Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is important because it encompasses every part of our life. The concept of science and mathematics are all around us. Technology and engineering nowadays are crucial and neccessary in our daily life. Eventually, as life becomes more closely related to STEM, we must equip ourselves with knowledge and skills in this field, especially the young generations. In spite of its importance, the interest of students in schools towards STEM are lessening. Students enrolment in science stream are in decline. The estimated percentage of declinination is about 3% every year. This scenario is worsening as there are no takers for some science courses in tertiary level.
Realising this situation, the Ministry of Education Malaysia has came up with the Malaysia Education Blueprint which is planned for the year 2013 – 2025. The blueprint was developed based on research findings and national dialogues involving all levels of stakeholders such as public and communities, parents, teachers, school leaders, education leaders at the districts and states level, other ministries, universities, industries and private sectors.
STEM Performance by Gender
Just to share the performance of boys and girls in Malaysia, the comparisons of genders in achievement showed that girls are outperformed the boys. PISA 2012 analysis stated Malaysia as a country that records higher girls performance compared to boys. In 2013 more than 86,798 girls enrolled in the first year university admission compared to the boys. This number increased from 67,734 girls enrolled in year 2009. Data from Ministry of Higher Education in 2013 states that women outnumber men in seven out of eight main areas especially education, health and welfare. Women also excel in science, mathematics and computing which is usually dominated by men in other countries. PISA 2018 analysis on reading attitude among the students showed that 52% boys chosed reading as a hobby, but 73% girls chosed reading as a hobby. Besides that, 25 % boys admitted that they always face difficulties in reading, while only 17% girls admitted that they always face difficulties in reading. Besides that, a survey on the popular career among the PISA 2018 students showed that the top three popular acreer among the girls are Doctor Specialist, Lawyer and Teacher. While the boys chosed Police, Engineer and Doctor. This seems to be an indicator to the STEM education as well. Even though we are not focusing on gender, but we still need to improve the situation, especially in STEM education.
Initiative to Strengthen STEM Education
In the Malaysia Education Blueprint, STEM is mentioned explicitly as a specific initiative to be taken by the ministry. The initiative is to strengthen STEM education as to produce quality and sufficient human capital in STEM to drive the economy. The aim of STEM education is to produce STEM literate students who are able to identify and understand problems, as well as applying and integrating STEM concepts into the solutions accordingly. STEM literate students should also be creative, innovative and inventive in line with the skills needed in 21st century and Industrial Revolution 4.0.
The objectives of the initiative are to
stimulate students’ interest in STEM through formal and informal approach of
sharpen teachers’ knowledge and skills in teaching STEM related subjects through
continuos professional development programme;
increase awareness and culturation in STEM among students, teachers and comunity
through STEM programmes.
Various activities and programmes have been planned and executed since then.
To increase students interest
Some of the activities done by the ministry to achieve this objective are STEM Online Challenge organised by the Sports, Co-curriculum and Art Division; STEM Applications and Portal organised by the Educational Technology and Resources Division; and Student STEM Index lead by the National STEM Centre.
The STEM Online Challenge is a platform to challenge students’ ability to think and compete in STEM via an online mode. We encouraged all students to participate and try, but not all students can access the online platform due to location and device issues. Nevertheless, it was a good opportunity for the students to demonstrate their interest and willingness to participate. The Student STEM Index is an indicator of STEM culturation among the students. This is designed for school students age 12, 15 and 17 years old. The index will help the ministry to monitor and improve STEM education for the country. It is still at the pilot stage and are intended to complete this year. However, because of COVID-19 pandemic, it will be extended to next year or the year after.
Beside that, various events and programmes were organised by the private sectors and other public agencies with the support and approval of the ministry to help promote interest among the students.
To increase teachers’ knowledge and skills
A lot of teachers workshops have been done to upskill and develop teachers’ competency in teaching specifically STEM subjects. Our teachers and educators participated in these workshops locally and internationally. One of the international teachers workshop in STEM is the APEC STEM-PLUS Education Workshop held at National Taiwan Normal University, Taipei (NTNU) in May 2019. It has been a great experience to learn how other countries are doing about STEM, especially in Taipei. School students started designing at a very young age through their project works and they managed to produce products such as wooden chair, wooden toys and clocks on their own. One of the best lesson learned from the workshop is the seriousness exhibited by the students in their work. There are some products that have been marketed and can generate income not only for individuals but for the country as well.
