One man’s vision in triggering an interest in all things science has brought Tamil schools to the limelight.
THEY were once at the bottom of the heap, but they’ve been thrust into the limelight, thanks to their recent successes in science.
Malaysia’s Tamil schools are carving a name for themselves in the international science arena, clearly outshining other schools.
In March, three students from SJK (T) Ramakrishna, Penang, beat 300 contestants from all over the world to win the first prize at the 35th Beijing Youth Science Creation Competition.
Durgashini Srijayan, Kumurthashri Ponniah and Sugheson Ganeson brought home the gold medal under the Excellent Youth Science Creation category for the eco-friendly thermo container they invented.
Last October, in London, SJK (T) Kulim’s R. Prevena, V Susheetha and former student R. Rasyikash won the Double Gold Award at the British Invention Show.
The team created an energy-saving drinks dispensing machine.
Tamil schools are also performing much better in the local examinations.
Last year, SJK (T) Taman Tun Aminah, Johor Baru, was the top school in the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah with 43 pupils scoring perfect 7As while others scored 7Bs.
What’s the secret to their success? Most of them have either taken part or are actively involved in the Science Fair for Young Children (SFYC).
The fair is organised by the Association of Science, Technology and Innovation (Asti). Its objective is to mentor and spark an interest in science among schoolchildren, especially Tamil school pupils.
Asti president Dr Mohamed Yunus Mohamed Yasin, 44, is said to have driven the science and maths agenda to Tamil schools, says well known blogger Syed Akbar Ali.
But Dr Mohamed Yunus, a Cambridge University engineering graduate, is modest about the role he’s played in the recent triumphs of the Tamil schools, saying that the schools and pupils were just as eager and enthusiastic.
“To be fair, it is not just Asti’s works that have increased the Tamil schools’ successes in mathematics and science. I would say that since we started building that culture of science in the schools, it is the pupils who’ve shown an interest and have immersed themselves in projects ,” adds Dr. Mohamed Yunus.
Dr Mohamed Yunus says Asti was only formed long after the SFYC came into being.
The association was established in 2010 while the first SFYC was held in 2006. There were only 49 teams taking part at the state level in 2006, but that quickly grew to 261 in 2014.
At the national level only the top 60 state teams compete annually.
“SFYC participants must come up with an experiment using a scientific method, after which they present it to the audience. They get to experience being a science university student,” says Dr Mohamed Yunus.
He says the participants have to show their methodology and even conference papers, plus prepare colourful presentation boards.
“Our schoolchildren need to be immersed in learning science and experience the magic of science through science-based activities.”
Dr Mohamed Yunus adds that the Asti team noticed that there was a tendency for schools to send only their top pupils to the SFYC.
This then prompted the association to launch the School Level Science Fair.
The school level fair is the same as SFYC with one difference.
This time, the school runs the event, not Asti.
“If we want to get more pupils involved, we have to do it at the school level and when we did this, many more pupils in schools took part.”
He says that the school level fairs were for pupils in Years Four and Five.
“These fairs got the pupils enthusiastic and interested in science and schools have said that this triggered an interest among pupils to learn.
“They’re motivated,” he adds.
He also says that Asti trains the teachers to run the fair specifically in order to empower them and ensure the event happens every year.
“We are a very small team here. We can’t be going to all the schools to conduct the fair,” adds Dr Mohamed Yunus.
The success of the science fair has led Asti to venture into secondary schools.
Last year, they launched the Young Inventors Challenge that aims to provide a platform for secondary school students to experience the inventive cycle.
Students are required to develop and showcase their inventions to an audience. Almost the same as in SFYC.
When asked what prompted him to target Tamil schools specifically, Dr Mohamed Yunus says these schools needed the help and push to excel in science and mathematics.
“When I returned from the United Kingdom in 2002, I went to visit some schools and I found that these schools were in a terrible condition.
“Some of these Tamil schools are very small. There are schools with only six students,” he says.
Asti has also worked with Astro over the last eight years to create more than 65 educational television capsules.
These capsules are short clips aired across the Tamil channels and have featured different themes over the years.
Among them are famous scientists, scientific concepts and also “backyard science”.
Backyard science, says Dr Mohamed Yunus, is the science that goes into everyday activities such as watering the plants.
He says that the scientists clips did not only feature renowned names like Sir Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein.
“We also had some Indian scientists like Srinivasa Ramanujan and Nobel prize winners C.V. Raman and Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar,” he adds.
Funding has been a huge problem for Asti and it is finding it a challenge to make ends meet.
“We sometimes get money from companies or NGOs but as of this year, we haven’t gotten a single sen.
“We are currently working on goodwill,” Dr Mohamed Yunus adds.
He hopes more people will step forward to help Asti with funding as their tireless efforts have clearly shown results.
The students are not as confident at the local level but their self-esteem and confidence grows as they make their way up to national and international competitions, adds Dr Mohamed Yunus.