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Reaching out to the hard-to-reach: mixed methods reflections of a pilot Welsh STEM engagement project
SN Social Sciences, Volume: 2, Issue: 2
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Despite years of targeted interventions, young people experiencing socio-economic deprivation are still under-represented in those studying STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects post-16 and in higher education STEM pathways. We surveyed 61 young people who had participate...
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Despite years of targeted interventions, young people experiencing socio-economic deprivation are still under-represented in those studying STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects post-16 and in higher education STEM pathways. We surveyed 61 young people who had participated in the S4 programme in South Wales, UK, and interviewed three of their teachers. Using the theoretical lens of science capital, we asked them about the S4 programme, and their views of science and education in terms of aspirations, attainment, and social obstacles. Whilst widely outdated, a ‘deficit model’ of aspiration raising still guides STEM outreach policy in Wales and we consider the answers to our survey in light of this. Broadly, our participants are enthusiastic and ambitious, and confident in their abilities in both science and wider skill areas. However, we found certain aspects of ambition were linked to socio-economic status. For example, whilst most young people we surveyed aspire to go university, those who do not cite different reasons depending on their socio-economic status. Despite high aspirations around science and education, teachers cited low literacy and numeracy, household poverty, entrenched generational unemployment, rural isolation, disabilities, caring responsibilities, and teenage pregnancy as barriers to higher education for their pupils. Importantly, S4's intervention had the greatest impact with those in the extremes of socio-economic deprivation, particularly in terms of bolstering existing science and education aspirations and increasing the ‘thinkability’ of attending university. Our findings contradict accepted thinking on science and education aspirations in that rather than participation in higher education being motivated by a lack of science and education aspiration or the discourse of family habitus ("people like us"), young people seem to be starkly aware of the very real socio-economic obstacles. We found no poverty of science and education aspiration in the participants we surveyed, and encourage a policy move away from the deficit model of raising science and education aspirations that will take a more nuanced view of widening access to STEM education and higher education in general in Wales.
Science and education aspirations; Attainment; Social inclusion; STEM outreach; Science outreach; Widening participation; Widening access; Science capital; Hard-to-reach; Wales
College of Science
Funding was provided by Welsh Government National Science Academy awards 2012, 2013 and 2015 including NSA projects 44 and 46, Welsh Government and European Social Fund Trio Sci Cymru 81327, and the Landmark Trust Landmark Futures Scheme.