KINDERUNIWIEN

Title

KINDERUNIWIEN

Name of the institution(s)

Vienna University

Qualification level concerned

EQF 5

EQF 6

Country concerned

Austria

Theme(s) 

Mission/Role of Professional Higher Education

Keywords

Access, social dimension

Summary

The objective of KinderuniWien is to introduce children between the age of 7 to 12 to the university system in specific and the educational system in general. By interacting with real scientists and researchers who are active on a rigorous academic level, the children get an idea of learning, teaching and research at university levels and the relevance of a university for their own daily life. In this process children explore their curiosity and are encouraged to think critically and exercise other skills that are needed in an academic environment. The KinderuniWien offers children a learning experience in an academic environment that fits their way of living and expands their frame of reference in terms of educational pathways. KinderuniWien reaches approximately 10.000 children on an annual basis.

The programmes and aims of KinderuniWien are part of a bigger strategy to promote social inclusion in higher education. The University of Vienna has included the Children’s University as part of their diversity strategy to increase future students with a migrant background. This is also a response to the demands of the government to foster more sustainable relationships with families of future students. In this sense KinderuniWien is an instrument to reach diverse students and support them in the process of informed decision making in regards to educational pathways.

KinderuniWien isn’t based on any particular theoretical framework. They started with a flexible and open mind set, learned along the way and still are open to different concepts. KinderuniWien sees knowledge and experience in the area of science communication and involvement as an important foundation to their work. In particular, international networking and exchange of experience had boosted the further development of the program, the reliability and visibility of the program – both towards other experts and practitioners in the field and the general public, as well as inwards of the universities and other parties that are involved in the program and their invitational learning.

At the KinderuniWien children attend workshops, lectures and seminars in the university buildings. During a period of two weeks the children experience what it’s like to be a “real” adult student. They also get their own ID card and stamps in their passports. They enter the classrooms and laboratories and interact with real researchers and scientists who share their work. The academics choose their own topics and translate it to the context and experiences of the children.

The summer program provides 500 seminars and lectures and allows the children to select 10 of them to enroll in. The most popular topics are physics and chemistry, which is interesting considering the decline in STEM fields. This also indicates that interest in STEM fields is present at a young age but is lost later on in the educational pipeline. Even though there’s a good balance in participation between boys and girls, KinderuniWien does take on an active approach to engage girls in STEM related studies. Other popular topics are medical science and psychology. At the end of the program there’s a graduation ceremony that celebrates the success and involvement of the children as students.

KinderuniWien reaches around 4500 children with the summer program of two weeks. Besides the summer program, KinderuniWien also invites children throughout the year to attend classes at the university and reach another 2000 children. KinderuniWien also carries out an outreach program, KinderUni on Tour, in and around Vienna and reaches another 2000 children. The tour focuses mainly on disadvantaged areas and small villages in rural areas in the Eastern provinces of Austria.

Lessons learnt

The evaluation is of KinderuniWien is decentralized, some of partners do their evaluation related to their field of science. The most relevant data are related to the social origin and place of residence by home address and the gender ratio. It shows the distribution of interests and selection of topics, which have changed over the years. There is a lot of quantitative data gathered by questionnaires. In addition students also do observations in particular lectures or workshops and their feedback is gathered in briefings with lecturers. Finally children are also asked for their feedback, for instance by asking them to write a letter to their grandma about what they’ve learned during the program.

The most relevant learning however doesn’t come from quantitative data, but from informal observations by the team. Everyone has a role during the delivery of the summer program, not related to their regular roles, which enables them to take a different perspective. They listen to what they are hearing directly from the parents or what the parents are sharing with each other in an informal setting. This relates to their expectations and challenges relating to participation in the program. It requires reading between the lines and intentional observations rather than submitting formal interviews or questionnaires.

In 2005 KinderuniWien did a massive survey and noted an implicit basis in terms of socio-economic backgrounds. It turned out the registration procedures didn’t take into account the lack of resources and time during the week in low-income families, which prevented them from registering their children in time for the program. This led to a renewed registration procedure, which introduced a registration day or weekend and didn’t require internet access to register. This increased the accessibility of the Children’s University. An important lesson for the organization has been the realization that it’s not enough to be free and open to everyone, if families from disadvantaged backgrounds don’t feel invited or welcome. It took the organization a while to understand this issue and realized in order to truly be open and inclusive, you need to make extra efforts to reach certain groups: “Gratis ist nicht genug” – It’s not enough to be free of charge.

Additional information

One of the key drivers behind the initiative is a unit under the authority of the municipality that’s responsible for a massive program during the summer holidays for children and families that includes cultural, sports and learning activities. This program has been running for over 35 years and is coordinated by the organization WienXtra. This organization is experienced in out of school activities and has been very supportive in promoting the activities of KinderuniWien and helping them to reach children from diverse and notably non-academic backgrounds. Other key drivers have been local networks and cooperation established with cultural organizations, sports and leisure organisations refugee organizations, community centres, neighbourhood organizations and social welfare networks.

Another key driver has been the nomination for an ‘idea challenge’ (“Spin the Globe”) launched by a major international tech enterprise in Austria, which the KinderuniWien project could come off as the winner. This led to a massive media response and having the support of the media helped the organization to reach a wider range of different communities. Turkish newspapers in Vienna for instance published the information about KinderuniWien in Turkish. Amongst other interventions, this contributed to a shift in the public opinion on the Children’s University as an initiative that’s limited to the elite to a program that’s open to everyone.

Contact details

Vienna University Children’s Office, Chris Gary  info@eucu.net

First collected by

IDEAS (Identifying Effective Approaches to Enhancing the Social Dimension) project – EURASHE, 2013-2015

 

Rating of GOOD practices
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