25:50

And how did I do it? It's a very good question. I wish I knew. I think to be quite honest with you, I just took everything one step at a time. And I just tried to, you know, I think it was a very fight or flight moment for me. And there was just no other option. I had been working for two years to complete this master's degree. And there was just, I just did not want to extend it. I didn't want to come out of it. I had some what issues as well, at that time, and I just, I just could not do it. And, and with STEM, and with the engineering outreach programme, I think, at some stage, everyone was trying to be helpful, you know, if there was a point where you felt helpless, you know, you couldn't what could I contribute? What could I do? And to me, this was my opportunity to, to help in some way, especially we were working with the children of key workers, we're working with children who otherwise wouldn't have access to any educational support at such a strange time. And that was my motivation. And that was why of all the things that I could have taken off my plate. This wasn't an option for me. I just wanted to do it. And I wanted to carry on and yeah, and I'm glad I did. Really glad I did.


Vivienne Parry  27:07

So people will never forgive me if I didn't ask you this question. But what's next for t word?


Tiwa Jayeola  27:14

was an extra tailor. So a great question. Um, so I completed my Master's in September,





Tiwa Jayeola  27:22

Yay. I'm in engineering and international development. And what's next for me now is to find a role. So I was also a major dundurn, actually, during the pandemic, so to find a role in international development, where I can carry on working as an engineer, you know, in sort of less less privileged countries, I'm working on projects to build the economy in, you know, just more developing economies, I guess, around the world. And yeah, so that's my next step. And in many ways, continue in some capacity to be a stem ambassador, and to keep working with young people and inspiring them, especially young women, to just carry on doing what they love and not not to be scared of it, as well.


Vivienne Parry  28:09

Well, tea Well, I think I'm, I'm pretty confident in saying that I you will be in full employment very, very soon. I was trying to end these programmes, because we live in such strange times. And it'll seem such a dark and horrible tunnel that we're in. But I offer people a magic wand. And I asked them if there's one thing that having been up close and personal in this time of pandemic, and I want to concentrate on the education system. What is it that having discovered what you've discovered during lockdown? What if you could wave your magic wand? would you change? and money is no object, by the way. So let's start with Louise. I like that money


Louise Archer  29:01

started. Obviously, I I would want for proper funding for the education system that gives teachers time time to reflect and I have the resources, from the physical resources to having the time to engage with these issues, reflect and teach in a way that is meaningful to support young people. I think we can't underestimate the pressures teachers are under what schools are being forced to do. You know, we expect so much of schools, and I think they need that the money and the time and the resource and the respect to be able to do it properly.


Vivienne Parry  29:40

And I if there was one thing that I think that happened during pandemic and the lockdown is that parents had a whole new respect for teachers, as in hacker two toothless, every day all day, as they battled with their children to try and homeschool out Peter. What about you


Elpida Makrygianni  30:00

I would totally agree with Louise, absolutely support the teachers support the schools, fund them properly. Listen to the teachers, they really do know best, they have gone through this entire pandemic. And they know what needs to be done. And the thing is, what we sometimes fail to remember is that they will have their own child care. Through this pandemic, they had their own child care to deal with, they had content they needed to develop for the pupils that were at home. So online content, but also resources and content for the young people with children, key workers that were coming into school, and they've been able to do all of it. I really don't know how I know that when we appreciate all of them, and we should appreciate them more and more.


Vivienne Parry  30:49

T bruh. You've got a magic one. Now, apart from we are going to do a collective magic wand and make sure you've got a new job. But apart from that, from that, from your experience of the of the kids that you helped, yeah, what would you do?


Tiwa Jayeola  31:07

Honestly, mine's pretty easy. I would, I would I would give every child a cheater. And I think that the work that the engineering outreach programme has done and, you know, we have stats that we received recently, just about the students performances, even during the pandemic that's just been so uplifting and just so so great to see how improve the students are how much you know, the pandemic did not have negative impacts or the expected amount or extent of negative impacts that were that that they thought it would have. So absolutely, we'll get get every student a tutor, and, and and have


Vivienne Parry  31:50

you with magic words.


Tiwa Jayeola  31:53

That's your wish.


Vivienne Parry  31:56

Very good. So, first of all, if you are teachers listening, feel the love beaming your way. And if you're one of those engineering tutors, from UCL engineering, also feel the love because it's clear that you're very much appreciated by the people that you've been working with. So I'm going to thank you all now and say goodbye. You've been listening to Coronavirus the whole story. This episode was presented by myself Vivienne Parry, produced by UCL with support from the UCL Health of the Public and UCL Grand Challenges and edited by the splendid Cerys Bradley. Our guests today were Professor Louise Archer, Dr Elpida Makrygianni and Tiwa Jayeola. If you'd like to hear more of these podcasts from UCL Minds, subscribe wherever you download your podcasts, or visit ucl.ac.uk forward slash Coronavirus. This podcast is brought to you by UCL Minds, bringing together UCL knowledge, insights and expertise through events, digital content, and activities open to everyone. Hope to be with you again soon. Bye for now.