Education as a key to the future

Practical application
The PepperMint project links education content with exemplary applications in post-mining – here is an example of a trigonometry problem from the Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum. © Helena Grebe

Today, educating children and adolescents in the STEM fields is more important than ever. PepperMint, an education project supported by the RAG-Stiftung, aims to add fun to the STEM subjects and close knowledge gaps. In doing so, the project addresses specific applications in post-mining.

Interactive and free
Lisa Michael, the project’s director, introduces the new RAG-Stiftung-supported PepperMint learning portal of the THGA. © THGA/Volker Wiciok

One of the biggest challenges of our time is reducing inequalities in the field of education. Taking a look at industrialised nations shows that Germany just makes it into the lower middle range when it comes to educational equity. The social background of an individual is therefore decisive in determining their educational success, or lack thereof.

The end of coal mining along the Ruhr and Saar rivers and in Ibbenbüren meant the end of many educational and training opportunities that offered vocational prospects for disadvantaged children and adolescents in particular. To compensate for this lack of opportunities, the RAG-Stiftung takes a targeted approach to initiating and supporting projects that lead to greater educational equity. Only if all children are given the same opportunities, regardless of their social background and where they live, can they really succeed in improving their situation through education, thereby ensuring the innovative force and sustainability of the region over the long term.

‘If we are able to support the education of children and adolescents in the STEM subjects early on, then that is a benefit to those receiving support as well as a boon to progress in the region as a whole.’

Bärbel Bergerhoff-Wodopia,
Member of the Board of Executives of the RAG-Stiftung

Promoting STEM knowledge

Knowledge in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is considered particularly seminal, as Bärbel Bergerhoff-Wodopia, Member of the Board of Executives of the RAG-Stiftung, underscores: ‘If we are able to support the education of children and adolescents – and girls and young women in particular – in the STEM subjects early on, then that is a benefit not only to those receiving support, but also helps progress in our region as a whole.’

The focus on the STEM subjects is crucial in a broader respect: over the course of its development, the German coal mining industry produced comprehensive technical expertise that we also need for the future – not only to be able to tackle post-mining tasks, for example. ‘We must manage to discover untapped potential to provide the optimal support for future skills. The need for qualified specialists in the STEM sectors is great – both today and tomorrow,’ emphasises Bärbel Bergerhoff-Wodopia.

Improved performance in the STEM subjects

A survey of adolescents at schools conducted by the THGA clearly shows what they hope to see from the STEM subjects in future: around half of those surveyed indicated that practical examples would help them achieve better results in the STEM subjects. The aspect of trying it themselves and experimentation was mentioned just as frequently – and the pupils would also like for explanatory videos to be used more often than before.

More practical examples
Try it yourself or experiment
Explanation videos
Personal tutoring
Learning groups at school
Tutorials or online tutoring
Support from a mentor or sponsor
STEM clubs at school
PepperMint closes knowledge gaps

The Technische Hochschule Georg Agricola (THGA) and the affiliated Forschungszentrum Nachbergbau (Research Center of Post-Mining/FZN) have committed to the task of promoting and developing this knowledge, and applying it to the challenges of field of post-mining. Among others, the RAG-Stiftung has been supporting the PepperMint* educational project since July 2020, which is under the direction of Professor Dr Tobias Rudolph, geology expert and endowment professor at the FZN, and Lisa Michael.

More Information

PepperMint is geared towards upper school pupils as well as university students in their first semester. The project pursues a novel approach to close gaps in academic STEM education and to accompany first semesters for a successful start for study programmes. The report ‘Education at a Glance’ published by the OECD in 2021 shows that, on a percentage basis, more young people begin a course of study in the STEM fields in Germany than in any other OECD country. The problem is that many students in these courses of study are unable to complete their degree programmes. For example, approximately one of every two bachelor students in civil engineering drops out before graduating. Additionally, according to the young talent barometer, one in five STEM apprenticeships is not completed in Germany. For this reason, project director Lisa Michael emphasises: ‘Many students struggle with knowledge gaps in the basic subjects such as natural sciences and mathematics. This is where PepperMint wants to make a difference.’

* In German, ‘MINT’ stands for ‘Mathematik, Informatik, Naturwissenschaften, Technik’, (mathematics, informatics, natural sciences, technology), which is essentially equivalent to the acronym ‘STEM’ (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) commonly used in English.

Institutional support

Since 2010, the RAG-Stiftung has supported the Technische Hochschule Georg Agricola in building up the field of post-mining as a particular focus of its teaching and research. The PepperMint project also makes its home here. © THGA/Volker Wiciok

  • Learning portal with different ways to use it interactively and practical tasks of various difficulty levels
  • PROJECT PARTNERS: Technische Hochschule Georg Agricola (THGA), support of the project by the RAG-Stiftung since July 2020
  • FOCUS TOPICS: STEM, post-mining
  • OBJECTIVE: Conveying knowledge in the STEM fields to adolescents and young adults
Exemplary applications in post-mining

The supporting and continuing education courses in mathematics, informatics, physics, chemistry and electrical engineering are tailored to the different levels of prior knowledge of the participants and comprise digital interactive tools such as learning videos and web forums for self-study in addition to classic methods. The special aspect of the project is the connection of the educational content with specific exemplary applications in post-mining.

For example, the mathematics module for trigonometry is taught using mining measurement techniques such as borehole measurement and geomonitoring methods on the basis of earth observation. In its first module, the chemistry course deals with the topic of equilibrium reactions, which are illustrated using chemical reactions in a blast furnace. Along the way, professional prospects in the STEM fields are also put on display and the importance of post-mining in the former coal mining regions is made clear.

Pilot phase in Saarland

One particular focus of the RAG-Stiftung is networking its support partners amongst each other and enabling them to make use of synergies – which is especially clear through the example of the PepperMint project. In cooperation with the StudienStiftungSaar foundation, which is also supported by the RAG-Stiftung, PepperMint entered the pilot phase at four schools in Saarland.

The schools are thrilled about the opportunities offered by the project and are highly motivated. This level of acceptance is important, because the STEM courses can be better adapted to the needs of the children and adolescents in collaboration with the schools. Everyone involved agrees: the potential of establishing PepperMint at further schools throughout Germany is great. With its freely available online and offline courses, the project offers a modern form of STEM support where fun is at the forefront of the learning experience. This combination increases the motivation of many interested talents to opt for a study programme in the STEM fields and to carry out through to graduation – perhaps even at the THGA in Bochum.

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