This profile was prepared when Heike Schettler was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2006.
The New Idea
Heike Schettler is breaking down the ivory tower of science by empowering young children to pro-actively question their environment, thus counteracting the fear and misunderstanding of science widespread in the adult population. Through her innovative Science Lab program, she is reforming the traditional school system by thoroughly reaching out to every kindergarten and primary school in Germany and helping them adopt a method of teaching science that is effective and fun. Recognizing that a population in which only experts can understand basic arguments on scientific topics (and therefore manipulate the masses) faces huge democratic challenges, Heike has developed a system that gives 4 to 10 year old children the opportunity to be in charge of their learning. They can appropriate science at their own pace by probing, asking and experimenting while being led to understand the complex arguments by specially trained lay-experts.By helping children learn that they are entitled to ask questions and search for answers, Heike simultaneously reverses Germany's top-down educational approach. Supporting and fostering children's curiosity from a very early age on regardless of their class background, she has built a system that empowers children and helps eradicate class as the determining factor for a child's future educational career. Heike systematically spreads her system throughout Germany, making a special effort to reach children from non-academic and low-income backgrounds, while training nationwide kindergarten instructors, primary school teachers, parents and other “laypeople” so they overcome their fear of science and feel confident to help children take charge.