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Students taking up STEM subjects on decline last 10 years

KAMPAR: The number of children taking up science, technology, education and mathematics (STEM) subjects has declined in the last decade.

Asean Academy of Engineering and Technology honorary president Datuk Hong Lee Pee said students taking pure science classes are now less than 21% compared with 50% in the past.

“The ratio of science classes compared to arts classes used to be five to one but it is the reverse now.

“This is not good as we do need more people in these fields. These are the future innovators and inventors and such dearth in ta­lent can be counter-productive,” he told reporters after opening the 13th Festival of the Mind at Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) here yesterday.

Hong said one reason for such a shift in interests was the constant changes made to curriculum modules which led to changes in examination methods.

“Some students might find it hard to adapt and cope,” he said.

Another reason is that parents did not want to see their children ‘suffer’ because they think the subjects are difficult, he said.

He said those taking up engineering cour­ses need not necessarily work in the same field as the things they learned are applicable in other industries as well.

“Data analysis and critical thinking skills learnt from engineering courses can also be applied in the banking industry,” Hong added.

He said his daughter, having graduated top of her class with first class honours in engineering, now uses her skills in the marketing industry.

“She worked three years in the engineering field and decided to try something new and she is now marketing and promoting pro­ducts for big companies.

“Her ‘engineering’ mind made her more versatile,” he said.

UTAR president Prof Datuk Dr Chuah Hean Teik said that the drop in interest for the sciences is a global issue, not just Ma­­laysia.

He said it is a grave misconception that those from the arts and social science classes become chief executive officers, while those from science stream end up working for them.

“Parents play an important role in encoura­ging their children to opt for science classes,” he said.

During the festival, renowned memory athlete Huang Shenghua from China demonstrated his mental prowess in memorising sets of random binary digits.

Also present were UTAR chancellor Tun Dr Ling Liong Sik, his wife Toh Puan Ena Ling and UTAR Planning and Development Com­mittee adviser Tan Sri Hew See Tong.

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