Positive Influences and Educational Practices in the STEM Learning Ecosystem: An Asset-Based, Multi-Case Exploration of Non-Formal Youth Education in Senegal

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Virginia Tech

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.

Youth Education, STEM Education, Non-formal Education, Learning Ecosystem, Apprenticeship, Out-of-School Program