A COMMON misperception students have of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), is that they can only pursue careers in medicine, dentistry and pharmacy.
The Education Ministry and various institutions have been relentlessly rallying against this notion as it aspires to achieve a 60:40 ratio of science to arts students.
One such institution is Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM).
In collaboration with Persama (Persatuan Sains Matematik Malaysia), the varsity’s Centre of Foundation Studies for Agricultural Science and Mathematics Department of the Science Faculty recently held a maths camp for secondary school students, mostly from rural areas.
Held over two days, the camp saw the participation of over 200 Form Two students from five districts in Selangor.
UPM Centre of Foundation Studies for Agricultural Science director Prof Dr Norihan Md Arifin said the camp was aimed at increasing students’ interest and confidence in mathematics.
“It adopts modules by Persama which emphasises on playing with mathematics.
“This way, participants can see how it closely relates to their everyday life,” added Dr Norihan, who was also the programme’s director.
Deputy Education Minister Datuk P. Kamalanathan, who launched the programme, said the purpose of the camp was to provide more exposure to rural students, as well as sufficient resources to keep them well informed, on par with students from urban schools.
“The ministry realises this need and we have created the 1BestariNet programme.
“Through the virtual learning environment, we can help (students in their academics), but they also need exposure and sharing of knowledge from STEM experts,”he said.
He said, the interest in STEM had to be instilled from a young age, and should be voluntary.
“You cannot force a child to be interested in STEM because when they enjoy it voluntarily, they will take the initiative to be good in the field,” he said, adding the programme was a good platform to instil such interests in the mostly 14-year-olds.
Kamalanathan said while students from rural and urban schools use the same syllabus, it is the lack of access to extra information that students require after schooling hours that keeps rural students at a disadvantage. One such disadvantage is the poor Internet coverage in many rural areas.
“Therefore, when students attend programmes like this, senior lecturers will able to guide them,” he added.
Commenting on the misperceptions students have on STEM, Kamalanathan said it was the responsibility of both the ministry and teachers to inspire and inform students of the many career opportunities in science.
“In fact, there are many fields that are without competent people, he added.
“Because of this, we have to depend on foreign workers. Upgrading workers with the necessary skills, is a requirement that recognises and acknowledges that a country is a “developed nation.”
“We need a STEM-based workforce,” he said.
Kamalanathan assured students that opportunities in STEM are “as vast as the ocean”.
“STEM has the power to make the impossible, possible because its students have analytical minds,” he added.
Also present at the launch were UPM Faculty of Science dean Prof Dr Zainal Abidin Talib, UPM deputy vice-chancellor (Industry & Community Relations) Prof Dr Renuganth Varatharajoo and Persama vice-president Prof Dr Daud Mohammad.