Mary De la Peña: Children’s University celebrates learning

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Learning is at the heart of everything we do.

From taking our first steps and mastering the art of crossing the road, to understanding how to read, write and take exams, there is a journey we all take to help us progress through life, with education at the centre of it.

Recently, the Scottish Government pledged its commitment to closing the attainment gap for young Scots, particularly in primary and lower secondary schools, at an age where education can open a world of opportunities and aspirations.

This commitment is also at the heart of what we do at Children’s University Scotland because it is fundamental to ensure that as a nation we can continue to find and herald future leaders, inventors and many more of our globally recognised professions.

Set up in 2013, with the help of the ScottishPower Foundation – the charitable arm of ScottishPower which supports projects across the UK – Children’s University arrived in Scotland with a mission to encourage learning beyond the classroom. We want to encourage and inspire more young people across the country to take part in extra-curricular activities, through lunch-time or after-school clubs, in the wider community or at public learning destinations such as museums, art galleries, and country parks: experiences that will stimulate young people’s curiosity and imaginations.

Our partnership with the ScottishPower Foundation has been especially fruitful as, similarly to the recent commitments of the Scottish Government, the Foundation, like ourselves, is also dedicated to supporting the advancement of young people across the UK, opening up opportunities through education and enabling local projects which offer learning to prosper through generous funding.

At Children’s University Scotland, we do this by working to a very simple concept; as an extension of the formal school curriculum, which celebrates learning beyond the classroom, textbooks and calculators.

We recognise that learning is not static; it can take place at any time, in a wide range of environments. The emphasis is on learning rather than ‘being taught’, and the experience need not be purely academic; it is often about developing practical skills and building confidence.

Children engage in thinking, questioning, problem-solving and collaborative learning; they can access different styles of learning and take on different roles and responsibilities.

Above all, it should be fun.

Our work often brings us into communities of diverse backgrounds and it is important for us to use the work we do to stimulate and motivate a love of learning for all types of backgrounds. Our core aim is to promote social mobility by facilitating access to high-quality, exciting and innovative learning activities and experiences to children aged 5 to 14 from all backgrounds.

Most excitingly, our partnership with Scottish universities and colleges is enabling our young people to take part in inspirational graduation ceremonies to celebrate achievements recorded in their Passports to Learning. The evident pride of each student and their family at these events drives us to continue to ensure that more young people in Scotland have the opportunity to take part in their own educational journey, be that in the classroom, the local library or art gallery.

We are developing our work into more regions of Scotland every day; allowing more young people to have access to the wide range of exciting learning experiences. Children can only aspire to what they know exists; it is our ambition that Children’s University Scotland will grow to continue to inspire people, of all backgrounds, to consider future possibilities.

Mary De la Peña is the Chief Executive at Children’s University Scotland.

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