Visiting a science centre or museum may be a lesson in itself for it has the ability to change and inspire progressive thought and action.
SCIENCE education is getting more emphasis in Malaysia, since it is one of the core subjects that every student is expected to master.
Science learning has the potential in shaping the lives of people. However, the number of students taking up science subjects has dropped in recent years, the reasons being the lack of interest in the subject.
Thus, the Education Ministry is looking at ways to encourage more students to take up science subjects.
One way for the Education Ministry to consider is to collaborate with science museums or science centres to instil interest in the subject.
Annually, the government has been spending millions to maintain or upgrade the state museums and the National Science Centre in Bukit Kiara, Kuala Lumpur.
For example, the National Science Centre which was opened by former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 1996, is an institution of informal learning.
It was entrusted with a mandate to promote awareness, interest and understanding of science and technology to increase the knowledge of Malaysian citizens.
In 2006, the National Science Centre had a new beginning with the establishment of its first branch in the northern region.
The project started in February 2005 on a two-hectare site in the district of Gunung Keriang, Alor Setar, Kedah.
The building’s design was based on energy-saving and environmental considerations. There was also space set aside for a large exhibition hall.
Almost all of the layout work and interactive exhibition galleries in this building are organised and managed by the centre’s staff themselves.
The two science centres house many different exhibits designed to stimulate, excite and encourage visitors to take an active interest in science and technology.
The exhibits located at the centre are based on different themes and divided into two categories — Fundamental Science and Technology.
The overall concept of the centre is to link science with the environment and religion, as well as to relate science to all aspects of life, knowledge and application in life.
Another important site for informal learning in Malaysia is the National Museum.
The National Museum is the driver of museum activities in Malaysia and has been instrumental in the restoration and preservation of the nation’s heritage.
Erected on the site of the Selangor Museum, which was destroyed during the Second World War in March 1945, the idea for its construction was triggered in 1957 after the country’s Independence and it was officially announced in 1959.
Science museums and centres are informal environments that can promote learning.
Examples of activities that are carried out are hands-on workshops for Chinese paper-cutting, interactive tours, seminars and talks among other things.
Museums provide students with the opportunity to handle real objects, solve problems, and interact with others all at the same time.
Furthermore, science museums have interactive exhibits to capture the interest of students, providing them direct experience with real things, presenting possibilities that are difficult to achieve in other forms of teaching.
These informal science environments have the advantage to reach out to students of all ages, with varying levels of interest and knowledge in the subject so that they are exposed to scientific skills and concepts.
The learning experiences help to jump-start a student’s long-term interest in the subject.
At science museums, students are able to experience informal learning, change attitudes and be more accepting of new ideas and theories.
For instance, they may have more empathy for animals and their habitats and can even engage in scientific inquiry where they will need skills related to the use of instruments and devices like microscopes or telescopes.
In conclusion, science museums or science centres are remarkable sites for learning, capable of inspiring teachers and students.
The experiences that museums offer can touch the visitors deeply, generating curiosity, motivating learning and inspiring self-confidence.
The potential of museums as centres of informal learning is gaining more attention.
Those managing museums realise that they must understand the needs of visitors in order to attract and engage them in learning.
Hence, it is important to evaluate the effectiveness of the items on display at exhibitions and other programmes initiated by museums.
The ability to evaluate what works well and requires improvement in such programmes ensures that science museums and centres can develop effectively.