Why it’s important to integrate arts into STEM education

Crucial to integrate the arts into STEM education, academics say

SCIENCE, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) fields are growing in popularity.

This is evident from the mushrooming of learning centres and organisations to promote STEAM education among school students, said Taylor’s University School of Education lecturer Dr Lee Yee Ling.

In recent years, STEAM-related competitions such as STEAM CUP Malaysia and National Robotics Competitions have also gained more attention from the public, she told StarEdu.

ALSO READ: How STEAM education can help Malaysians find good careers

Crediting globalisation, the development in academic research and the emergent commercial interests in education with the growth, Lee said transdisciplinary STEAM education has been widely proven to benefit students.

“STEAM education is a fertile research area in Malaysia.

“When academics do research in educational institutions, they introduce the concept of STEAM education, activities and programmes to students.

“This injects new ideas which enhance the quality of STEAM education,” she said.

Explaining the STEAM education concept, she said its curriculum integrates science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics, with the term “arts” open to different interpretations.While there is no clear definition for the term, some researchers have limited it to fine arts.

“I, however, lean towards researchers who advocate the inclusion of physical arts, fine arts, language, and liberal arts in the definition,” she said.

According to the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025, science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-STEAM learning was introduced in pre-kindergarten classes in 2015 to inculcate a love for STEM learning at a young age, in hopes that it will continue throughout the rest of the students’ education.

The STEAM movement, noted Lee, is also growing in countries like Indonesia and China.

“Globally, there has been a shift from enhancing students’ STEM knowledge to nurturing their innovative, creative design thinking, and artistic emotion through the integration of arts into STEM education,” she added.

Citing the Asia-Pacific Science Education 7 (2021) publication, University of Nottingham Malaysia (UNM) Faculty of Science and Engineering associate dean and associate professor Dr Marina Ng Kher Hui said the STEAM movement is gaining a following in many countries, including China, Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines and Thailand.

The constant evolution of technology, she added, has also played a part in STEAM’s popularity.

“As a result, the workforce is expected to produce, navigate and address increasingly complex concepts and ideas. This has led to a need for more creative solutions.

“STEAM, in injecting creative and critical thinking soft skills, nurtures students who could one day offer and apply these innovative solutions,” she said.

Making connections between science and artistic design principles is not only expected, but also essential for ensuring a well-rounded workforce that is able to fulfil a highly technology-based society, said UNM Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences associate dean and professor Joanne Lim Bee Yin.

“STEAM education goes beyond simply drawing together concepts from the disciplines. It creates new understandings that transgress the traditional boundaries of the disciplines.

“This means that the introduction of STEAM should be integrated into the general curriculum and not taught as a separate animal,” said Prof Lim. — By REBECCA RAJAENDRAM

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