Archive for the ‘Teaching of Science and Mathematics’ Category

Senior gov’t officers must have strong grasp of English: PM

Wednesday, June 6th, 2018
Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said that top government officers must be competent in the English language. Pix by Rosdan Wahid

PUTRAJAYA: Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said that top government officers must be competent in the English language.

He said senior civil servants must have a strong mastery of English in order to be able to communicate and negotiate capably with foreign parties.

“(In this respect), senior government officers will (henceforth) undergo English competency tests,” he said after chairing the Cabinet meeting today.

Dr Mahathir’s stand on the importance of English as a lingua franca has been consistent, as it was under his leadership in 1996 that the Constitution was amended to allow the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English (PPSMI) in national schools.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Pix by Ahmad Irham Mohd Noor

On a separate issue, Dr Mahathir announced that the entertainment allowance for high-ranking government officials in the Jusa A category and above will be reduced by 10 per cent effective July.

“This is a cost-saving drive by the government,” he said, adding that Malaysia will be sending a team to India to study innovative ideas undertaken by the government there to enhance efficiency in the public services.

Following the first Cabinet meeting held three weeks ago, the prime minister announced a 10 per cent salary cut for Cabinet ministers as part of the government’s austerity drive.


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Science and International relations

Monday, June 4th, 2018
Science and diplomacy are coming together to solve many of the world’s problems.

IN THE 19th century, renowned French chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur famously said: “Science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to humanity, and is the torch which illuminates the world.” The wisdom of that remark has proven itself often in the many decades since.

Successfully advancing research depends on sharing ideas and knowledge with colleagues worldwide. And the benefits of such cooperation can draw together even the staunchest of enemies.

Cold War hostilities were put aside, for example, when American Albert B. Sabin helped pioneer the use of a live-virus, oral polio vaccine in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, leading to the vaccine’s adoption worldwide.

Since then, the scourge of polio, so dreaded in my childhood years, has all but disappeared from the planet (though not eradicated; occasional outbreaks remind us of the need to be vigilant).

We have also seen tremendous international coalitions formed around the world’s common interest in polar science.

The Polar Regions have in many respects been good models for international scientific cooperation: this started with the two so-called Polar Years of 1882-83 and again in 1932-33, during which many nations collaborated in simultaneous scientific measurements at remote polar sites. These investigations focused primarily on the Earth’s climate and its magnetism.

A sequel to the International Polar Years was the International Geophysical Year (IGY) in 1957-58, which focused on Antarctica and outer space. Despite the Cold War there was good cooperation in Antarctica, which continued well after the IGY. In the Arctic, scientific cooperation proved to be quite difficult, however, because of the military confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States.

Some 10 years ago, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) opened a Centre for Science Diplomacy, and two years later teamed with the United Kingdom’s Royal Society on a joint report, which described three forms of science diplomacy:

SCIENTIFIC collaborations that improve international relations;

USING evidence and scientific expertise to help formulate foreign policy; and,

DIPLOMACY that promotes and supports international scientific cooperation

Since that publication, many academic programmes, workshops, conferences and institutes, even a AAAS journal, have been dedicated to the subject.

In addition, a global Foreign Ministries Science and Technology Advisers Network was initiated two years ago. Its initial meeting involved advisers from Japan, New Zealand, the UK and the US, and diplomats from 12 other nations in Africa, Asia (including Malaysia), the Americas, and Europe.

The organisation underlines that science and technology advisors to foreign ministries “are not necessarily experts on all scientific matters, but they understand science and know where to find the most appropriate expert on any given topic. They have the skills to explain evidence required for informed decision-making about foreign affairs, serving as evidence brokers in our increasingly trans-boundary world with constantly emerging complexities. They utilise their roles as evidence brokers to reveal options that contribute to informed decision-making by nations across the international landscape.”

Recently, the network convened a meeting with the Commission for Science and Technology for Development in Geneva, Switzerland. Among the main discussions was the role of science, technology and innovation (STI) in foreign aid.

An increasing proportion of foreign aid has a core STI element and research may be specifically funded as a development assistance tool. Indeed, the success of much foreign assistance requires science and technological effort, and donor academic institutions are often involved.

A good example of the role of STI in foreign aid is the Newton Fund established by the UK. Malaysia is among 18 nations chosen to participate in this global initiative (known here as the Newton-Ungku Omar Fund) which builds scientific innovation partnerships to support economic development and social welfare. It also develops research and development innovation capacity for long-term sustainable growth.

