STEM to the rescue – how to make the future of Europe attractive with “Rocket69”

To ensure Europe’s smart and sustainable economic growth, it is inevitable to ensure that there will be a new generation of specialists in the STEM field. Many countries are facing a shortage of STEM students, specialists and engineers. To boost innovation and value-driven growth, we must find effective solutions to promote the STEM field in students and fulfil this demand.   

Estonia has built one of the most efficient and comprehensive solutions to promote the field with a “Rocket69” TV show format. “Rocket69 “is an educational and entertaining TV science contest for students established in 2011. The show marked its 12th season in the Estonian National Broadcasting this year. The aim of the show and other communications activities is to make complex subjects more life-true and relatable, but at the same time inspiring and motivating as a career path. The show’s name is inspired by the fact that the first steps on the Moon were made in 1969.   

Science tasks at “Rocket69”. Photo: Vesilind OÜ

The principle of “Rocket69” 

All students starting from age 15 can apply for the show. Fifteen of the best contestants are chosen through casting for the TV show based on their performance in fact-based knowledge and practical skills tests. The first half of the season focuses on teamwork. The contestants are divided into three teams in which they solve two science tasks. Two contestants from the losing team determine the dropout of the show in a one-to-one science duel. All assignments require creativity, theoretical, scientific knowledge and the ability to use it in practice.  

In the second half of the season, the students compete individually. In the Grand Finale, two of the best students have to solve a complex assignment that will show all their abilities by building the Rube Goldberg machine. The winner of the season wins a EUR 10.000 scholarship in addition to prices from the cooperation partners of the show.   

The tasks solved in each episode are created in a determined topic of science ranging from electronics to robotics and chemistry. Most tasks are created in collaboration with technology companies, which face those problems daily. All assignments and solutions of the contest are explained with a voice-over, by graphical illustrations during the show and also commented by judges. The judges of the show are known researchers and engineers in Estonia. In addition, the Science Editor of the show offers deeper explanations online for each assignment.  

The marketing toolbox of “Rocket69”  

The science competition is not only a TV show but offers a wide range of science communication and popularization tools that can be used in different channels and goals. The show provides a voice-over explanation of the problems and solutions solved in the show that can be used as STEM teaching material at school. To make it easier for teachers to use the materials at schools, the videos are integrated with different subjects in the e-school system. Moreover, the show has a solid social media presence on Facebook, Instagram and TikTok with an unparalleled reach. Social media channels offer the opportunity to speak to other students directly on the platforms they are using in their everyday life.   

The finale of “Rocket69”. Photo: Vesilind OÜ

In addition, due to the show’s popularity in Estonia, the scope has grown significantly in the past years. The problems solved on the TV are now used in Rocket69 science camps for students to support formal education in schools. In addition, Rocket69 science studios were established in 2020. In the studios, classes can participate in the problem-solving exercises and therefore obtain the TV show experience. Moreover, the science studio is also popular amongst adults – many companies use the offered opportunity for team-building and social events. Therefore, the reach of the TV show is broad and reaches students efficiently, but also teachers and a wider audience in Estonia. Due to this, the popularity and awareness of career opportunities in STEM are growing yearly.   

Reach and impact 

The reach of the TV contest has been growing each year – it has risen up to 113.000 viewers per episode. Keep in mind that the population of Estonia is 1.3 million, and the target audience of the TV show is about 200 000. This means that every tenth Estonian follows the show every week. The additional supportive activities increased the reach even more – in 2022, we achieved an overall reach on Facebook of more than 128 000 and on Instagram of over 220 000. On TikTok, videos about the bloopers and behind the scenes reached 884 000 views (and counting). 

Teamwork at “Rocket69”. Photo: Vesilind OÜ

The work of more than ten years has contributed significantly to the popularity of STEM. Every third student is obtaining a higher education in the STEM field. Moreover, a science barometer done in Estonia in 2020 determined that the overall trust in science and scientists is very high, reaching up to 78%. Two third of the population shared that the “Rocket69” show is the most relevant science exposure for them. This shows that the long-term strategy of making science relatable affects a variety of audiences.   

“Rocket69” is also recognized with the national Science Popularizer award. In 2012, the European Broadcasting Union named the show the best educational TV programme. 

Additional information:

Mare Vahtre

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