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What is Protégé?

Protégé is a national initiative in which young people who are excluded from mainstream education work with artists and creative experts to design their own education.  It is an action research learning initiative developed by its founding Director, Sabita Kumari-Dass.

Why Protégé?

Too mad, too pregnant, too interesting, too complex, too recently arrived, too angry, too quiet - some of the different reasons why some talented kids were kicked out of school in recent years.

Protégé is a real life social experiment inspired by Leonardo da Vinci - based on the idea that if he were alive today – history's greatest polymath would struggle with the curriculum and probably be kicked out of school.

Globally, increasing numbers of children, including exceptionally talented ones are being excluded from school. If, like Leonardo, Einstein, Mozart and Edison they too could educate themselves, what might they become and what might we learn?

The Protégé experiment is with young people who have been declared by their own teachers as being 'exceptional' or 'different', but excluded because they are not responding well to traditional learning approaches.

Protégé both creates and documents the story of how we work with excluded young people to make the most of this radical opportunity. How we identify those who can really turn their exclusion and disadvantage into an opportunity and show us something useful about the ways we learn and teach.

With 100 million people moving around the world each year– difference is increasingly on our doorstep and in our classrooms – but education is not well equipped to respond to or acknowledge this, and a citizenship agenda to promote diversity and understanding is not a central priority of the curriculum.

The Protégé experiment is about nurturing and incubating the discarded raw talent of those who are falling through the gaps as society, family, schools, religious institutions struggle to stay in tune with a shifting world order. It's about seeing what happens when unique individuals are given the creative freedom to surprise, delight and shock us with their potential.

How are Protégé participants identified and recruited?

Working closely with a network of local authority inclusion teams, schools and other agencies dealing with alternative provision, we aim to identify excluded young people who, despite their circumstances and adversity, show signs of talent and individuality - be it through their passion, enquiring mind and curiosity, or through their untapped potential if not through proven academic achievement.

We steer clear of past performance and academic achievement as qualifying criteria. The Protégé x–factor is about spotting and nurturing 'eclectic curiosity' - however dampened it may have been by circumstance. The characteristic of creative thinkers (as documented by Guy Claxton and Bill Lucas in Be Creative, March 2004) is similar to the basis of criteria for selection into the Protégé programme, that is - resilience, resourcefulness, seeing and making connections, reflection and risk-taking, as well as the essential features of Leonardo da Vinci - his eclectic curiosity and passion. Sometimes these traits will not be instantly visible, so the purpose of Protégé is to look through a Leonardo-inspired lens at young people in whom these latent qualities may very well have been suppressed, but could be re-ignited through a nurturing and confidence-building approach.

Why Eclectic Curiosity?

The title 'Eclectic Curiosity' reflects the multi-dimensional nature of Leonardo da Vinci's breadth of interests and the progress of this programme of work. Eclectic Curiosity is founded in a belief that every child invents, and has a creative spark. The responsibility of education then is to devise a support structure where every child can ignite that spark. The enquiring mind of the young child pursues a myriad of observations and interests, but it is not clear what stimulates a particular temporary path of discovery. By exploring the context, influencing factors, and the signposts that guide a young person's curiosity, and by allowing the young learner to continue to explore experientially and according to their apparently serendipitous motivations we could learn a great deal about the acquisition of knowledge, skills and experience.

As it stands, the current emphasis on a structured curriculum-driven system of learning runs counter to eclecticism. The aim is to create a long-term engagement in which we jointly develop, with participants, an understanding of their lifestyles, abilities and aspirations. As self-directed learning is at the heart of this work, Protégé responds to the individual requirements of each participant, and respects the independence in learning and knowledge acquisition they might already be used to.