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)?
Im ersten Teil This article is intended to provide 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:
Outreach STEM education in practice
The environment is important
An important aspect of outreach educational work is the location where the extracurricular activities take place. Addressing them is much easier in an environment that is familiar to the target group. These include, for example:
These include, for example:
- Sports Clubs
- Religious institutions
- Care facilities such as youth clubs, OGS, holiday camps
- Places where young people hang out (shopping malls, playgrounds, etc.)
- Social institutions (women's shelters, children's homes, pediatricians)
Photo: dylan nolte on Unsplash
Actively addressing the target group – young people shape the program
Addressing the target group directly is at least as important as the environment. It is not enough to find young people's preferred places. What is more important is that they can help shape the MINT offerings.
Ideally, tailor-made educational offers are developed together with the people who want to reach the educational actors. Accordingly, the young people should be involved in the development of offers through participatory approaches.
Training and further education for MINT actors
As learning and consulting situations change and educational content is adapted, the demands placed on teachers also change - special training and social-educational further education are important prerequisites for the success of outreach educational work.
An example of this participatory approach is the recently established one zdi-BSO-MINT-Lab. Together with young people, it is developing new offers for the easy-to-ignore target group.
The idea is: In workshops at schools, in clubs or youth clubs, the conditions for success are worked out together with young people, such as how attractive MINT career and study orientation courses must be designed for them. The young people become researchers themselves and work on their own STEM projects. In doing so, they combine their own, very personal interests with the overriding interests of the group. The projects developed in this way are then prepared in such a way that other groups can participate in similar projects. In this way, the needs and wishes of the target group are directly taken into account when designing measures.
This not only gives people access to MINT offers, but also creates space to participate in the development of the offers and to formulate their own interests in knowledge. In this way, problem-solving approaches can emerge that come directly from the dialogue group. This not only promotes participation, but also enables participation - without forcing or demanding it.
Balancing acts between MINT and social work: experiences of the zdi community
Addressing the easy-to-ignore groups and designing suitable MINT offers is a challenge that the zdi community would like to face. The diverse problems of young people and their needs, which we have ignored up to now, make high and different demands on time and personnel.
Some zdi networks already have experience with various easy-to-ignore groups, which we would like to introduce here.
Düsseldorf: MINT education for students with learning difficulties
The zdi network MINT Düsseldorf has been working intensively on the topic of reaching young people from special schools, secondary schools and comprehensive schools for two years. The team follows the approach of actively approaching the students and bringing them into contact with STEM in the classroom. Because although the offers of the network, which has existed since 2018, are designed for children and young people of all types of school, initially there were almost no inquiries from the area of special schools and secondary schools. This should be changed.
To this end, the zdi network offered workshops for teachers from Düsseldorf special schools, secondary schools and comprehensive schools. Four mini-workshops were tested (3D printing, microelectronics, app development and music programming). In March 2022, MINT project days took place at two special schools with a focus on learning, emotional and social development as well as hearing and communication. Over three days, 120 students from both schools were able to choose from a total of ten workshops. The course size was around ten students, who were supervised by an average of three lecturers, including a sign language interpreter if necessary. Where necessary, the course material was slightly adapted by the lecturers in advance. As a rule, the lecturers were not pedagogical specialists, but, as with many zdi courses, they came from professional practice relevant to the respective course. However, there was always at least one educational specialist (for example from the school) as a supervisor in the workshop.
The project was a success and was carried out again the following year. In addition, growing registration numbers from special needs and secondary schools were recorded in the network's free, extracurricular course offerings. This is attributed to the fact that both the course content and the lecturers are known to the students and therefore there is less fear of contact. Word has also got around about the offer among special needs schools, so that workshops can now also be offered at other schools with different special needs schools.
experiences from the network
A primary success factor for the success of the outreach educational offer was the direct contact with teachers felt. They were able to test the range of courses themselves and thus experience first-hand how well the workshops are suitable for their students. The involvement of teachers or appropriately trained educators who know the students well is also important so that the workshops are accessible to the participants recommended based on interests and talent can become. The contents of Workshops should be adjusted accordingly if necessarythat in any case a satisfactory result can be achieved within three days.
Gelsenkirchen: increase consistency and reliability
The zdi network in Gelsenkirchen due to the socio-economic situation of the city (migration issues, unemployment, etc.) has a fundamental need to deal with the topic of outreach educational work, not only in the STEM field.
As a test, the network placed its own offer in an established open youth club. The meeting is located in the immediate vicinity of a secondary school in a district in which many of the dimensions of educational disadvantage described above come together. A course was offered for programming Lego robots, which was offered on four consecutive dates of two hours in the afternoon. In the run-up to and during the implementation there was always close contact and exchange with the responsible social worker.
