What is it, specifically, that you do for children and young people?
We started in 2006 with the SinnTec student laboratory. It’s an extracurricular place of learning within the LernortLabor association – a federal association for school laboratories – where school students are introduced to technology. Instead of following the standard “teacher-up-front” style they know from school, it lets them actually try things out for themselves. However, the problem with the student laboratory was always that most schools found it difficult to integrate its offerings into their curricula because the lab was too far away. That’s why we founded the School Research Center in Saarlouis, which is central enough that multiple high schools can incorporate the possibilities available into their normal double class periods.
You’re the chairman of the association behind the center, and you also organize Technology Day.
That’s right. Again, the aim is to inform students about what engineering sciences actually are and what modern technology is all about. Many children and young people have no connection to such topics because they don’t encounter them within their families and social environment. They tend to associate engineering with negative things. For instance, it makes them think of environmental pollution, global warming and maybe even the diesel scandal – not of solar power plants or wind turbines and electromobility. That’s why we try to convey a different picture, namely of engineers who mainly contribute to positive developments in business and society.
So in a way, what you’re doing is cultivating an image?
That’s certainly one way to put it. The second image we’re always trying to get across is that engineers don’t just sit around soldering parts together on their own. We often hear that young people don’t want to work with technology because they would prefer to spend time with people. Engineers can’t help but laugh when they hear this. After all, our jobs consist almost entirely of teamwork – and we rarely do any soldering.
The last Technology Day was a bit different, though. You and your team went to a single school. Why was that?
The aim of the “Tag der Technik@School” (“Day of Technology@School”) event is to expand our target audience. After all, most of our events primarily attract school students who are already interested in technology. That means we’re not reaching students more broadly, which is why we incorporated an entire high school this time. We wanted to show all 800 students that technology is cool. And what can I say? The concept was a complete success. They immediately asked us if we wanted to do it every year!
Do such activities have a long-term impact? What has your experience been?
Time and again, we’ve seen that a one-time event like this is already helpful because it can spark an initial interest. Without something to follow it up, however, the effect can quickly fizzle out again. What we really need is to offer students opportunities all the way from elementary school to their final high school exams. And as for the overall effectiveness of these kinds of encouragement: the LernortLabor association has already demonstrated the success of its measures through studies. However, that type of evaluation takes a tremendous amount of effort. We prefer to focus our energy on the work itself. My personal experiences are enough of a confirmation for me.
Can you give us an example?
We also offer regular internships in our department at the university. One mother approached us after her son had completed his work experience to say how incredibly grateful she was. He had been absolutely determined to quit school at the next best opportunity. After the internship, though, he told her that he now had a reason to complete his final exams.
You mean it was only after the young man had gained an insight into how engineers work that he realized it might be something he would like?
Exactly. And that’s why work experience is also an extremely important topic that isn’t even on many people’s radar. For safety reasons, most industrial companies can’t offer children internships. So of course, school students then opt for an internship at their former kindergarten or maybe in the office where their mother or father works. And these are the jobs that the children then learn about.