The meaning and importance of the RRI perspective in STEM education: Through the eyes of secondary school students

Promotion of the RRI principles to secondary school students across Republic of Srpska (BiH).

Nov 8, 2022

Throughout September and October 2022, University of Banja Luka (UNIBL) has been actively engaged in promoting the RRI principles to secondary school students across Republic of Srpska (BiH). Representatives of the Centre for Development and Research Support UNIBL, together with professors and teaching assistants from UNIBL, visited eight secondary schools in Novi Grad, Prijedor, Gradiška, Banja Luka, Zvornik, East Sarajevo and Trebinje. During the visits to secondary schools, UNIBL representatives presented the RRI through 6 videos on RRI keys followed by explanation and open discussion with the students on the following topics: open science and open access, science education, good governance, public engagement, gender equality and ethics. The students expressed interest in the mentioned topics and shared their views and different aspects of science and innovation, including the need for practical teaching and students’ engagement as an indispensable segment during their secondary school education as preparation either for the labour market or for further education.

The visits to secondary schools were aimed at establishing better cooperation with secondary schools and laying the grounds for the effective implementation of ‘anchor’ activities of WBC-RRI.NET in Republic of Srpska. Furthermore, the aim was to affirm and promote responsible research and innovation to students, and motivate them for further work in the field of science and technology. As an added value, the UNIBL representatives’ activities had the support from two key stakeholders: Ministry of Scientific and Technological Development, Higher Education and Information and Ministry of Education and Culture of Republic of Srpska, who recognized the importance of these educational activities.

The student’s perspective of RRI was identified through the following questions:

  • Does the educational system through the curriculum for secondary schools in Republic of Srpska encourage learning for science and about science?
  • Do professors and mentors teach students to be able to respond to global challenges through innovative solutions?

In a direct conversation and discussion with the students of the final grades of secondary technical schools and gymnasiums across Republic of Srpska, the students expressed desire for more practical application of theoretical knowledge, increased effort of the professors in making the teaching process more interesting and in line with contemporary developments in particular field. In their opinion, science education should be more practical and focused on specific projects for programming and developing specific solutions and applications to address concrete societal issues. The discussion also brought about the topic of practical teaching at schools as well as companies cooperating with schools and where students do internships during their third and fourth grade. Practice in some schools represents the only form of encounter of students with materials, tools, devices that will be an integral part of their work in the future, while the practice they perform in companies is reduced to presentations, showing devices, student visits, where students are deprived of practical application of knowledge acquired in school. Students believe that it is necessary to devote more hours to practice outside of school and to direct contact with the jobs they will be engaged in after graduating.

Gender equality and gender aspect in research was one of the hot topics that inspired active discussion in all schools. Conversation with the students revealed that gender-based prejudices and stereotypes in society are still significantly expressed. For example, when asked if someone hindered them in choosing their desired orientation of secondary schools, female students of secondary technical schools (mainly in electrical engineering) provided several affirmative answers. “Yes, they told me that it is better for me to enrol in economic or medical school, because electrical engineering school is a profession for men, but I stuck to my choice,” said the student in a class with a predominantly male student population. Despite such challenges, students are aware of gender equality and are critically thinking about what should be improved in the society. For example, when speaking about the salaries and whether women and men should be paid differently for the same work they do, the opinion of students (both male and female) is that the salary should depend on the quality of the work performed, not on the gender aspect, and especially not on personal (intimate) plans such as family planning, marital status. They see the solution in amending the labour law or through media campaigns in which professional orientation would not be divided on the basis of gender.

Through the presentation of the topics of ethics in science and science education, the students’ view is that science is still distant from citizens and that most citizens are not active in this area. In some of the schools visited, STE(A)M education created through the active cooperation of students, professors and school administration has been presented as good example. Some students independently enriched their knowledge through programming and creating various applications and encouraged more peers to join them and form a team, after that receiving support of the school administration and professors for their further work. This auspicious cooperation and recognition of the team of students as future innovators resulted in winning first places in various competitions for young innovators in Bosnia and Herzegovina and beyond.

These positive examples should be the driving force for other schools, professors and students. As much as the educational system and the curriculum limit the essential application of STE(A)M education in secondary schools, focusing on individual scientific disciplines, without interdisciplinary approach, there is always the possibility of adapting it, in order to bring science and research closer to students and create conditions for their active participation in this area. Schools that have recognized students’ initiatives and work are a shining example that it is possible to achieve more through joint effort and putting students and their interests in the field of education in the foreground.

Visits to secondary schools and engaging into discussion with students has shown that there is still room for improvements in STE(A)M education and application of RRI concepts in secondary school curricula. WBC-RRI.NET activities of this kind contribute to raising the awareness of students and professors about the importance of embedding the RRI concepts during secondary school education, particularly in STE(A)M education.

This article was prepared by Milica Maric (UNIBL).