Educational dilemmas closest to the heart of a non-formal education partner – 2 examples

As the SEAS project is gearing up to share more of its results, the Energy Discovery Centre (EDC) team reflects on a couple of educational dilemmas.

Teacher with pupils in a classroom.

One of the most important questions for EDC as the non-formal education partner in the Estonian network of SEAS was: to whom should be tailor our networks’ open schooling activities to? The Estonian network set out to co-design an extracurricular science club for 12–14-year-old students based in Tallinn. But to whom are extracurricular science programmes most valuable – to students already interested in the field, or those who would need further instructions than received at school? In other words: who would benefit most, the top-performers or the underachievers?

The Estonian education system, on the whole, has generally focused more on helping low achieving students perform better. The most recent PISA test results (1) show that the percentage of low performing students has decreased in time (and has been lower than the OECD average to begin with), but the percentage of top performing students has increased respectively. Even though both approaches are equally important from the viewpoint of an equitable society, there remains an issue with the amount of resources available.

From the viewpoint of a non-formal education partner, it is certainly easier to motivate high-performing and interested students rather than low-performing students lacking interest in science. An interesting science show might catch the attention of most students, but there’s no guarantee it will flourish into a life-long interest in science.

The second dilemma is to do with gender equality. The entire class usually enrols in an EDC educational programme and classes usually have a similar number of both girls and boys, and therefore gender representation has not usually been an issue. In an open call the number of boys interested in the Science Club was higher than the number of girls. A parent of a female student later remarked to the EDC team that the only thing her daughter did not especially like about the Science Club was the fact that she was the sole female member of the group (the science club had 2 groups of students meeting on alternate weekdays).

The SEAS global assessment results did not indicate any statistically relevant differences in interest in scientific issues and careers, environmental awareness nor behaviour between the participating Estonian girls and boys. When describing their dream jobs, both girls and boys alike mentioned being an engineer and a scientist. Statistics tell us that even though there is no significant difference in performance in STEM subjects in school, girls often do not choose STEM-related careers. There is not enough data about gender representation of non-formal education, including science clubs, but during the survey in 2017 there were no girls-dominated STEM-related extracurricular activities in Estonia (Kukk, Lamesoo & Papp, 2017).

This does refer to the general problem of perceiving science as an inherently male field. Also, as noted above, being the only girl in a group of boys did seem an unwanted outcome for the female student. On the other hand, 84% of 7-9 grade teachers in Estonia are female. 54% of Estonian teachers are older than 50, whereas the OECD average is 34%. The EDC educational staff at the time of the science club included 5 women and 2 men.

The dilemma that presents itself is: how to bring more female students to science education, while not losing the interest of male students?


  1. PISA 2018 Estonian results, a summary in English:
  2. Kukk, I., Lamesoo, K., Papp, Ü. (2017). Loodus-, täppis- ja tehnikateaduste valdkonna huviharidus - sooline aspekt. Soolise võrdõiguslikkuse ja võrdse kohtlemise voliniku kantselei.
By Energy Discovery Centre
Published May 11, 2022 2:28 PM - Last modified May 11, 2022 2:28 PM
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The SEAS blog focuses on current research and activities in the intersection between scientific literacy, open schooling and sustainability challenges when students collaborate with families and stakeholders from civil society and industry in becoming agents of community well-being.