This is a Guest blog from Fran Plowright FRSA, media and youth engagement producer, who has worked with students from RSA Academies to create a series of podcasts.
What About Tomorrow? is a series of four short audio podcasts, brainstormed, researched and voiced by students from the RSA Academies around the theme of uncertainty and what it means to be a young person growing up today.
As an RSA Fellow with a background in radio production, youth engagement and mentoring, I was delighted to be asked to combine my skills and experience to give a platform to some of the younger members of the RSA community to express their opinions about the world they are growing up in and to encourage them to talk about what they really think about their education, aspirations and values. What opportunities do they really think await them? How do they think they can better equip themselves to achieve successful, independent and happy futures in these rapidly changing times?
The brief was to allow their authentic voices, opinions, wishes, hopes, fears and dreams to come across, as well as give them the opportunity to be involved in the production process, learn some presenting and editing skills and gain confidence in interviewing people. Interviewees ranged from fellow students and teachers to a series of experts and professionals in the fields of education, technology, youth engagement, gaming and psychotherapy.
Leading on this project was Whitley Academy in Coventry, where I spent a morning back in March with a small group of Year 10 and Year 12 students, brainstorming how we might best create something that would allow each Academy to explore the umbrella theme of uncertainty and form a series of linked programmes.
Whitley students settled on the umbrella title What About Tomorrow? They decided that they would focus their podcast on education, creativity and identity, looking at how you encourage young people to develop high self-esteem and inner confidence, gain a good set of qualifications from school or college and simultaneously develop a wide ranging skill set that equips you to go out into the fast paced, 21st century world with a good chance of 'success' and 'happiness'. Along their journey they met and interviewed Sir Ken Robinson, as well as Ian Livingstone, Life president Eidos and inventor of Lara Croft, plus Sam Conniff and Michelle Clothier, CEO and MD respectively of youth marketing and engagement agency Livity.
Whitley also came up with a brief which they sent round to all the pupils at the other schools who had been chosen to participate in this project, suggesting that under this umbrella theme of uncertainty, they consider a few of the headings that came from their brainstorm as possible themes for their podcast: work, aspirations, opportunities, education, technology, confidence and appearance. It quickly became evident that students at the other schools were equally as enthusiastic as Whitley about their brief and very keen to have their voices heard.
Interesting and sometimes heated conversations followed as I toured the Midlands and travelled the Victoria Line from Finsbury Park to Vauxhall to kick start the process in each Academy so that all schools would be working simultaneously on a shared goal.
RSA Academy Tipton decided to focus on work and aspirations. In an area where unemployment is quite high, and traditionally people left school at 16 and went to work in local industries, coal mines until the pit closures in the 1960's and then the factories and more recently trade and retail industries or hand to mouth work, the students wanted to explore if and how things have changed over the generations and decided to interview three generations of a family, the youngest of these -a year 10 pupil at RSA Tipton - Alex Beddall being the first in his family to be planning to go to University. They also visited their local steel factory Carparo and interviewed Loic Menzies, Director of LKMco on whether he thinks it is lack of aspiration, or in fact just lack of opportunity that is preventing children from less privileged backgrounds from being encouraged to aim high and do well at school and beyond. They called their Podcast 'The Big Unknown'.
The pupils at Arrow Vale RSA Academy and its sister school Ipsley CE RSA Academy called their podcast 'Technology, Friend or Foe?’ Pupils ranging from Years 5 up to Year 12 from both schools joined forces to examine the pros and cons of growing up in an age of rapid technological change. Is technology making teenagers lazy and producing a generation of couch potatoes bereft of the capacity for original thought, relying on Google and social media to tell them how the world is rather than experience it first hand? Is it dangerous and uncontrollable and leaving young people much more vulnerable and strangely unsupervised?, is it detracting from a healthy more active life or do the benefits by far outweigh the possible cons, allowing for greater knowledge, access to information, education, more sophisticated ways of communication and does it intact lend itself much better to creative freedom of ideas and expression? After the initial discussions and brain storm, a couple of year 10 students from the Arrow Vale radio group, took on the challenge of creating the podcast, interviewing fellow students and staff. They also sought the expert advice via Skype of Cisco Systems' technology and educational advisor Dr Michelle Selinger, as well as blogger, educator and teacher Ewan Mcintosh.
Back in south London, a group of Year 9 students from Lilian Baylis Technology School decided to take a closer look at whether teenagers these days have bowed to increasing pressure from the media, magazines, fashion and music industries plus non stop images of each other on social networking sites like Facebook to look a certain way and conform to stereotypes of what is deemed attractive and therefore acceptable. Do young people in particular worry about this more than they worry about their school work or their futures? As well as interviewing their fellow teachers and students they also visited the charity Kids Company in Kennington, to meet up with Director and psychotherapist Camilla Batmanghelidjh. They called their podcast 'Individually Beautiful'.
These podcasts came together over a five month period, during which time the students really did go on a journey of discovery, watching how an idea can change and morph and take on a life of its own. They also got to understand the highs and lows of the production process. Appointments had to be re-made, timetables shuffled and re-organised, many hours were spent editing and re-recording things that had fallen foul of technical hitches or simply needed to be re-recorded as things progressed. Staff in each school- to whom I am very grateful - worked hard to ensure that interviews took place as planned. For me, an essential and rewarding part of this process is not only the satisfaction of hearing the finished result, but also when working with young people in this way. It is essential that they get a glimpse of what it's like to have to deliver a high quality product on schedule to a deadline as if in a real work situation.
Overall, the project has been a very exciting one and many of the staff and the students who have been involved are very keen to follow up the podcast series with a debate or panel discussion bringing together the pupils and some of the experts involved to discuss some of the themes and main ideas raised during the enquiry. Watch this space!
I will leave the last words to RSA Whitley Head Boy, 17 year old Prince Chivaka who presents and signs off the series.
"Whilst we are left with more questions than definite answers, we hope that having heard these podcasts, you can form your own opinions. And more than this, we hope we have created a platform for young people to communicate how we feel about some of the issues that matter most to us to a large adult audience. Finally, we hope you enjoy listening to the podcasts as much as we have enjoyed making them."
For more information about the podcasts and to hear the series in full please visit RSA Academies - Frontline Voices.