Students share approaches to a more enriching STEM education
IN recent years, experts and academics have been calling for an emphasis on nurturing interest in the sciences among the country’s younger generation.
While the percentage of secondary school students enrolled in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) stream has increased from 40.95% in 2021 to 45.73% this year, it still falls below the country’s 60% target.
When announcing Malaysia’s performance in the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) 2022 on Dec 5, Education deputy director-general (School Operations) Azman Adnan noted a decline in all three literacy measures assessed, namely, reading literacy, mathematics literacy and scientific literacy.
In mathematics, our 15-year-olds scored 409 compared to 440 points in the previous assessment in 2018, while in science, there was a drop of 22 points to 416 from 438 points. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) scores in Pisa 2022 for mathematics and science are 472 points and 485 points, respectively.
On Aug 4, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim urged the Education Ministry and the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry (Mosti) to find new approaches to attract students’ interest in science and mathematics.
To address students’ reported lack of interest in STEM subjects, we asked participants of the BRATs Young Journalist Programme run by The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) team to share their experiences with the subjects.
For updates on the BRATs programme, go to facebook.com/niebrats.
Reaping rewards of dual methods
“IN primary school, I detested the Science subject. I didn’t like the way it was taught and struggled to understand the language it was presented in.
I thought I might be more suited to the humanities. However, all this changed when I transitioned to secondary school.
With the subject being taught in English instead of Mandarin, I could comprehend the concepts better. This led me to becoming more appreciative of Science but I wasn’t passionate about it.
The humanities still resonated with me. Over time, I gradually gained more interest in the subject and started to explore beyond what school was teaching me. The main platforms that aided me on this journey were books and online videos.
Last year, while I was working on my school assignment on the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings and delving into the mechanism and scientific reactions behind the atomic bomb, for some inexplicable reason, I fell in love with Science.
In that moment, I felt a connection with J. Robert Oppenheimer, the theoretical physicist who played a pivotal role in developing the atomic bomb.
When the movie Oppenheimer was released this year, I saw it as a sign for me to pursue my newfound love of Physics.
I picked up a book by a famous theoretical physicist named Michio Kaku. In the first 20 pages of the book, I felt like I had learned more about Physics than in any lesson I had received in school.
I learned about Einstein’s special theory of relativity, Newton’s law of gravity, Maxwell’s theory of electromagnetism, the Big Bang Theory, and the Grand Unification Theory, among others.
Videos also serve as an invaluable platform for me to exhance my knowledge. Some of the channels explain complex concepts in easy-to-digest terms, as well as provide step-by-step solutions to questions from all around the world.
In conclusion, both classroom instruction and outside resources are incredibly important to cultivate and develop students’ interest in the Science subject. – Elly Goh, 15, Selangor
Full immersion the way forward
“I USED to perceive Science as a rather boring subject. It was tedious having to memorise the many terms and formulas.
Hence, when the opportunity to join a science camp came up, I was sceptical. However, my perception of science changed dramatically during the camp. Being introduced to immersive learning experiences, where I had the chance to conduct fascinating experiments such as building robots, fuelled my interest and curiosity in learning more about science.
From then on, I began participating in local science clubs and competitions, enabling me to collaborate with peers who shared similar interests.
Field trips, visits to science museums and interactive exhibits transformed abstract concepts into tangible, real-world phenomena for me.
Learning from other people’s projects has enabled me to improve some of my own, as well as gather suggestions for innovative ideas.
Engaging in debates, asking questions and sharing ideas have empowered me to embrace science as a diverse and dynamic field of study.
Internet resources have led me to numerous online courses, expert-led webinars and science videos, providing me with free access to the latest research in various scientific fields.
Moreover, delving into scientific literature improves my understanding of scientific topics and groundbreaking discoveries.
Staying up-to-date with the latest news reports also provides real-time information on global events, including scientific matters worldwide.
Furthermore, exploring science blogs and listening to podcasts allow me to understand various perspectives and compare different ideas. I usually carry my earphones with me, listening to podcasts whenever I can.
Science has proven to be useful in my daily applications, such as in experimenting with new recipes, removing stains and improving hygiene.
Another application that is effective in my daily life is in using physics and the laws of motion to improve my cycling speed.
In my free time, I enjoy watching nature documentaries and science films, which are visually engaging and make complex scientific concepts much easier to understand.
I also explore the natural world through activities like hiking, birdwatching and stargazing in an effort to strengthen my understanding of environmental science.
In summary, I have gained invaluable insights through numerous transformative experiences.
While traditional educational resources laid the foundation for my scientific knowledge, learning beyond these boundaries has nurtured my passion for science. It introduces a new way of seeing, understanding and appreciating this vast yet intricate universe.” – Navena Srie, 15, Selangor
A departure from rote memorisation
“SCIENCE used to be just another subject I studied for the sake of a good grade. Throughout my primary school years, most of my time spent on science was dedicated to memorising whatever was in my textbook, rather than truly understanding the topics.
However, my interest in science reached a turning point when I started homeschooling. It was then that I could freely explore what interested me. I also experimented with various forms of instruction, including online courses and TV shows.
Science terminologies and theories that used to feel dry to me came alive through the experiential and engaging elements in these shows.
Before I knew it, science became extremely fun for me. What motivated me even further was when I could apply or relate a science concept to my daily life.
This fuelled my drive to self-study other science subjects, such as Chemistry and Biology. I took my time with each subject, supplementing my learning by reading visualised notes and practising answering questions online.
I also explored the basics of coding as much as I could during my one-and-a-half year of homeschooling. I joined online courses for HTML and CSS. Eventually, I enrolled in classes for website development under the guidance of a teacher who was an experienced web developer.
When I signed up for formal classes to prepare for the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) exams, I included Chemistry, Biology and Physics in my subject combination. At this point, studying science subjects was no longer a chore for me.
My newfound fascination for science led to a significant improvement in my grades. My answers were no longer mere regurgitations of information from memory; instead, they were based on my understanding and application of science concepts. A passing grade wasn’t enough for me – I wanted to do my best in the subjects.
Now that I’m in college, I’ve taken a more active role in furthering my interest in the sciences by participating in competitions and quizzes.
I also signed up to be a peer tutor in Chemistry. It’s fulfilling to be able to help others while at the same time strengthening my understanding of the subject.
I don’t love science just because I am doing well at it. I genuinely appreciate the knowledge I gain as I learn more.
Understanding how things happen around us is very satisfying, especially for people who are naturally curious. Science isn’t only a school subject; it’s a phenomenon that is part of us and our everyday life.” – Nur Aisya Shasmeen, 19, Selangor
Now that you have read the article, test your understanding by carrying out the following English language activities.
1 Look in today’s newspaper for an example of a STEM application that you deeply appreciate. Have a show-and-tell with your friends.
2 The three BRATs participants offer various ways for students to enhance their STEM education. Using words and pictures from the newspaper, create a poster highlighting three of these methods. Encourage students to give them a try. Be as creative as possible!
The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) programme promotes the use of English language in primary and secondary schools nationwide. For Star-NiE enquiries, email firstname.lastname@example.org.