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Youth Equity + STEM (YESTEM): Project Blog



An opinion piece on the ‘The Equity Compass: A tool for supporting socially just practice’

By s.godec, on 15 September 2021

Dr Uma Patel

In January 2021, a young black poet Amanda Gorman wowed people with her poem The Hill We Climb. Amanda recited “We will not march back to what was but move to what should be”. If you work with young people and their learning experience and want to move towards more socially just practice, in other words, “what it should be”, then read on.

What should be is not what it is now. Research shows that education and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are structured by privilege at the intersections of gender, ‘race’/ethnicity and class. Science learning experiences are not what they should be for many minoritised individuals and communities.

Equality means giving individuals and groups the same resources and opportunities. Equity and social justice go further and advocate differential treatment according to need while also recognising and valuing differences between people, and seeking to change the structures and practices that create and maintain inequalities.

The Equity Compass is a tool for framing action that arcs towards equity and social justice. The tool is underpinned by social science research and is designed to support practitioners and others to make decisions, plan, monitor and evaluate progress. The Equity Compass can be applied to events, programmes, spaces, policy and generally projects big and small.

The Equity Compass

The Equity Compass

The Equity Compass is a reflective tool for owning action that is transformative, in the interest of minoritised communities, determinedly asset-based, collectively oriented, and one where equity is mainstreamed and embedded (i.e. foundational, not tokenistic). It is the action that is ‘with’ participants (not ‘to’ or ‘for’ them). It is the action that involves a redistribution of resources.

The Equity Compass tool introduces concepts and vocabulary to anchor equity-focused conversations. As one informal science practitioner reflected: “intuitive understanding and ‘lovely’ doesn’t cut it ….the Equity Compass [Tool] helped us to articulate and find a voice to convince colleagues, funders and the public.”

For more details about the Equity Compass and further explanation of the terminology, see two YESTEM Insights. Working closely with practitioners, we produced the Equity Compass for informal STEM learning (see our resources on yestem.org) and later developed the Equity Compass insight for primary and secondary teachers.

With a will to change – “to move to what should be”, the Equity Compass has the potential to transform practice within the informal STEM learning sector and beyond. This task is not easy, but as Amanda Gorman said, a more just world is possible, but only “If we’re brave enough to see it, If only we’re brave enough to be it.”


Uma has moved to an academic post at the Centre for Fusion Learning and Excellence (FLIE) at Bournemouth University and can be contacted at upatel@bournemouth.ac.uk.



Interested in STEM but not being ‘served’ by the informal STEM learning sector: insight from the YESTEM survey

By qtnvaux, on 3 June 2021

By Dr Spela Godec

The vast informal science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) learning sector offers many positive outcomes to people of all ages. Yet, research shows that the sector often perpetuates inequalities, with students from more privileged social backgrounds often participating more. A common “quick fix” response to increasing participation involves making STEM more interesting and fun, assuming that some people do not take part because they are not interested in STEM.

The research from the Youth Equity and STEM (YESTEM) project found that participation in informal STEM learning does not necessarily reflect young people’s (lack of) interest. Many minority ethnic and working-class young people in our study reported being interested in STEM and aspired to working in STEM jobs, yet rarely took part in designed and community informal STEM learning offers, while others from more socially privileged (White, middle-class) backgrounds regularly participated regardless of their STEM interest.

We analysed 1,624 survey responses from young people aged 11 to 14 and identified six groupings. Two particularly interesting groups were Served Cultural Omnivores and Underserved Scientists.

Served Cultural Omnivores (the name indicating frequent participation in informal STEM learning as well as other cultural activities) were disproportionately more likely to be White and have high cultural capital. These young people reported an average interest in science and STEM-related careers, yet regularly took part in informal STEM learning (such as visiting science museums). Their high participation seemed to reflect their families’ concerted cultivation efforts and patterns of cultural consumption typical of middle-class families, rather than a specific interest in the subject area.

On the other hand, Underserved Scientists (the name indicating infrequent participation in informal STEM learning and a strong interest in science) were disproportionately more likely to be South Asian and have medium science capital. They reported the highest STEM aspirations of all groups and regularly engaged in everyday STEM-related activities, such as reading books and watching science-related videos, yet participated in designed and community informal STEM learning significantly less than the study cohort’s average.

Examples from our qualitative cohort offered insight into why some young people, despite reporting an interest in the subject, rarely participate in informal STEM learning. Some minority ethnic, working-class young people appeared to be guided by pragmatism and risk-aversion. They spoke about the importance of prioritising school above everything else, including informal learning, in order to be able to succeed in life and improve their current situation: “When you’re young, focus on study … that’s what my dad used to always tell me.” Others struggled to conceive what value informal STEM learning might have for their overall education, seeing more benefits in spending their out-of-school time on activities such as tutoring and revising for exams: “in school, you can learn new stuff. Let’s just say you’re going to a club . . . you’re going to get information but you’re not going to get information more than in school.”

These findings on how some young people carefully weigh up the risks and benefits of their out-of-school activities can be understood as a strategic response to their precarious positions of inequalities. In Risk Society, Ulrich Beck wrote that “like wealth, risks adhere to the class pattern, only inversely; wealth accumulates at the top, risks at the bottom.” Young people from less privileged backgrounds may face greater risks in terms of how they spend their time, or what might happen if they fall behind at school. Currently, informal STEM learning does not offer a good enough return on investment for some of these young people.

In YESTEM project, we have worked closely with informal STEM learning practitioners and organisations to develop more equitable practices and better support minoritised young people’s engagement with STEM. See yestem.org for more project resources.


Interested but not being served: mapping young people’s participation in informal STEM education through an equity lens (Godec, Archer & Dawson, 2021) was published in Research Papers in Education and is available Open Access.


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