A story of a young girl’s dream. How do we help our kids to reach for the stars?

Driving to work the other morning I was streaming a BBC Radio 4 series Loose Ends, I started listening to the program as host, Clive Anderson was introducing his next guest. Her story captivated me.

Maggie struggled at school, she was dyslexic, reading and writing was a challenge. She described her experiences at school,  “I was up the back of the class with the safety scissors and the glitter. I was very disenfranchised”. Maggie went to 13 different schools.

Image‘Maggie’ is Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE, Research fellow University College London and a space scientist, building satellites that go up in space, and a science communicator, translating the complexities of science into a simple format for everybody to understand. Her degree was in physics and PhD in mechanical engineering, the perfect match for making satellites.

Today, Maggie is the host of the BBC TV program The Sky at Night, one of BBC’s longest running programs. She has recently taken over as host since the death of the long-standing and much-respected host, Dr Patrick Moore.

As a young child Maggie had always wanted to go into space, after watching the children’s program The Clangers. Despite her learning difficulties, she always had a dream about science and space.

In the interview she said,

Then I started doing science classes and I remember distinctly when the teacher asked a question, I put up my hand, I looked around the class and no one else had put up their hand, so I put mine down because I was the dumb one. “Then I thought, no, give it a try” and I got the answer right. If you have a dream or desire, it can carry you through and make you determined to succeed.

At school, Maggie didn’t feel encouraged to pursue her dream to be a scientist.

That’s one of my arguments with teaching. I think we should get people to aspire, to reach the stars, to aim very high. I think sometimes they fear that and say, oh no, well Maggie, why don’t you go into nursing? Nursing is a wonderful profession but I don’t think that was what I was cut out for. So I think we should get kids to aspire and have dreams. To overcome the hurdles and I think if you have a dream you can do that.

Maggie knew how to work the system:

The last school I went to the teachers asked me “what stream should you be in, the upper stream or the lower stream?” I said, “Yeah, definitely the upper stream,” because it is so much easier to get transferred down, than it is to get transferred up. So I just blagged my way in, really, an opportunist.

How do we help to make school the place that gives oxygen to the dreams and aspirations that every child . Maggie had a strong sense determination, she knew what she wanted to do. Her circumstances (13 schools) probably meant she didn’t have that one teacher that could share the journey and nurture and encourage her dreams, but she did it anyway.

Can we counter Maggie’s argument with teaching:

  • Know our students
  • Listen to the things that make their eyes sparkle when they talk
  • Provide opportunities for them to pursue their dreams
  • Make the path smooth

And most importantly, let’s make school the place where dreams can flourish.



Bio information

BBC Radio 4: Loose Ends, broadcast Saturday 8 February

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