STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education for youth can lead to the development of skills to design technologies, innovate tools, optimize work processes, and solve problems to improve society. The public high schools in Senegal are reported to have a low enrollment of students in STEM-related subjects. Youth are taught to memorize theories, with limited opportunities for hands-on STEM activities. However, there are other opportunities for Senegalese youth to engage in STEM education outside the formal school system. This research used case studies to explore the experiences of Senegalese youth learners and educators engaged in hands-on STEM education within non-formal learning settings in Dakar, Senegal. The first case involved six youth and six educators from wood carpentry and metal joinery apprenticeships. The second case involved seven youth and five educators from Go4STEAM, an all-girls out-of-school STEM program. The Ecological Systems Theory was used as a theoretical framework to situate the youth and educators in their learning context and consider ways in which their self and environment influences their STEM learning and teaching experience. An asset-based analytical approach was used in both cases to identify and describe positive influences and educational practices related to learning STEM. Results of the study indicated that educators in the apprenticeship setting display elements of cultural-based education as they not only teach the youth learners engineering through guided instructions, but also help raise them into adulthood. The youth learners in this setting have dropped out of school, thus recommendations for this learning setting include leveraging apps, mobile training, and competitions to promote engineering education as well as ensuring a strong foundation in reading, writing, and math. The Go4STEAM learning setting was found to offer activities that were interesting and responsive for their youth learners, and their learning environment emphasized peer collaboration. Recommendations for this learning setting include encouraging youth to take leadership of their learning whilst positioning the educators as co-learners, and offering the youth opportunities to engage in STEM with various partners and settings around the community. By recognizing and valuing the strengths of non-formal learning settings, this study identifies opportunities to strengthen the Senegalese STEM Learning Ecosystem. The additional support can lead to opportunities for Senegalese youth to become innovators and problem solvers that use their skills for educational and career advancement, upward economic mobility, and improved community development.
General Audience Abstract
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Education can be beneficial for the youth because it gives them useful skills for their jobs and their community. There are many factors that influence how youth learn STEM, and youth are able to learn in school and out of school. In Senegal, there are a low number of students enrolled in STEM-related subjects in high school, and the schools do not offer hands-on STEM activities. This research uses case studies to investigate STEM education for youth in non-formal, out-of-school settings, in Dakar, Senegal. Six youth and six educators from the wood carpentry and metal joinery apprenticeships, and seven youth and five educators from the Go4STEAM all-girls program, participated in this study. For each case, the Ecological Systems Theory was used to help consider the various influences that may directly or indirectly impact the youth’s STEM education. An asset-based approach was used to identify positive influences and educational practices from the two cases. The study determined that the educators in apprenticeships use cultural norms and values to teach the youth learners engineering and raise them to become adults. The learners do not go to school so they can potentially benefit from apps, mobile training, and competitions that facilitate learning engineering, and the basics of reading, writing and math. At Go4STEM, the study determined that the learning environment was fun for the youth and encourages teamwork. The learners at Go4STEAM may benefit from deciding what STEM topics they want explore and the educators support as co-learners. Also, the educators can help facilitate STEM activities that engage community resources. This study identifies the strengths of non-formal, out-of-school-learning, and identifies opportunities to improve the Senegalese STEM Learning Ecosystem. With the additional support, Senegalese youth can become innovators and problem solvers that use their skills to benefit themselves, their families, and their communities.