Higher education institutions can have a major role in changing the life perspectives and improving the science capital of many children and young people who are kept at the margin of the educational system, as experienced during the Sis Catalyst project. In this paper we present a case study of the Children University Programme at SISSA (Trieste, Italy) run with a small group of teenagers who have interrupted the school before the terms of the obligation. The aim of the project was exploring the potential of science to mitigate school drop out and facilitate social inclusion. It was done in collaboration with the SMAC School, an alternative school that helps young people at risk of marginalization and deviance to complied with the compulsory school.
After a preliminary period of mutual understanding and aquaintance with the research activities of SISSA, we carried out three workshops on coding using Scratch! the software developed by MIT to introduce children to programming. Eventually the SMAC pupils were invited to become mentors of a CoderDojo event organized at SISSA with a group of 30 children aged 9-11. They participated to the briefing before the meeting with the other experienced mentors, and then took care of the children with utmost care and responsibility, sharing with them their expertise, helping and encouraging when there were difficulties.
A series of in-depth interviews have been conducted with the educators and the facilitators of the workshops, and two focus groups have been carried out with the young participants. The preliminary outcomes are very encouraging: through the active engagement, the young participants have succeeded in completing a complex project, taking responsibility, dealing with other people external to their usual circle (both children and adults), in a context in which they have been valued and respected.
A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.