Introducing the young people of Valais to science

The program is geared toward young people - girls and boys alike - aged 7 to 16
The program is geared toward young people - girls and boys alike - aged 7 to 16 years. 2024 EPFL/SPS - CC-BY-SA 4.0
"Les sciences, ša m’intÚresse," a science outreach program aimed at young people aged 7 to 16 years, is now available in Valais. The initiative uses fun, hands-on activities to inspire interest in science and technology. The program’s expansion was made possible thanks to the support of UBS and a partnership between EPFL’s Science Outreach Department, the EPFL Valais Wallis campus and the Canton of Valais.

EPFL’s Science Outreach Department has developed "Les sciences, ša m’intÚresse," an outreach program that aims to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to a younger audience and inspire the next generation to consider careers in these fields.

The initiative has been running for several years now in the Cantons of Vaud and Jura under formal agreements with the respective cantonal governments. It’s now been rolled out in Valais in partnership with UBS, the Canton of Valais and NCCR Catalysis, a research body funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation.

The program is geared toward young people - girls and boys alike - aged 7 to 16 years. The fun, hands-on activities naturally inspire interest in science and technology, foster creativity, promote scientific thinking, and impart new knowledge. Encouraging girls, who are vastly underrepresented in STEM, is a top priority.

Beyond activities during school hours, the program also offers a wide range of extracurricular activities , which run on Wednesday afternoons, Saturdays and during school holidays, as well as initiatives aimed at parents and teaching staff.

In addition to taking part in hands-on workshops, the young people will have an opportunity to visit research labs and talk to scientists. The rollout follows a successful pilot of several classroom and extracurricular activities, which began in February this year.

Inspiring the next generation

"This initiative aligns with my department’s desire to promote STEM subjects among young people," said Christophe Darbellay, the head of the Department of Economy and Education, Canton of Valais, during the program’s launch event, held this morning at the EPFL Valais Wallis campus in Sion. "The canton’s economy has a growing need for skilled workers, which is why we’re determined to help build a pool of local talent."

The program aims to address major societal challenges by getting children interested in STEM subjects at an early age. Switzerland is facing a shortage of skilled labor - both graduates and people with a vocational background - in these areas. One way to counteract this issue is to inform, educate and inspire schoolchildren early on - before they make their subject and career choices.

More generally, science and technology are a fundamental part of modern society, playing a key role in healthcare, energy generation, food production, environmental protection and many other areas of our daily lives. An educated public that understands the issues involved in scientific research is therefore crucial to mounting a proactive and informed response to the challenges facing society.

Outreach programs of this kind help young people learn about science and technology in a rounded and inclusive way, in addition to raising the level of scientific literacy among the general population.

It was this aspect of the program - widening access to STEM training for children and young people, and building a new talent pipeline - that particularly interested UBS. "By promoting STEM subjects to young people in Valais, we are not only inspiring interest in science and technology, but also future-proofing our workforce by bringing through the next generation of talent," said Iwan Willisch, regional director, UBS Valais. "For UBS, backing this science outreach program is part of our role as a good corporate citizen."

The funding - 2.3 million Swiss francs over 10 years - comes under a broader strategic partnership agreement between EPFL and UBS , announced in December 2023. Combined with the School’s contribution, it means the activities for students and families can be offered free of charge.

Schools and teaching staff will be informed about the program with the support of the Canton of Valais.