Equal opportunities

"I appeal to all vocational schools to inform their students about the Science Olympiads"

Mauro Baumann was the first vocational student to win a medal at the national finals of the Philosophy Olympiad and even took home bronze in economics at the international level. On OlyDay he received the prize for "Best Interdisciplinary Performance at the National Level". What distinguishes him from many other participants: He does not go to high school, but is doing an apprenticeship. In this article, Mauro explores the question of why vocational students are rather rare at the Science Olympiads and how this could be changed.

Mauro Baumann presents his certificate for the "Best Interdisciplinary Performance at the National Level" award on OlyDay (Image: Claudia Christen).

Lab techs are leading the way: Three out of four members of the Swiss delegation at the International Chemistry Olympiad 2023 came from vocational training. (Image: Luca Ferrari, IChO 2023)

Mauro (second from right) as a member of the Swiss delegation at the 2023 International Economics Olympiad. (Image: Swiss Economics Olympiad)

Alone among high school students, but still throwing a victory sign: Mauro Baumann at the final dinner of the Philosophy Olympiad ((in the back). (Image: Lara Gafner, Philosophy Olympiad)

In 2006, the Swiss Philosophy Olympiad was founded. Since then, no vocational student has ever won a medal – that is, until this year. Is that because, as apprentices. we are not good enough? Certainly not. Of course, we don’t benefit from philosophy lessons, but these are not necessary in order to write a good essay.

On a path of curiosity

I proved this in person at this year’s Philosophy Olympiad. My essays carried me all the way to the finals and won me a bronze medal. I then learned that I was the first vocational student ever to win a medal. A moment of shock for me and yet not all too surprising. But was this pure luck or is it possible for apprentices to succeed in the Olympiads?

I was eager to find out, so I decided to participate in the Swiss Economics Olympiad, where I won gold and went on to represent Switzerland at the International Economics Olympiad, dwinning bronze. My feats during the first year of participating in the Science Olympiads won me “Best Interdisciplinary Performance”, which means one apprentice outcompeted 7,000 participants regarding the level of success in several subjects. So yes, I find that it is possible.

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Yannik Straumann, who made it to the international final in 2022, gives tips for taking part in the Chemistry Olympiad. In 2023, three quarters of the Swiss IChO delegation had a vocational training background, and apprentices are also regularly present at the Biology Olympiad. Mauro Baumann shows: The Science Olympiads are not only interesting for lab rats and pipette pros.

Exchange – missing but crucial

The reason no apprentice ever won an Philosophy Olympiad medal before me is probably because few even bothered participating. Yet it would be so important to have the vocational school students participate in precisely such competitions. More exchange between high school students and apprentices is absolutely necessary. In my regular 3-year bank apprenticeship, this is not intended at all. Do we really want to divide our society so early and in this way?

Since I don’t confine my academic efforts solely to my banking apprenticeship but use my free time to participate in many events, workshops and competitions, I know what great things come out when the apprentice and the high school student meet. Not only can both learn a lot from each other, but many friendships, opportunities and good conversations are created. I can say that after having been the only vocational school student at dozens of events throughout all of Europe.

Do vocational students avoid the Olympiads?

To find out why few apprentices participate in the Science Olympiads, I suggest you consider the following reasons:

  • The Olympiads are not advertised at vocational schools, nor at apprenticeship companies.
  • Apprentices have no additional incentive to take part in an Olympiad. They even have to spend their few vacation days on it.
  • Apprentices are afraid of not having a chance against the more academically oriented high school students.

Apprentices do not actively avoid the Olympiads. The hurdles to participation are simply too high. Above all, it’s a shame that so few apprentices even know about the Olympiads.

Vocational schools could make the difference

The promotion of the Olympiads would primarily be the task of the vocational schools. A task that they hardly perform. Is this perhaps because the vocational schools themselves do not know about the Olympiads? Educational work is needed here, but from whose side? I appeal to all vocational schools inform their students about the Science Olympiads. Fame, glory and a more engaged student body beckon as a prize.

Participation must become more lucrative

The cut from thirteen vacation weeks to less than half the number per year is not the nicest aspect of starting a vocational apprenticeship. If you then tell a vocational student that they should spend their valuable vacation days on an academic competition, you will probably be met with a justifiable gaze of questionability. Exceptional cases like mine are probably rather rare, the broad mass of apprentices would much rather go to the beach for a few more days.

Every training company that takes the promotion of young talent seriously should therefore grant additional days off for participation in the Olympiads. At least for the final rounds. The costs of this are small, but the benefits are fame and glory (free marketing) and an improvement of the own apprentices in several areas (think: network, expertise, knowledge of human nature, openness, etc.).

This could be the start of something big

My performance at this year’s Olympiads is probably more of a symbolic value. However, it could be the start of a major change in the dual education system. Will the apprentices and the high school students mingle more, or will they continue to hide away in their shells? It can only be healthy if we encourage the exchange of these two species. To make progress with this we need to work together. I am excited to see if we can actually make a difference and say that we should not miss this opportunity.

What do you think? Contact me with questions, thoughts or suggestions. I am at your disposal.

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