Sunday, July 13, 2014

Stem education for life to reach new heights


It is necessary for the nation to embrace Stem education in order to reach new heights.

IT is imperative that schools and educational institutions do their part to emphasise the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (Stem) to meet the country’s educational objectives for future growth and development and to meet the nation’s 2020 vision.

Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman vice president (Internationalisation and Academic Development) Prof Dr Ewe Hong Tat

This is especially after Malaysia was ranked in the bottom third of 74 participating countries, in the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) below the international and OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) average.

It is with this in mind that Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR ) is taking the initiative to promote and create awareness on the importance of Stem education among students and the community.

In the series of articles from UTAR, Part 1 and Part 2 (STEM Education for life, part 2) introduces Stem and why such education is necessary for the nation’s development and what the University is doing to promote it.

Engineering gains

During the turn of the century, the National Academy of Engineering of USA (http://www.nae.edu/) did a detailed study and listed the top 20 engineering achievements of the 20th century (www.greatachievements.org) that changed the world.

Of these the prominent ones were computers, aviation, the Internet, air-conditioning and refrigeration, highways, health technologies, laser and fibre optics, water supply and distribution; among many others. Consumers used them daily without realising that these were the results of engineering research and innovation that propelled the world forward.

Therefore, for a nation to continue to develop and grow, it is important to promote and use Stem education as the foundation and propeller of growth.

After all, it is through Stem education that design, discovery and inventions that bring forth life-changing growth and development, have been introduced.

In the 21st century, new innovations have emerged such as renewable energy and resources, Internet of Things (IoT), advanced materials and biotechnology which need new talents to continue to drive growth.

Without a strong foundation in Stem education, these talents will not be groomed to excel.

In the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013 – 2025 (Chapter 3), Malaysia’s performance in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (Timss) Eighth Grade Mathematics and Science against other countries over three cycles (1999, 2003, 2007), showed that in 2007, there was a marked downturn in both Mathematics and Science scores. In 2003, Malaysia obtained 10th position out of 45 countries for Mathematics and 20th position out of 45 countries for Science.

In 2007, Malaysia obtained 20th position out of 48 countries for Mathematics and 21st position out of 48 countries for Science, thus indicating a declining performance in students’ scores for both subjects.

Malaysia participated in the Pisa assessment for the first time in the Pisa 2009 + exercise and was ranked in the bottom third for Reading, Mathematics and Science, well below the International and OECD average in all the three areas, lower than Thailand.

Therefore, there is a great need to raise the interest and standards in Stem among students, educationists and policy makers in our country to ensure that we remain competitive and relevant in the world market in future.

The National Science Foundation, a leading authority in scientific research and funding in the United States, defines Stem in a broader definition which includes subjects in the fields of engineering, chemistry, computer and information technology science, geosciences, life sciences, mathematical sciences, physics and astronomy, and social sciences (which includes anthropology, economics, psychology and sociology), Stem Education and learning research.

As indicated in the education blueprint, the case for increased emphasis on Stem education would need several initiatives and steps to be taken across schools in the country.

It is imperative that we need to develop strong fundamentals in Stem starting from primary schools and to create and sustain interests in this discipline.

For a start, it would be a good idea to allow a lot more experiments and hands-on projects in Stem subjects.

Experiential learning 

If we want to promote a society with higher order thinking skills, the exam-oriented paper and format-based school exams need to be complemented with more practical and experiential learning.

Learning science subjects through a textbook is nothing compared to the trial and discovery methods of science experiments.

Through the process of experimenting, trials and discovery, students think, analyse and deduce before coming to a solution; all these thinking processes help to develop higher order thinking.

Students need to learn actively to seek creative solutions and applications and to be inquisitive to foster inventions.

The recent announcement by the Education Ministry to reintroduce practical exams for the SPM science subjects of Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Additional Science in 2015, is a move in the right direction.

In addition, the media radio could play a bigger role in promoting Stem.

There could be more focus on Stem and related topics for schoolchildren and even the community, if more films and documentaries on Stem were shown, and how it is important for national growth.