On average, around ten participants attended the course, but the turnover of participants was quite high and only a few attended the course from start to finish. These participants were all girls. The participants were supervised by two zdi lecturers.
Unfortunately, the conclusion that had to be drawn was that the planning effort for the network and the added value for the course participants were not sufficiently balanced to carry out the project again.
experiences from the network
With this offer, too, it was of great importance to have appropriately trained people Social workers on board to have people who know the young people well and know where they have special talents and where they may need support. There is a particular challenge when connecting to open leisure activities such as youth clubs, where young people can generally come and go as they please: Because the young people do not come regularly enough, the offer cannot be made permanent. Learning content that builds on one another is therefore more difficult to convey. In order to be able to pick up new participants from time to time, the care effort also increases. Obtaining reliable registrations in advance is proving to be very difficult, despite the social worker's great commitment. In such open formats, it may therefore be possible to forego registrations. Since the boundaries between social work and MINT promotion are fluid in this area, it may be necessary to question what type of financial support can and should be used for such projects. The current zdi-BSO-MINT funding did not appear to be well suited in this case.
Krefeld: MINTplus offers facilitate access to MINT
Other experiences in the field of open youth clubs could do that zdi center KReMINTec Krefeld make. The center is part of the MINT cluster project MINT in mind in the Middle Lower Rhine region, whose project partners include the zdi center and the center for digital learning environments in the city of Krefeld. That too zdi center Mönchengladbach is part of the MINT cluster, whose offers are primarily aimed at easy-to-ignore groups. That is why the offers are designed for these target groups from the outset. The MINTplus approach has proven particularly successful here. By linking to topics that often seem more approachable than MINT topics, there are fewer reservations. For example, a young participant in a course on upcycling fabric bags with conductive yarn and LED lights was only astonished after spending some time in the course: "It's like in physics class!".
The approach of outreach STEM education is also used in the work of the STEM cluster. Not only analogue but also digital spaces are opened up: in the project “MINE Krefeld and Co.’ the youngsters can recreate their own city, Krefeld, in the online game Minetest. It's not just about creating a digital model of the city, but also about incorporating ideas and approaches on how to make your own city more livable. The topics and content are developed together with the young people in a participatory manner. They are guided and supported by the social workers of the Krefeld youth centers, and the project was set up by the school pastor on the part of the schools. At the start of the project, six youth centers in the Krefeld area were approached, three of which took part in the project. These were equipped with hardware and software in order to be able to work together on MINE Krefeld. The programs required for this are all available free of charge and can be accessed via many different end devices - expensive technical equipment is therefore not necessary. Since the quarantine regulations have been lifted, it has also been possible to work on site in the youth centers at MINE Krefeld. Everyone can take advantage of the open program as often and for as long as it suits their own needs. Prior registration is not necessary. Previous knowledge is often already sufficient and dealing with digital communication tools such as Discord or Teamspeak does not pose a challenge.
The project is very popular with young people and is always in high demand at events that are not part of outreach STEM education.
experience from the network
Also in this case it emphasizes the importance of the role good social work when addressing the easy-to-ignore groups. It needs people who can build trust and a bond and who can respond appropriately to the very individual needs of young people. There are offers in the area of open youth meetings not with typical BSO measures cover, but must also be designed openly. Advertising for offers works best through the participants themselves, who bring friends to the offers, or through parents who exchange information about the offers. The direct approach by the social workers was also immensely important for advertising the courses.
What challenges do we have to face in order to reach the easy-to-ignore groups with MINT offerings?
Resources & Investments
It is usually not enough to provide access to participate. Children and young people are often confronted with several barriers when participating in STEM educational offers - even after they have found access. In order to enable real participation, larger investments in time and personnel are therefore necessary in order to achieve the required intensity of care (further training, higher care key, more time per offer, ...).
New offer concepts
There are structural inequalities in society that STEM funding initiatives have little or no impact on. What is needed is a concept for new MINT offers that takes into account the challenges triggered by structural inequalities from the outset. "Expanding" existing offers to the new target groups can only succeed to a limited extent. STEM activities must be tailored to the areas in which they take place and the people who live there. In the best case, the offers are designed from the outset in a co-creative and participatory manner by the respective dialogue groups. More needs to be invested in educating, informing and supporting.
Openness to new concepts and ideas can sometimes be discarded
Anyone who develops and offers MINT educational offers in the sense of outreach educational work must also take into account that offers will not be accepted or that the fluctuation of participants will be so high that offers cannot be carried out. These learnings can flow into the development of new offers.
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:
 Outreach educational work – more equal opportunities and participation”, Adult Education Association Baden-Württemberg eV; https://www.vhs-bw.de/projekte/aufsuchende-bildungsarbeit/ (accessed on 19.07.2023)