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Pupils discuss ideas during a Philosophize session

Philosophize project success made possible by the Annual Fund

Philosophize, a project created by PhD student Laura Kerslake, recently held a children’s philosophy conference on the Streatham Campus thanks to the support of the Annual Fund.

In the Spring Term of 2017, the project placed philosophy undergraduate students in primary schools to run philosophy clubs for six weeks, and culminated in a children’s philosophy conference at Streatham Campus. Children from five primary schools in and around Exeter took part, enjoying a tour of the campus and then giving philosophical presentations to the other children as well as staff and students from the University of Exeter.

The success of the project was made possible through funding from the Annual Fund, which allowed schools to hire minibuses to travel to the university, and provide supply cover for the day so that teachers could accompany the children. This was really important as it meant that schools outside of Exeter itself were able to take part. One Head Teacher described it as an “aspirational experience” for the children from her school which left them all wanting to come to university. Lucy Mannion, an Exeter philosophy graduate, also helped to inspire the children to think about university, talking to them about her experiences at university and the positive impact on her.

Children discussed big questions such as ‘Are we responsible for everything we do?’ and ‘What is art?’ and the sessions were facilitated in a highly mature and professional way by the philosophy students. The project was a fantastic opportunity for the students to get some work experience in schools; student feedback indicated that they felt more confident after taking part in the project, as well as improving their leadership skills and independence in a non-academic environment. Many of the students commented on how impressed they were with the children’s ability to think philosophically and critically.

The teachers were also impressed with the quality of the children’s discussion, observing that the children were very engaged with their philosophy sessions, which empowered them to think differently and more deeply. All of the schools who took part would do so again, and are looking at ways of using the techniques from Philosophize to carry out philosophy sessions across the whole school so that more children can benefit.

The Philosophize project also attracted the attention of local media, with children appearing on BBC Spotlight and BBC Radio Devon, as well as in the Express and Echo and the Western Morning News. This was an exciting experience for the children who took part, and also allowed Exeter students to show how well they worked with the children. The children and undergraduates demonstrated great poise as they discussed the question ‘What is bravery?’ in a room full of media people, microphones and TV cameras.

Dr Nigel Pleasants, Director of Education in Philosophy, Sociology and Anthropology, expressed his admiration for the way in which the students led the sessions, adding that the way in which the children were reasoning was an example of real philosophical thinking. 

Date: 23 January 2017

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