Simple videos could be made on how our everyday resources of food, water, air and energy require qualified engineers, agriculturists, scientists and more to ensure quality, production, convenience and sustainability for the future.

The influence of the internet is pervasive and with Wi-Fi and broadband services increasingly available in many homes and public places, more information can be made available and accessed online.

To promote interest in Stem, perhaps students could be guided towards self-directed learning after school.

Several educational websites support such learning. Massive Open Online Courses (Mooc) are widely available through the web with unlimited participation and many websites provide course materials such as videos, readings and problem-solving papers, while others have more interactive user forums that allow discussions and networking to build a community for students, teachers, professors, and tutors to seek support.

Among the more reliable websites for online courses for students are three more prominent ones such as www.edx.org, www.khanacademy.org and www.coursera.org

EdX offers free online classes and Mooc from the world’s best universities such as Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Australian National University and the University of California, Berkeley on subject contents including Computer Science, Mathematics, Sciences, Medicine and more than 200 courses that students could take online and be awarded a certificate.

The support from these reputable universities gives credibility to the courses and is ideal for students at home.

Khan Academy also provides free online materials and resources in mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics and even finance and history; mostly of secondary school level that are easily available to students, teachers and anyone interested in learning about simple educational topics which makes learning more fun.

Another website worth looking up is www.coursera.org which provides free online classes from more than 80 top universities (such as Stanford University, Yale University and Princeton University) and organisations around the world on topics covering a wide range of disciplines including science, engineering, medicine and social sciences.

A host of varied educational information is available on the web and most are on Stem subjects and topics that are taught in our schools.

Many of the topics in these websites also talk about scientific principles which are applied to everyday things like electrical appliances, transportation, automobiles, food cultivation and processing which are not only educational but also thought-provoking.

The colours and visuals used, the video and notes are all captivating; making learning so much more fun and engaging.

Even the teaching of simple Mathematics in schools is presented methodically and simply with good visuals and commentary.

The advantage of these online courses is that students canrepeat any part as often as they like until they get it right.

These online courses could perhaps be introduced as supplementary learning to students who can log on after school to learn more and cultivate their interests in Stem.

Perhaps parents and teachers alike can also guide students which will be more informative and educational than Facebook and Twitter.

htewe August 2011.jpgContributed by Prof Dr Ewe Hong Tat The Star/Asia News Network

The writer, an AAET Fellow, is the vice-president of the Internationalisation and Academic Development, Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR). This article is the first of a two-part series on Stem Education.
Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR)
Dr. Ewe Hong Tat
QUALIFICATION 
BEng(Hons)(Mal), S.M. (MIT), PhD(MMU)
POSITION 
Vice President (Internationalisation and Academic Development)
Professor, Faculty of Engineering and Science (FES)
RESEARCH
INTERESTS 
Microwave Remote Sensing, Applied Electromagnetics, Satellite Image Processing, Sensing Network and Intelligent Systems
 CONTACT 
ADDRESS 
Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (Petaling Jaya Campus),
No. 9, Jalan Bersatu 13/4,
46200 Petaling Jaya, Selangor, MALAYSIA.
 PHONE 
+(60)-3-7958-2628 ext 7152
FAX 
+(60)-3-7956-1923
 E-MAIL 
eweht@utar.edu.my

HT Ewe received his First Class Honours Bachelor of Engineering degree in Electrical Engineering from University of Malaya, Malaysia in 1992, and S.M. (Master of Science) degree in EECS (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science) from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, U.S.A. in 1994. He obtained his PhD degree from Faculty of Engineering, Multimedia University, Malaysia in 1999. From September 1994 to April 1997, he was with the Electrical Engineering Department, University of Malaya (Malaysia). In May 1997, he joined Multimedia University (Malaysia) in Melaka Campus and was transferred to the Cyberjaya Campus in January 2000 and worked there until Aug 2008. In Sep 2008, he joined Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) and is currently a Professor in the Faculty of Engineering and Science (FES).


 
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