How Science Capital Can Shape the Future of STEM Engagement

Drawing of a tool bag holding who you know, how you think, what you do, and who you know - your science capital

What is “science capital?” According to Professor Louise Archer and her team at King’s College London, science capital acts as a “toolbox” that contains all the science-related knowledge, attitudes, experiences and resources that one acquires through life. Science capital comes from a variety of sources including school, out-of-school learning and things people encounter in their everyday lives. The more science capital a young child has, for instance, the more likely it is that he or she will aspire to pursue science education and careers and see themselves as having a science identity.

Science capital can be a useful tool in assisting with the development of more effective and efficient ways of supporting young children of diverse backgrounds. Using science capital as a common framework, parents, teachers and after school educators can encourage enrollment in computer clubs, lab visits and science-fiction movie discussion groups, for example, that can be part of everyday practices.

Science capital, however, is often interpreted in different ways and may not be clearly understood or practiced. Here are a few common misconceptions about the concept of science capital:

  • Science Capital is just cultural capital.

    • In other words, students with higher science capital are more likely to come from more socially advantaged backgrounds and vice versa. This may not always be the case. A socially disadvantaged student may have a higher science capital than a socially advantaged student depending on the available science-related resources at hand.

  • Science capital is fixed.

    • Science capital is not fixed. The amount of capital you possess will change over time, depending on situations and context. The amount of exposure varies in a person’s lifetime.

  • A science capital approach only focuses on changing students.

    • Given that the value of a student’s capital will ultimately be shaped by the context they are in, it is important to focus on shifting policies and structures to bring about additional forms of science capital for all ages.   

As the journey to exploring the potential of building science capital in young children through informal science learning contexts and schools continues, Professor Archer and her team are continuously looking for ways to apply the same concepts towards adults. Ultimately, the hope is that building science capital can not only enable more young adults to access jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-related areas but also help improve their quality of life in the future.


Eight Dimensions of Science Capital