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Promoting diversity in STEM through Portuguese

Even though immigration is relatively new in Ireland, 10% of the students in Irish primary schools are immigrants. Having to manage culturally diverse classes is therefore a new challenge for Irish schools.   To avoid social exclusion and underachievement, support is needed at different levels: on the development of proficiency in the school language; on pupils’ acceptance of their bicultural nature; and on advancing pupils’ bilingual potential.

On Saturday, the 7th of October, a group of 4 expat researchers from Portugal and Brazil working at the APC Microbiome Institute, took their lab coats off to inspire Portuguese-speaking pupils to do science and celebrate their bilingual nature.

During this Native Scientist workshop, which took place at St. Peter’s in Cork city centre and was organised by Dr Ana Almeida in collaboration with APC’s Education and Public Engagement team, scientists talked about the immune system, the gut microbiota and the gut-brain axis. In addition to chatting with the scientists in Portuguese, the children also got to do some exciting hands-on activities.

Ana Almeida, the coordinator of this project, says “the workshop exceeded all our expectations. The children were very enthusiastic and fully engaged in the activities.”

Eimear Ferguson, APC’s Schools’ Liaison & Outreach Officer,  added “the students were invited to embrace their abilities in speaking Portuguese in a new environment. Oftentimes, their native tongue is used only at home with family. This was their opportunity to realise their rare talents in multilingualism in a completely new setting while learning from and being inspired by researchers who served as role models.”

This was the first Native Scientist  workshop in Ireland.  Native Scientist is a non-profit enterprise that connects immigrant pupils and scientists to tackle educational disadvantage and promote science and language literacy. Since its foundation in 2013, 100+ workshops have been organised, reaching over 2000 pupils.

Another workshop for Spanish-speaking children will take place in Cork early 2018.