THE government is in the midst of identifying more programmes to boost Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) interest.
This is in addition to existing initiatives already being carried out.
Realising the importance of sustaining a supportive STEM education ecosystem, the Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Ministry (Mestecc), said its secretary-general Datuk Dr Siti Hamisah Tapsir, has been working closely with the Education Ministry (MOE) to strengthen the National STEM Agenda through informal STEM education programmes.
Siti Hamisah, an engineer by training, was the former Higher Education director-general before moving to the new ministry in November last year.
To promote STEM and instil a culture of innovation among students, RM11mil was allocated in Budget 2020 to implement joint initiatives by the two ministries, as outlined in the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025.
On Wednesday, the MOE on its social media, said there is a misconception that STEM was boring and requires the memorising of books to solve problems related to the subjects.
The reality, said the ministry, is that STEM is very interesting as the subjects are linked to real scenarios and situations.
Finding solutions to STEM problems, it added, was by conducting experiments, not through memorising.
“Our aim is to encourage students to venture into STEM fields.
“Both ministries are identifying programmes to reach out to more students and spark their interest in pursuing a STEM career.
“These programmes will be held in accordance with the formal school syllabus to encourage and help students have a better understanding of what’s taught in schools, ” Siti Hamisah told StarEdu.
She said one example of such programmes, is CikgooTube.
Under the programme launched on Dec 12 by the MOE, all lessons uploaded by teachers on YouTube are housed under one platform to help students learn better and assist teachers in solving classroom-related problems.
CikgooTube, she said, takes advantage of the power of social media as the main medium for information gathering and delivery.
Under the programme, some 500 teachers created their own YouTube content to facilitate teaching and learning in schools, she said.
“CikgooTube will include collaborations with researchers and scientists from various agencies under Mestecc to create videos on how science works and how technologies are applied in our daily life.”
Two main programmes, namely Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change (ESTECC) Education in Schools, and National Science Week, have also been implemented.
ESTECC Education focuses on interactive hands-on experiential activities, while the National Science Week raises awareness on the importance of science, technology and innovation, in increasing the number of students who choose STEM careers, and recognises the contributions of Malaysians in the field.
“ESTECC is a fun learning programme that provides students with a wide range of science and technology information to help them understand, appreciate and apply STEM.
“This is where STEM practitioners from Mestecc agencies share their passion in science and technology with students. The sessions are relaxed but structured, ” she said, adding that last year, over one million students joined the programme.
She said the National Science Week has been held yearly since 2018 and its celebration coincides with the World Science Day, which is under the auspices of the United Nations Organisation for Education (Unesco).
“Through our National Science Week activities, we reach out to parents as they play an important role in nurturing STEM interest among children.”
The National Science Centre and the National Planetarium in Kuala Lumpur are informal science education agencies under Mestecc, she said.
Together with the MOE, both agencies have been promoting STEM in Malaysia through activities like Educator Innovation, Educator Placement, Science Kids and Monsoon Science Camp.
“The Educator Innovation, for instance, is where interactive teaching-learning methods are shared through exhibits and activities so that teachers can implement them at schools.
“This programme has produced very effective and interesting experiences, ” she said, adding that the ministry is now looking at engagement-focused gamification, or including game design mechanics, to learning.
In 2018,44% of students opted for the Science stream at secondary level, compared with 48% in 2012. At tertiary level, 570,858 (63%) of students majored in Arts and Humanities, Education, Social Sciences, Business and Law in 2017, compared with 334,742 (37%) who enrolled in Science, Math, Computers, Engineering, Manufacturing and Construction courses.
“This trend needs to be reversed.
“We have to give more STEM exposure to students and make learning fun to nurture their interest.
“With the collective effort of each and every one of us, our children will be well-equipped and prepared with STEM knowledge and skills to achieve the Malaysia’s aspirations.”
She said one of the main challenges that confronts the nation is how we can build on the strength of our people.
History, she added, has proven that countries that invest in science and technology education have done well in driving their socio-economic development.
“Take South Korea for example. Their focus on STEM education has leapfrogged the country to become one of the leading nations in producing cutting edge technologies, resulting in the creation of high paying jobs.
“Our children must be comfortable with STEM to excel in life.
“Sound STEM education creates critical thinkers and innovators, as well as increases literacy on many fronts, including in financial and technical areas.”
SMK La Salle Chemistry, Science, and Forensics teacher Yasmin Noorul Amin described the initiatives as a step forward in raising awareness among the public – especially parents – on how STEM can generate multiple career opportunities.
“Organising informal programmes outside of schools can allay fears that STEM subjects are not practical or that graduates would not have job security, ” said Yasmin, who was the first government school teacher in Malaysia and South East Asia to be selected as one of the 50 finalists for the Global Teacher Prize 2015 award in Dubai, and the 2018 Selangor STEM Icon Teacher.
Melaka Action Group for Parents in Education chairman Mak Chee Kin said greater creativity and innovative are needed to make learning enjoyable especially for STEM as many students are shying away from it.
Parents, he said, could play a part by explaining to their children in simple terms how the things in our every day life works.
“Children are naturally curious. Parents can create interest in science and technology by telling them how things like magnets, magnifying glasses, balloons and planes work.”
Exposing children to STEM activities at a young age is crucial in reversing the declining trend in the uptake of STEM, said National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) secretary-general Harry Tan.
Organising informal programmes outside of school is good, he added, but more important is to drive home the message that STEM-related jobs offer good prospects and are the foundation of the country’s progress.
The government, he said, must show students that they can earn a good living from STEM, he said.
“And we must make parents and children see that knowledge in subjects like astronomy, biology, physics, and chemistry, concerns daily life.
“Only a knowledge-based system that is not exam-oriented can achieve that.”
He said there are very little incentives for STEM-based graduates.
Society is not gearing towards STEM as corporate leaders are accounts or businesses based graduates.
Even the top echelon of the civil service is not STEM-based, he added.
“The way forward is Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET).
“Technical subjects must be given prominence and graduates should be assured of better salaries and more career advancement opportunities, ” he said, adding that the government must lead in doing so.
Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, had in December, said that the government was aiming for 60% of students to opt for STEM to produce more workers in technical professions.
The acting Education Minister stressed that STEM, and TVET are necessary priorities in keeping up with global developments, especially the Fourth Industrial Revolution (IR 4.0), which demands a technical workforce equipped with the latest skills.