Go there instead of ignoring - how previously unreached target groups can be reached with STEM offers
Securing skilled workers in the STEM field is a key challenge. In order to master these, we have to inspire and qualify young people for STEM subjects. There is still a lot of untapped potential here. For example, children and young people who, for various reasons, have not yet found access to (MINT) educational opportunities.
We would like to take a closer look: Who are these groups of young people who are hardly or not at all reached by STEM offers? Which factors play a role? Which designations are used? And how must offers be tailored to reach this group(s)?
In the first part of this article, an approximation of the term "Easy-to-ignore groups“, as it is also used for these groups, which have so far hardly been reached by educational offers. By this we mean in particular children and young people with different, challenging life situations and educational histories. We focus on MINT offers and look at how and at which locations this target group(s) can be reached. In the second part The article is about the role of the easy-to-ignore groups in the work of zdi.NRW: Who are the groups that we are not yet reaching with our STEM offers and how can we change this? In the third part we show approaches and practical examples of how outreach MINT education can succeed in the zdi context and which steps will be necessary for this.
You can download the full text as a PDF here:
What does "easy-to-ignore" mean and who are the young people we easily overlook?
The term "easy-to-ignore" (freely translated "easy to overlook") is found primarily in English-speaking countries. There it is not only used in the educational context. Rather, the term refers to inequalities in society as a whole. Generally speaking, "easy-to-ignore" groups are those who are prevented from participating in and accessing public funding and offers due to their living situation. The respective life situation is characterized by various dimensions such as access to education, self-confidence, resources (finance, time, capacities) and language. These dimensions create barriers that often make these groups invisible to educational actors, i.e. “easy to overlook”. The responsibility to take a closer look and to do something against this oversight lies with the educational actors: internally and not with the groups themselves, who are already experiencing restrictions due to the respective barriers.
- Those who have not yet found access to extracurricular MINT education for a variety of reasons, from the challenging life situation to their individual educational history.
- Those who are struggling with obstacles and cannot stand up for themselves.
- Those who are underrepresented in STEM educational offerings.
Where does the term come from?
Photo: Fife Centers for Equalities
The Scottish "Fife Center for Equalities“ helped coin the term “easy-to-ignore” groups. The charity was founded in 2014 and campaigns for diversity and inclusion in many areas of society in the Scottish Council Area (state) Fife. The organization defines “easy-to-ignore” groups as groups that lack the capacity to participate in society and are therefore underrepresented in certain contexts. This usually includes people who are affected by at least one dimension of discrimination (racism, ableism, sexism, age discrimination...). Accordingly, identity and interest groups are also included. The Covid pandemic has also created new barriers by relying more on digital strategies, which were (and are) not equally accessible to everyone.
Terms in German-speaking research and educational work
In German-speaking research and educational work, one hardly ever speaks of “easy-to-ignore” groups. However, there are various concepts and terms that deal with so-called “educationally disadvantaged young people”. It is important to note that these terms can be used differently in different contexts. They serve to draw attention to the causes of existing educational inequalities and to develop measures to improve equal opportunities and access to education for all young people. At the same time, these terms always harbor the risk of having a stigmatizing effect, which is why the terminology changes frequently in this area.
In this context, for example, educational disadvantage spoken. This term generally refers to structural inequalities that affect access to the education system, where certain groups of young people (or adults for that matter) have less access to education and related opportunities compared to others. Educational disadvantage can be traced back to different dimensions.
One of these dimensions can be a so-called educational distance the social environment (primarily the family). However, this term is not used unequivocally and can be understood in different ways. The term educational distance is sometimes used to express a distance from formal higher education resulting from a lack of proof of knowledge. Distance from education can also be understood as a position from which access to education is denied and the educational opportunities are therefore far away. The term can also be misunderstood to suggest that people affected by this dimension would actively stay away from educational opportunities.
Also the dimension of poor education as a term can be misleading. What is meant is, according to the definition of the sociologist Prof. Dr. Jutta Allmendinger, a poverty of educational certificates and educational skills. But the term is also used to describe a situation where people have little or no access to education due to financial limitations and lack of resources. According to this understanding, educational poverty affects various aspects, such as a lack of learning materials, an inadequate learning environment or limited financial support for educational activities.
Both dimensions play into the factor of Secondary Origin Effects in. These come into effect at the transition to secondary school and describe how the respective social background of the family affects the choice and access to secondary school.
(special educational) needs
Another dimension, which in turn is divided into different areas, is the (special educational) needs. In Germany, this is defined as an impairment of educational, developmental and learning opportunities, which means that adequate support is not possible without special educational support. Educational disadvantages of this dimension arise when the required support is lacking, be it due to too few (appropriately trained) staff, due to unsuitable teaching material or the format of the offer, and much more. The definition of need for support had to face a lot of criticism when it came up. Above all, the formal consequences of assigning a need for support, namely the change to or enrollment in a special needs school, are questioned and criticized. 
The dimensions of educational disadvantage also play a role intersectionality a role. For example, people with disabilities in Germany are more likely to be affected by poverty. Children and young people of parents with a low level of education (according to the terminology above, children from families with little or no education) are more often at risk of poverty or social exclusion. According to the Federal Statistical Office, almost every fourth person under the age of 2022 was exposed to this threat in Germany in 18.
Also in the aspect of of life different factors play into it. Life situations mean the interaction of, for example, socio-demographic, socio-economic, geographical and economic factors. The extent to which these factors actually affect access to education has yet to be shown varies from person to person. The zdi practice has shown, for example, that in large, rural regions, visiting extracurricular learning locations is made more difficult due to poorer accessibility. Or that the economic structure of a region with a focus on technical, manufacturing industries makes it easier to work with companies in the field of extracurricular STEM education compared to regions with a higher number of companies with a service focus. Just as the socio-demographic composition at a school can affect educational opportunities and participation in them - regardless of the type of school.
Since the terms used in German-language discourse have their "pitfalls" as described above, we would like to use the English-language term easy-to-ignore groups in the zdi community. This term makes it clearer who is responsible for equal opportunities and empowering STEM education: not with the group we want to reach, but with us, the STEM actors!
Note: This contribution represents a working status and not the conclusion of a discussion. Rather, it shows a level of development and an approach to certain terms and forms the basis for further steps in the MINT educational work of the zdi community with certain target groups.
If you have any questions about the topic or the offers in the field of outreach MINT education/zdi-BSO-MINT-Lab, please contact:
 “Engaging with EASY-TO-IGNORE communities”, ed. Fife Center for Equalities, March 2021; https://centreforequalities.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/EASY-TO-IGNORE-GUIDE-Mar-2021.pdf (accessed on 19.07.2023)
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