From education to employment

One-size-fits-all education system challenged by young people with bold ideas on climate change, mental health, and inclusion

  • The Big Education Challenge, from charity Big Change, today announces 15 finalists awarded funding and support to develop their early-stage ideas to transform education. 
  • Over the next six months, the finalists, 13 of whom are young people with direct experience of the problems they want to solve, will develop their projects through peer learning and one-to-one coaching, delivered by Big Change in partnership with The Young Foundation. 
  • “These inspirational young people, many of whom feel failed by their education, are brave enough to try and tackle some of the most systemic challenges in education, from inclusion to mental health. We couldn’t be prouder to support them on their journey”, explains Essie North, CEO, Big Change.
  • The finalists will each be awarded between £10,000 and £50,000 to develop ideas into pilots that have the potential to impact tens of thousands of young people across the UK who experience similar challenges.

Ideas to make education more inclusive and that address racism, climate anxiety, mental health, loss and trauma, and food poverty, have made it to the final 15 for the Big Education Challenge. The £1 million prize fund, which launched for the first time in November 2022, was open to anyone with bold ideas to transform education. The prize fund, from charity Big Change, is identifying and rewarding ideas with the potential to make a lasting and positive difference to the education system as we know it. 

Last Autumn, research from the charity revealed 7 in 10 young people aged 18-25 in the UK felt that the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to education is failing too many young people. Today’s 15 finalists, most of whom are aged 18-25, will now be supported to develop their ideas ahead of final judging later in the year, when up to six of the ideas will receive up to £200,000 to run pilots to transform education.

The finalists include:

  • Farhad Gohar, aged 19 from Manchester, who was sent to Pakistan as a teenager after becoming involved in gangs, and has now founded Potential. The project will mentor and support young people at risk of joining gangs or of exclusion from school, to develop entrepreneurship skills and create legitimate enterprises. 
  • Caitlin Glover, aged 18 from Chelmsford, struggled at school due to dyslexia and severe ADHD, which she now recognises as her “superpowers”. She has created Cognexus, an app that identifies neurodivergent traits and gives learners personalised strategies to help them succeed in education and life. 
  • Melvin Riley, aged 21 from the West Midlands, faced a school system that didn’t understand the unique challenges of racism. His idea, Not So Micro, will campaign for policy reform to ensure that schools are held accountable for promoting racial inclusion. It will also create an anti-racism and microaggression training programme for educators. 

Farhad Gohar, aged 19 from Manchester, said:

“I grew up in a world where drug dealers were the only successful entrepreneurs I knew. But I saw that their skills – strategic thinking, risk management, and determination – could be transferred to something positive. So, I started a social enterprise, teaching these skills to young people involved or at risk and empowering them to become successful business owners and leaders as an alternative to crime.”

Essie North, CEO, Big Change, said:

“We know from research that there is appetite for big changes in education. But if we keep asking the same people to come up with solutions we will only get different versions of the same answers. 

“This challenge is about supporting young people, those in communities and on the frontline, to identify the problems and ideas that they feel could be truly transformative. The finalists and their ideas have shed light on underlying barriers to engagement in learning, wellbeing and success of young people today. We couldn’t be more excited to support their journey in becoming role models for the next generation and transforming the experience of education for others.”

“The challenge has allowed young people to step up with bold ideas to solve the biggest problems they see, not just in education but in wider society. Though at the early stage, all these leaders and their ideas have the potential to impact tens of thousands of young people across the UK who experience similar challenges.”

Other finalists include Andrew Speight (aged 20, from Blackpool), who after struggling with a high-pressure school environment is developing a project helping schools set out and deliver their wellbeing ambitions. Dominic Starkey, 24, is working on the Fidjit Programme, an app to offer personalised digital support to young people with special educational needs after growing up with a sibling with autism. Jenna Maudlin, from Norfolk, has started The Firefly Project which aims to support schools to help young people understand and deal with loss and trauma. 

The selected finalists will now be supported by Big Change, The Young Foundation, and their fellow finalists to develop and test their ideas ahead of final judging later this year. The winners will be announced in early 2024. 

For more information go here.

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