ReaGent: Bringing quality biology education to every child equally

The Challenge: 

The Question: 

What is the fairest way in the long term to fund education as an addition to the traditional state-funded system - from who and how?

The Problem: 

Outdated biology education

The Solution: 

An educational program as an addition to traditional education

Channels: 

Reagent is a term used in chemistry to describe a process in which one determines a presence of a substance by sparking a chemical reaction with it.

In Ghent, ReaGent is a space opened by enthusiasts of bioengineering in order to spark interest and passion for natural sciences among the citizens of the city. And to prove that the increasing know-how will play a huge role in innovation and future of technology, also with a local focus.

People are more and more aware that biology will shape future technology, by improving its performance and making it more sustainable. Yet both researchers and students lack access to knowledge about it - especially in a form of a laboratory, where everyone is free to experiment, try, learn, exchange and meet. Biology education is becoming outdated and we need students able to design the sustainable solutions of the future. The situation has been changing in the past years across Europe - many graduates, biology enthusiasts, opened biolabs equipped with instruments that they built themselves or that companies were giving away. Surprisingly, it’s a rather common situation - for many of the businesses the costs of maintenance or even disposal of these sophisticated machines is higher than just giving them away to whomever would be interested to use it.

I have been involved in ReaGent since over a year. The space offers both paid and unpaid access and program - the privileged ones fund this way free classes for poorer children. Part of the funding comes also from the memberships, which guarantee access to the lab 2 days a week.

Places like ReaGent spark creativity in sciences by working in an accessible, open and flexible manner. Their mission now is to give access to this type of education to the whole of Flanders, and extend their network by inviting for example designers to come and create biodegradable materials.

As OPENandchange allied, ReaGent would bring about the same qualities to the application: they would bring scientific education, which in turn would be used in innovation and hacking applicable in care.

If you have advice or another project which is relevant, let's discuss it here. A question to get the discussion going: what is the fairest way in the long term to fund education outside of, but as an addition to, the traditional state-funded system - from who and how?
 

http://reagentlab.org/

Comments

A great idea

Alex Levene's picture

Thank you Winnie for sharing this with us.

This sounds like a brilliant project, and a great use of resources that would otherwise be wasted.

I'm not sure that i know the answer to your questions?

But perhaps you would like to make contact with @Merel Claes who is also on Edgeryders and works in the Netherlands in some of the areas you are investigating.

Thank you Alex. It is funny

WinniePoncelet's picture
Thank you Alex. It is funny how you meet the same people in different places. I'm working together with Merel on a P2P initiative to let people grow edible insects at home, as a form of urban farming and food autonomy. How did you come into contact with him?

Partnership with schools?

Noemi's picture

Hi @WinniePoncelet and welcome to Edgeryders! I checked your website to see what projects students are experimenting with right now but unfortunately I don't speak Flemish :-( Can you give us an example? New biodegradable materials are always interesting, I was watching this video the other day about fabric from kombucha, a bacteria I myself tried as tea (tastes great btw).

To your question, I dont know much about business models but I'm wondering if you can finance at least part of the work through collaborations with schools where you provide a curricula and a new kind of classroom, and the school covers tutors salaries and some materials. Maybe you're doing this already? 

Morning laugh

WinniePoncelet's picture
Hi Noemi, thanks for that video. The instant sound of kombucha slime landing on that table blasting through my speakers made me laugh out loud during my morning coffee. An example of a workshop is a DNA Cluedo (or Clue?) game where children in group have to solve a murder using biochemical and forensic techniques. We haven't crossed any language borders yet, but hopefully we will in the future :). We're now going to start testing out in what way we can work together with schools. So far it seems like they have very limited means. We will try and make it work regardless, the way you mention might work. Thanks for the tips :)

Not clients, partners

Alberto's picture

In most of Europe schools have no money (I do not know the situation in Flanders). But they make great partners. In Italy, we have a legislation (and, by now, a tradition) of local businesses supporting extracurricular activities in schools. Good school principals build a network of local businesses they work with. So, it could work like this: you involve a school, then – together with the school principal – you target local businesses to support the activity. 

Anyway, @WinniePoncelet , congrats, that's a great project. I live in Brussels, and will keep you guys on the map with a view of looking you up. We visited Gent just a couple of weeks ago with @teirdes – we would have knocked on your door if we had known you existed! 

Great input

WinniePoncelet's picture

Thank you @Alberto for the kind words and valuable advice.

If you're ever around again, let us know and we'll gladly show you around :). Will you be there in Brussels for the workshop in September?

Yes on both counts

Alberto's picture

@WinniePoncelet I will make sure to let you know. In fact, I could even come just for a visit of ReaGent, it's really close to Brussels. And yes, I will most likely be at the workshop. :-)

For school collaborations parents make for a great ally.

Noemi's picture

@WinniePoncelet, yes I've played CLUEDO but it's never occured to me that it's a good edu resource. Whoa.

My mom is a computer science teacher. She is organising tech contests and involves IT companies who are very much on the lookout for future hires. They not only sponsor by providing the prizes, but also come and become juries in the contests, and enjoy meeting bright young people. True, they are true moneybags, but thriving businesses are probably not a rarity. Also, the Education Ministry has passed a provision saying that a week every year in spring all schools have the opportunity to insert more creative and unconventional programming in their schedule: "Different School" is called - completely decentralized, so teachers themselves select and organise activities for their pupils - including taking them outside school.

Have you met @Rozina? She mentioned that the school has no time to think extracurricularly but if parents or other supporters can lead, than they are up for hosting more creative things..  

Inspiring

WinniePoncelet's picture

Thank you for sharing Noemi, that's also quite an interesting approach. Biotech is still in the early stage, but it should be possible. What I am especially curious about is how we can cooperate with different actors on the controversial issues, like GMO. We don't pick any side, because we don't think there should be polarized sides: we want to tell a nuanced story, which is the hardest task of all. But as soon as you involve big biotech, concerned citizens might drop out and self-censor. The same could happen vice versa. Perhaps it is ideal to steer clear of the subject for a while, there are so many other interesting things to talk about anyway.

I've not met @Rozina, but I saw her around on some events in Brussels. I believe she was talking about schools for children with special needs, if I am not mistaken. But perhaps the same holds true for standard schools, we will try and find out :)

Great to see you made your

Merel's picture
Great to see you made your way to Edgeryders @WinniePoncelet and thanks @Alex Levene for bringing me into this loop! I am indeed working with Winnie and a few others on an P2P initiative to let people grow edible insects at home. I saw the project as a slow burner. It is hard to bring the P2P approach to the public and it's a constant experiment to find the right approach to get is going. For me and the others, the project is going down on the priority ladder of all our activities...

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