Traveller children encouraged to engage with ‘Steam’ subjects in school

Those who receive the necessary supports can excel, says educator at project launch

Community educator Johnny McDonnell with (left to right) Alison Neven, Maria McDonnell, Elizabeth McDonnell, Katie McDonnell and Jessica McDonnell , all of whom participate in the Steam education programme, supported by Kinia and funded by Science Foundation Ireland. Photo: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

Community educator Johnny McDonnell with (left to right) Alison Neven, Maria McDonnell, Elizabeth McDonnell, Katie McDonnell and Jessica McDonnell , all of whom participate in the Steam education programme, supported by Kinia and funded by Science Foundation Ireland. Photo: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

 

Traveller children who excel in education tend to have parents who push them and also teachers who will “pull them”, an education worker with the community has said.

John McDonnell, who works with the Star (Supporting Travellers And Roma) project in north Dublin, says its purpose is to not only help those children who are struggling in school, but also to encourage those who are doing well to do even better.

“If you look at Travellers who have done well and gone on to further education - they had good supports, had good people around them. What is a pity is that there are so many children doing well in school who just don’t have the extra supports to really excel. That’s disappointing.

“What a child needs is to have the parents pushing them but then supports in the school and in other educators, pulling them.”

Mr McDonnell, who is a Traveller himself, was speaking at the announcement of a new scheme, funded by Science Foundation Ireland to encourage Traveller children to consider Steam (science, technology, engineering, arts, maths) subjects. It hopes to reach up to 700 Traveller children across the State in coming months.

Star, part of the Northside Partnership, has been working to promote the engagement with Steam subjects by members of the Travelling community for the past month, with five Traveller girls in senior cycle in secondary schools in north Dublin.

“I decided to offer the programme to girls because it was something completely out of their comfort zone,” says Mr McDonnell. “It was something you wouldn’t see Traveller girls doing. It challenged them and the stereotypes about them.”

He and colleagues have been trained by Kinia, an education-focussed charity managing the project, to deliver practical, fun project-based work-shops on electricity and circuits. Among the girls’ tasks have been making solar-powered fans and designing gaming consols operated from lap-tops. Equipment for the workshops is delivered weekly to participating projects.

When Alison Nevin (15) from Swords was asked to get involved she thought: “I am not good at science and I am not going to like this”, she says. “But then I got in and it was actually grand. It wasn’t too hard. You do have to put your mind to it and think. It surprised me.

“If science was like what we are doing now I would have no bother doing science. I enjoyed it. I definitely would recommend other girls to do it.”

Marianne Checkley, chief executive of Kinia, says Traveller children are among marginalised communities for whom there are few if any reference points for a career in Steam.

“We want to inspire that and show it’s not something that happens somewhere else. This is something that’s relevant and possible.

“This is important too because of the emerging digital divide and technology divide which will lock cohorts of population out of jobs and careers. It’s really important we stop this now and ensure technology and Steam careers are accessible to young people in the Traveller community.”