November 19, 2014 Nick Preston

Young Physicists School of the University of Latvia

Project Young Physician School of University of Latvia aims to introduce pupils with field of physics and higher education in order to show how exciting it could be, decrease drop-out rate in first two years of study and increase the quality of education.

Project is conducted by university and student movement as well as led by both of them.

Objectives of the Intervention

The main objective of the project is to introduce the research field of physics to pupils. Despite this objective another target is to reduce indirectly drop out rates of first and second year students. The reduced drop-out should be ensured by providing accurate information about the study curricula and an understanding what is needed to graduate successfully.

There are many fields of study offering schools for secondary school students in order to attract students. However there are positive side-effects to it and schools are also working on reaching those two in previous paragraph mentioned objectives. There are two project partners for this intervention: students and university staff. The participation of students in the organizing process is crucial in order to include the social dimension aspect of this intervention.

Origins and rationale of this initiative

Schools for secondary school students led by universities are nothing new and also this is not a new concept; however it was initiated by students. As mentioned before the key drivers for this project are students and the university, with a main interest to find future students who are aware of the study conditions and believe they are able to fulfill the needed requirements to pass the study program. The young physicists school is targeted at preparing potential students and therefore reduces the dropout rate.

Industry and the economy have a demand for more students graduating in the STEM field to ensure a future workforce. While secondary school students are often more interested in social sciences and humanities, the school of young physicists tries to attract more students to STEM subjects.

There is no specific theoretical framework used to run the school of young physicists.

Target groups intended as beneficiaries of this initiative

The target group for the young physicists school are secondary school students, who show a certain interest in physics. As the interest varies from year to year there is not fixed size for the young physicists school. The sole criterion for participation, regardless of secondary school level, is interest in physics independent from any ethnic or socio economic status background. The young physicists school provides children from rural schools, without strong learning opportunities for STEM subjects, the chance to get more in depth knowledge. This is important as these school students will later compete with students from better equipped schools for study places. Also, the opportunity for a scholarship for a physics study is given, if a school student attends several classes.

The project has an impact on several levels as it tries to prevent future drop-outs, while at the same time various ways of informal learning are provided.

The university staff is involved in the project organization and as well as lecturers.

Political and socio-economic factors that you believe have been important enablers for your initiative

The program is based on the support from students and university staff, which are fundamental to run the young physicists school. The university staff help students with organizing the school and also with the creation of lectures. The program is linked to the national aim to increase the number of successful students in the STEM field.

As the drop out problem based on lacking knowledge about the study requirements is publicly known, the young physicists school is also welcomed by the society.

After finishing, the young physicists school participants are able to reflect on experiences and knowledge they gained and are also able to motivate their peers to take part in the school program. As a result of the knowledge and experience the participants are gathering they are able to decide if a study in the STEM field matches their interests. This might be especially true for participants from a non-academic background as this school program provides information and experiences their families might not be able to provide.

Overall Programme design and the methods and tools used to reach the goals

The young physicists school takes place in two cycles: the first one from September to December and the second one from February to May. The activities take place every Sunday and it is a whole day program. The program contains a mixture of lectures and practice in laboratories. Some of the days are also used to get the participant familiar with the university or the city.

All schools in Riga spread the opportunity to take part in the young physicists school via e-mail. Therefore all secondary school students are informed about this opportunity. Masters and PhD students are mainly responsible to teach the school students, but also Bachelor students are involved in the teaching and organizing activities. The teaching tries to include student centred learning methods to ensure good learning outcomes of a diverse group. The participants are not the same age, neither are they equipped with the same knowledge level in the beginning.

The two cycles of the young physicists schools are ending in May and with the beginning of the next university semester it could be evaluated whether there is a higher enrollment of students from the young physicists school and how the drop out rate is developing. The university started to have a closer look at these numbers, however figures are not available so far.

Describe if the project ensured its sustainability

The entire project is based on volunteers, leading to the problem of constantly changing university students. So far this has been a problem which has not been solved and is a real problem with regard to sustainability. However, the university is aware of this problem and tries to motivate students to take part by offering to recognize the voluntary work as internship or to reward the voluntary work with credits for their study program.

This project is based on experiences of other faculties therefore this is clearly a replication of a model.

Resources used in the initiative

Around 120.000 euros are provided for each ‘school day’. The university and the student council provide the money. Alongside this funding, sponsors are involved, which provide things like food.

As mentioned before, the volunteers delivering the work are rewarded with credits for their study program or getting their voluntary work recognized as internship.

The costs for the young physicists school are perceived as a good investment as the outcomes are good for all involved groups (students, student council, university and school students).

Did the intervention reach its objectives?

It is possible to evaluate after each young physicists school year how many of the participants are enrolled. The university is satisfied with the outcomes, however it would be possible to investigate the impact of this program further. Things like the impact on drop out rates and the impact on a more accessible study program have not been investigated so far. Informal feedback from former program participants indicates a positive impact, however there has been no research done.

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