A RECENT study by the National STEM Association found that a mere 19% of Malaysian students have opted for science-related subjects since 2020.
This alarming trend underscores the pressing need for a new way to approach science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.
To this end, PETRONAS’ social impact arm Yayasan PETRONAS and the Education Ministry via its Education Policy Planning and Research Division (EPRD), with Teach for Malaysia (TFM) as the implementation partner, introduced Program Duta Guru (PDG) back in 2020.
PDG was established as a two-year teacher development programme to empower local school teachers to be highly capable educators – serving as role models in enhancing students’ interest and competency in STEM education, especially in underprivileged areas.
The programme emerged as a beacon of hope for educators like Mimi Norashikin Md Jaini from SMK Panchor, Seremban, as she was keen to upskill and improve her teaching methods for her Design and Technology (RBT) subject.
“When I first heard about PDG in 2019 before it was about to be launched, I was a little unsure as to what it was. Would it be like taking a Master’s or PhD degree?” muses Mimi.
“But, I was eager to improve myself by reskilling or upskilling, so I applied for the programme and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I have made.”
Different approach to STEM
Mimi, who was part of PDG’s Cohort 1, shares that the programme got off to a rocky start as it coincided with the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic, resulting in the courses having to be conducted virtually.
But, this was a blessing in disguise, as it prepared herself and the other teachers in the programme to become more tech-savvy, which is especially useful in STEM education.
“With everything having to go online, and the programme courses being done virtually, it gave us a chance to learn about the digital world and how to use digital platforms to teach,” she says.
“During that time, many of my students could not afford smart devices or have stable and ready access to the internet. So, using data-heavy applications like Google Meet or Zoom was a major problem for them.
“Thanks to my time in PDG, I learnt about applications such as Pear Deck and Slido which use considerably less data. With these tools, I was able to conduct classes virtually with ease and engage my students with a more interactive study plan, so that they could answer questions in the slides online and I could give them real-time feedback.”
Mimi, who has been a teacher for 13 years, learned how to make STEM education more interactive for her students after joining PDG.
“PDG doesn’t train us to be teachers, but rather helps us to think of ways to make our teaching content more engaging, fun and hands-on.
“For example, I was introduced to a concept called ‘Energiser’, which involves conducting interactive games or brain teasers to get the students ready and active for class.”
She adds that the Energiser sessions have been so well-received by her students that they even ask her “What games are we going to play today?” the moment they enter her classroom.
Mimi highlights that it is also crucial for teachers to keep up with the times, as technology and education have progressed rapidly since the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
This is why she often provides her students with smart tablets to use during class, so that they can research and use the devices for more inclusive learning.
“Future jobs and fields are going to be so technologically infused that we have to find a new way of educating our students.
“Technology has advanced so much, and so have the students. We can’t expect them to learn the same way we did in the past.
“So, while it may be a complicated culture shift, we teachers have to meet the new trends and strive to give our students the best.”
Since completing PDG in 2022, Mimi has initiated several STEM-related initiatives at SMK Panchor, as well as actively enrolled her RBT students in national and regional STEM competitions.
One such STEM initiative that she has established is the Easy STEM workshop. As part of this, student representatives handpicked by Mimi, conduct interactive STEM workshops and experiments for their classmates at the school’s canteen during recess.
“While we don’t force all of the students to participate in the workshop, I feel that just having it there makes a big difference for them. You never know what might spark a student’s interest in STEM, which is why I feel that we should expose them to as much as possible,” she says.
Apart from that, Mimi has also started the Techgineers programme at her school, in which teachers and students are paired up as mentors and mentees to work together to create and innovate on STEM inventions for their RBT projects.
Creative and innovative projects are then selected for STEM competitions such as the National Tinkering Challenge and Malaysia Techlympics.
“Our students were never really exposed to other methods of learning other than purely studying in a classroom. So I felt that we have to invigorate them in some way, to get them to see STEM as something they can pursue in the future.
“We always tell them to do their best for their RBT projects and we will try to enter them in competitions, so there is an added motivation for them.”
She adds that there are currently 10 teacher mentors at her school, from various backgrounds such as art, history and even religious studies, with roughly 80 student mentees.
At the National Tinkering Challenge 2022, her students bagged the Special Jury Award for their automatic lifeboat ejection device.
“These achievements are proof that the students are perfectly capable of critical thinking and coming up with innovative solutions, despite their limited access to facilities and resources.
“We have to find ways to expand their thinking and expose them to more opportunities to learn, so that they can improve their lives in the future,” she says.
For her extensive efforts in STEM education, Mimi was also named Cikgu Juara Digital 2023 by the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC).
Program Duta Guru
Launched in 2020, PDG has upskilled more than 900 STEM teachers in six zones nationwide and aims to empower 4,500 teachers by 2030.
The two-year programme, which recruits a new cohort every year, is currently in its fourth cohort of offering teachers training and coaching on curating high-quality STEM curriculum content, as well as providing them access to the latest STEM teaching and learning resources.
It also offers coaching and support, networking opportunities with industry experts, and exposure to the integration and application of the Engineering Design Process (EDP) across curriculum content.
Launched in 2019, Yayasan PETRONAS extends and expands on the good work PETRONAS has done in the areas of education, community wellbeing and development, and the environment in the last four decades.
More information on Program Duta Guru is available on www.yayasanpetronas.com.my/programs/dutaguru