APEC STEM-PLUS Education Workshop, NTNU Taipei
Lessons learned from the workshop has been shared to the educators in Malaysia and would be used to ameriote existing education in the country, where appropriate.
Beside that, the National STEM Centre in the Ministry of Education, Malaysia has organised continuos professional development workshops for STEM teachers, focusing on inquiry-based learning in Science and Mathematics. These workshop differ from others as it requires teachers to undergo 60 hours training in order to qualify as a master trainer in inquiry approach.
Inquiry-based learning workshop for teachers
National STEM Centre also collaborate with industries, public and private agencies in organizing workshops for teachers, such as upskilling workshop in programming with Micro- Bit, Minecraft for education with Microsoft and palm oil teaching and learning activities with Malaysia Palm Oil Council (MPOC). These workshops provide opportunity for teachers to learn and ameliorate their knowledge and skills in teaching.
The ministry also developed STEM Teachers Training Module lead by the Institute of Teacher Education, STEM Leadership Course lead by the Institute of Aminuddin Baki which is a leadership training institute in the Ministry of Education Malaysia; and STEM Teachers Competency Standard that is lead by the Teachers Profesionalism Division. Beside that, the Curriculum Development Division is leading the STEM school model called STEM Executive Consultant or STEMEC.
To increase awareness and culturation
One of the big events organised by the Ministry of Education Malaysia was STEM For All. This was a collaboration event by National STEM Centre, a public agency under the Ministry of Education, Malaysia and National Planetarium, a public agency under the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, Malaysia. This carnival-like event consists of STEM talk, exhibitions and competitions, and opened for students, teachers, parents and communities. It was organised at a few locations in the country, focusing at the rural communities area.
STEM For All in Kundasang, Sabah
Impact and conclusion
Despite all activities and programmes done for STEM education, unfortunately, we are still facing declining students’ enrolment in STEM. There were 45.2% secondary students (age 17 year-old) in STEM in 2018 and it declined to 43.7% in 2019. Students’ responses in PISA 2015 questionnaire showed that they are interested in learning science and mathematics. 91.3% of the 15 year-old students admitted that it is worth to learn science because it helps in the future jobs and 91.5% agreed that learning science is important for future. However, in terms of science-related career, only 13.2% would like to be professionals in Science and Engineering, 14.0% in Health Professionals, 1.3% in Communication and Information Technology Professionals and only 0.6% would like to be technicians related to science. We have different findings in PISA 2018 where there was increment of students’ awareness. 78% of the students expect themselves to have high-skilled jobs, only 1% of the 15 years old students expect low-skilled jobs and only 11% of the students are still unsure about the career they will pursue when they are 30 years old. It seems that the awareness of STEM is there albeit still need to be polished.
Nevertheless, we found one positive impact from those activities and programmes done in STEM education. Teachers approach and pedagogical content knowledge are getting ameliorated. Before 2018, we have about 80 in-service teachers that have gone through training in Inquiry-based Science Education (IBSE) from the Malaysia Science Academy using the La Main A La Pate model. Since 2018, the National STEM Centre has trained 1,370 in- service teachers in IBSE using La Main A La Pate and 5Es instructional model. These teachers has understand inquiry concepts better and changed their teaching approach from chalk and talk to hands-on and inquiry activities. These teachers have been monitored to use IBSE in their lessons. Hands-on and inquiry activities help students to stay focused longer on the
lesson. One-way teaching method has begun to shift to two-way learning. In some schools, students actively ask questions and discuss with their peers. This change is likely to have small impact but it is a sign of positive change in the future.
Above all, STEM education needs to continue even though students are less interested in it. The fact is that STEM is part and parcel in our lives. Sooner or later, parents and the whole community will realize the importance of STEM and the importance of mastering this field. We hope the next generation will not only be consumers of technology, but aspire to be the inventors or innovators for its future.