Firing up the passion for STEM

PETALING JAYA: Addressing the waning interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), the Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM) proposes that systemic change in the education system is necessary to reignite a passion for STEM.

“Prioritise numerically and technically competent talent development with a scientific mindset through inquiry-based science education (IBSE),” said ASM.

IBSE is an investigative approach to teaching and learning where students can think creatively and work out the solutions to hands-on experiments, the academy added.

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“There is a need to address STEM both through formal and informal education pathways and initiatives towards creating an enabling ecosystem for our talent. This will go a long way to attract the younger generation towards STEM,” said ASM.

Close collaboration between government ministries and also organisations that champion informal education can provide experimental learning by bringing together practical and application parts for the young generation to explore and learn interactively, added ASM.

“This sparks the spirit of curiosity and develops critical thinking, analytical and problem-solving skills. It fosters a greater innovative capacity to generate integrated and balanced solutions for different challenges,” said the academy.

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ASM also proposes the formation of a Future-ready Talent Collaborative Network (FuTCoN).

This is a network of key players from public and private scholarship providers and government ministries related to talent development. This way students are well aware of the evolving STEM job scope and can be exposed to more options outside the traditional sectoral roles, added ASM.

On May 16, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim called on the Education Ministry to set up a special task force to stimulate the children’s enthusiasm for science and technology-related subjects.

He said a study found that the interest of children, especially in rural areas as well as the urban poor, in such subjects has deteriorated, posing a challenge for the country in moving towards green technology and electric vehicles.

In response, ASM said a holistic re-evaluation of STEM education is needed, shifting from nurturing a “problem-solving mindset” to an “opportunity creation mindset”.

“This (change) will require bold leadership, clarity of roles and responsibilities among stakeholders in education, as well as structured processes that will facilitate and enable efficient and effective implementation.

“All parties – from government ministries, higher education institutions, companies, professional bodies and even teachers and parents – should be brought together to look at STEM education holistically,” it said.

In addition, ASM will be revealing its latest findings in the “Position Paper on Nurturing Knowledge-Based Industry-Ready Talent” in the third quarter of the year which kicks off in July.

The paper, which looks at post-secondary talent development and how declining STEM enrolment in secondary schools will impact the enrolment in STEM courses in higher education and the supply of high-skilled STEM talent for our workforce, called for industry players to play a participatory role in the country’s talent development by engaging students early on about the emerging STEM job opportunities and by providing them with early exposure to real-world STEM application.

Teachers and parents should also be involved in helping to nurture STEM talent, ASM told StarEdu in an email interview.

“Our key findings reveal that parents are worried about employment opportunities, remuneration and incentives for their children if they were to take up STEM at the tertiary level. This should be addressed.

“And, as there is a lack of facilitation for students on the rapidly changing opportunities for further education, adoption of indigenous technologies to create demand for high-skilled STEM talent in the country must be increased,” ASM said.

Citing a survey by the World Bank in 2020, ASM said Malaysian firms have low indigenous technologies, low research and development expenditure and high dependency on adopting and adapting foreign technologies.

“The low level of innovation among Malaysian firms could be one of the contributing factors to the masses of STEM graduates being underemployed,” it said.

“This is despite more than 50% of graduates across STEM-related courses being employed according to the Higher Education Ministry’s Graduates’ Employment Status Based on Field of Study (2021).”ASM stated that based on findings from its position paper, the role of the industry and the private sector in this issue is critical.

As the “engines of growth” of the nation, Malaysian firms need to be great adopters of science and technology (STI) and work alongside the government in co-developing the education pathway to create the needed supply of high-skilled STEM talent for the nation.

With the government taking the lead by bringing all parties in the talent ecosystem together, the entire STEM education pathway should be revisited to align with the changing education landscape, current global demands, future trends, STEM pedagogy and the curriculum, said ASM.

“More importantly, an improved remuneration scheme comparable to other nations and continuous career development for STEM graduates should be implemented to ensure sustainability and succession,” it said.

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