Social justice and out‐of‐school science learning: Exploring equity in science television, science clubs and maker spaces

Monday, May 29, 2017
Resource Type:
Peer-reviewed article | Research Products
Environment Type: 
Media and Technology, Broadcast Media, Public Programs, Afterschool Programs, Making and Tinkering Programs
Elementary School Children (6-10) | Middle School Children (11-13) | Youth/Teen (up to 17) | General Public | Educators/Teachers | Museum/ISE Professionals
Education and learning science | General STEM
University College London

We cannot take access to equitable out‐of‐school science learning for granted. Data compiled in 2012 show that between a fifth (22% in Brazil) and half (52% in China and the United States) of people in China, Japan, South Korea, India, Malaysia, the United States, the European Union, and Brazil visited zoos, aquaria, and science museums (National Science Foundation, 2012). But research suggests participation in out‐of‐school science learning is far from equitable and is marked by advantage, not least the social axes of age, social class, and ethnicity (Dawson, 2014, 2014; National Science Foundation, 2012; OECD, 2012). For instance, in the UK data suggest that the two‐thirds of the population who took part in out‐of‐school science learning activities in the previous year were more affluent (upper and middle classes) and from the White ethnic majority (Ipsos MORI, 2014). If we believe that out‐of‐school science learning provides valuable educational, cultural, social and political opportunities, then we must take questions of equity seriously.

Ideas from social justice can help us understand how equity issues are woven through out‐of‐school science learning practices. In this paper, I outline how social justice theories, in combination with the concepts of infrastructure access, literacies and community acceptance, can be used to think about equity in out‐of‐school science learning. I apply these ideas to out‐of‐school science learning via television, science clubs and maker spaces, looking at research as well as illustrative examples to see how equity challenges are being addressed in practice. I argue that out‐of‐school science learning practices can be understood on a spectrum from weak to strong models of social justice. Thinking about social justice as a spectrum helps us think through what equitable out‐of‐school science learning practices might involve, both to analyze existing practices and, importantly, to imagine new, more inclusive ones.

International Public
Funding Program: 
UK's Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
Award Number: 
Publication Name: 
Science Education
Page Number: 

Team Members

emily dawsonAuthor

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