TAFSIA SHIKDAR is an ordinary school pupil at an ordinary school in Newham, nervous about her “A”-level exams that are coming up in the summer. From September, though, she will be doing something quite extraordinary – studying engineering at the Massacusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston, seen as one of the top universities in the world.
Tafsia showed her potential when she left Sarah Bonnell secondary school in Stratfordwith 11 A* GCSEs. She is now studying for five “A”-levels – Maths, Further Maths, Physics, Biology and Chemistry – at Newham Collegiate Sixth Form Centre. The Centre expects her to obtain A* grades in all five of her “A”-level subjects, but her place is unconditional – which means that it does not depend on her results.
The Sixth Form Centre help Tafia make her application and prepare for the interview. The bright sixth-former not only passed with flying colours – she also won a scholarship worth £200,000, which will pay for her tuition fees as well as her accommodation and studying expenses.
What makes Tafsia’s achievement so remarkable is how far she has had to travel to reach the top. She lives in Newham, one of the UK’s poorest boroughs. Her father, Mahmood Shikdar, is an IT support worker and her mother, Laila Sultana, is a school lunchtime supervisor. The couple came to Tower Hamlets from Bangladesh before their children were born and later moved to West Ham. Their household income is less than £30,000 per year.
Tafsia said: “It sounds a bit corny, but I guess you could say I am over the moon. Knowing that I am going to the same place as the second man on the moon is really amazing. I really admire the people who went there. They are responsible for the biggest technology advances we have seen in recent years. It will be a privilege to be among them.
“It is mental barriers that stop people having dreams. People around here don’t think they can achieve these amazing things. I’m here to tell people, yes you can. Why shouldn’t someone from the East End of London go to MIT, why shouldn’t we dream big? When you go to a sixth form like this you don’t think about where you come from but where you are going. They teach you to think big, really big, as big as you can think. I have always been like that anyway but being here makes it more solid.”