One of the long term goals of our projects is to reach more schools traditionally under-served by STEM outreach activities.
The Aspires project, from King’s College London has shown that science capital is a key factor in terms of students aspiring to science and STEM careers. Science capital refers to knowledge about science and how it works, interest, understanding, and contacts (knowing somebody who works in science).
We think that one of the most substantial factors limiting students’ science capital is the ability for those students to have contact with STEM professionals; to meet scientists who they can relate to. The online nature of the I’m a Scientist and I’m an Engineer projects removes the traditional distance barrier to engagement; scientists and engineers can take part in live chats with students anywhere in the country without leaving their desks, and so provides opportunity to reach schools in counties where there are low levels of STEM interventions.
Furthermore, the DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) Action Plan from the Department of Education and Skills looks at prioritising the educational needs of young people from disadvantaged communities, and has identified a list of schools included in the programme. Places for these schools will be also prioritised in our projects.
A widening participation school is…
- A school in Carlow, Cavan, Clare, Kerry, Leitrim, Louth, Monaghan, or Roscommon.
- A DEIS school.
Schools matching these widening participation criteria will be given priority places when teachers apply to take part in events, and additional support will be given to help ensure students get the most out of taking part.
In the November 2016 event, by prioritising places for widening participation schools, 27% of the students taking part were at a widening participation school. 18% of the schools taking part were widening participation schools.
Our target is that by 2020, 30% of the schools taking part in our projects will be widening participation schools.