zdi.NRW is not only unique in Germany - there is no other initiative in Europe that is so successful in promoting extracurricular STEM education for children and young people. But how important is zdi for Europe? And how can the European Union support STEM initiatives? This was discussed by Mariya Gabriel, EU Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, and Sabine Verheyen, Chairwoman of the Committee on Culture and Education in the EU Parliament. The event was initiated by zdi.NRW, which is regarded as a model for other initiatives throughout Europe. After an impressive greeting from Klaus Kaiser, the Parliamentary State Secretary of the NRW Ministry of Science, a stimulating exchange followed between two women who are enthusiastic about young people and would like to continue writing the zdi success story in Europe - with the children and young people in Europe.
Content overview: Here you can go directly to the topics
Here is the recording of the hour-long discussion: Future ahead: The role of the EU in supporting STEM initiative - YouTube
Mariya Gabriel is such an enthusiastic speaker, that it can even carry viewers away in a video conference. Even in an online conversation, it becomes clear that she is passionate about her goals. And they're high. She wants to promote and systematize MINT education in the EU, bring networks together and expand the success story that zdi wrote in North Rhine-Westphalia to Europe.
EU Commissioner Gabriel speaks enthusiastically about the opportunities that a solid MINT education brings with it. “We need you” – she appeals directly to young people in Europe. There is no doubt in her mind that STEM knowledge is necessary to solve social challenges. And it even opens up new perspectives: we would have to put MINT in context and treat the content in a less abstract way. It is important to show the connections between STEM and other fields of study and to break down traditional boundaries. MINT becomes MINKT - whereby the "K" stands for art as well as for culture, humanities and social sciences.
Klaus Kaiser also addresses this aspect in his forward-looking greeting right at the beginning of the online discussion organized by the NRW state representation at the European Union and zdi.NRW. "We are dealing with more and more interdisciplinary knowledge," says Kaiser. It is therefore necessary to show how STEM knowledge affects all areas of life. Girls and young women in particular are enthusiastic about MINT when these subjects are brought into larger, attractive social contexts and the benefits of physics, mathematics, technology or computer science, for example in developing solutions for climate change, are brought to the point.
Mariya Gabriel, EU Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth
Gabriel proves that the gender gap is also a problem across Europe: In the entire EU, a below-average number of women opt for a STEM degree or a STEM profession. Only about 30 percent of graduates in STEM subjects are female. And with regard to the important information and communication technologies, it is only 20 percent. If the number of STEM graduates is to be increased overall, the gender gap must be reduced.
Sabine Verheyen is obviously also very concerned about this topic. She talks about her own school days - at a girls' grammar school she never had the problem of having to assert herself in a gender-specific competition, but role models and stereotypes are still being transported in society today, which divide the world into typical male and female jobs and - divide skills.
At this point it becomes clear to the viewers that Gabriel and Verheyen are pioneers: both see the great opportunities that an improved integration of all talents and potential brings with it. And both are committed to offering young people space and opportunities for development.
Sabine Verheyen, Chair of the Committee on Culture and Education in the European Parliament
zdi has been opening such spaces in NRW for years, which is why the discussion repeatedly refers to examples from the zdi community. It seems easier to ignore gender stereotypes in extracurricular activities.
Verheyen explains that many people would fall back into the old role models and gender stereotypes if, for example, manual or technical problems had to be solved. She herself has seen that extracurricular offers are very good at helping girls and young women to gain self-confidence in technical or scientific questions.
Klaus Kaiser also addressed this aspect at the beginning: The past few months have shown how important MINT education is in schools, but above all in extracurricular areas. That's why the zdi networks and zdi school labs tried to promote skills as early as possible. In doing so, zdi can also make a significant contribution to translating current and relevant findings from research into MINT funding and thus making them available for education, but also for social commitment.
Klaus Kaiser, Parliamentary State Secretary in the Ministry for Culture and Science NRW
Nevertheless, everyone involved in the vision of extracurricular STEM education is about much more than the mere lack of skilled workers. During the discussion, Gabriel in particular repeatedly addressed topics such as sustainability, digitization and environmental protection. All these topics are part of the European "Green Deal", which has set itself the goal of realizing a sustainable economy and making Europe a climate-neutral continent by 2050.
At zdi, topics such as environmental protection, sustainability and resource conservation are already discussed in childhood and taken up again and again in higher grades. Sharing these experiences with others, exchanging knowledge and working together across Europe is also in the interests of the zdi community.