Today, more than 250 joint collaborations are funded in various fields of STI between both countries from programmes and activities such as the Institutional Links, Research and Innovation Bridges and Researcher Links.

At least eight technologies and innovations are being co-developed. These products and innovations have significant outcomes in terms of commercialisation and solving global challenges.

Malaysia itself actually put the idea of foreign aid through cooperation into practice 40 years ago when we embarked on the Malaysian Technical Cooperation Programme during the First Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sydney. The programme emphasises human resource development through training in public administration, good governance, healthcare services, education, sustainable development, agriculture, poverty alleviation, investment promotion, banking and other essential areas.


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Teach Science, Math in mother tongue

Thursday, May 31st, 2018

(File pix) Teaching Science and Mathematics in the mother tongue can improve students’ understanding of the subjects. Archive image for illustration purposes only. Pix by Sharul Hafiz Zam

I REFER to the letter, ‘An education wish list’, (NST, May 20). The writer hoped that Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad would bring back the Teaching and Learning of Science and Mathematics in English (PPSMI) policy so that Malaysians could improve their English literacy and proficiency.

I share her concern about the declining standard of English among schoolchildren and graduates, and I can understand her frustration at the continuing debate on the drawbacks of PPSMI by its detractors. But, the best way to teach English in schools is to teach it as a second language.

Teaching English to non-native speakers by non-native speaking teachers, as is the case in Malaysia, can be challenging. The main problem is the low English proficiency of teachers and the rote learning method of teaching it.

As a scientist, I look for hard evidence why we should not bring back PPSMI. The most obvious reason is the success stories of Japan and China, which implemented teaching and learning of Science and Mathematics in their mother tongue. This, however, is not the only reason why Malaysia should not bring back PPSMI.

A more serious reason is the failure to improve Science and Mathematics achievements among schoolchildren. The failure could be traced to two international rankings — the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) for eighth-grade students, and the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) for 15-year-old students.

The TIMSS results from 1999 (before PPSMI was introduced) to 2015 (after PPSMI ended), declined drastically compared with other countries, except in Singapore and Hong Kong, which used their mother tongue or national language for the subjects.

Malaysian students’ Science achievement rose slightly from 22nd place in 1999 (492) to 20th place above the international average in 2003 (510) before the introduction of PPSMI, but declined steadily thereafter in rank and score below the international average to 21st place in 2007 (471) and 32nd place in 2011 (426). It recovered slightly to 24th place in 2015 (471) when PPSMI was removed.

A similar trend could be seen in Mathematics achievement, which rose dramatically from 16th place in 1999 (519) to ninth place above the international average in 2003 (508), but declined steadily in rank and score below the international average to 20th place in 2007 (474) and 27th place in 2011 (440), but recovered slightly to 22nd place in 2015 (465).

Although students’ Science achievement in PISA rose from 53rd place in 2012 (421) to 48th place in 2015 (443) and, in Mathematics, rose from 52nd place in 2012 (420) to 46th place in 2015 (446), it is still below the international average and well below countries that use their mother tongue in the teaching of Science and Mathematics.

There’s also overwhelming evidence that former British colonies that gained independence much earlier than Malaysia, like Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Sudan and Cameroon, which kept English-medium schools and teach Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) in English, remain underdeveloped in STEM. That is why the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation recommends teaching Science and Mathematics in the mother tongue or national language.

According to Princeton history of science professor Michael Gordin, English has only been used as a de facto language
for STEM since the early 1960s, when the official language of the Solvay Conference, the biannual premier science conference series, switched from French to English, and when scientific publishing was taken over by large British and American publishers. Scientific journals previously published in French and German were forced to publish in English only

Many of our promising young scientists, like Dr Nur Adlyka Ainul Annuar, who detected black holes, and Dr Hafizah Noor Isa, who detected gravitational waves, learned STEM in Bahasa Melayu before PPSMI was implemented. They are fine examples of young scientists who learned STEM in BM, but have no problems communicating in English.

Professor Datuk Dr Wan Ramli Wan Daud.

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Being human with STEM, STREAM

Sunday, May 27th, 2018
The end-game is to make the education system respected and relevant. FILE PIC

STEM, a new term coined this century, means Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

When I was schooling in the 1970s, it was called science stream, arts stream or commerce. Then, we had vocational subjects in schools far from town centres.

Being chosen to enter the science stream was a novelty and we felt proud carrying thick Physics books around to show people that we were science stream students.

We had to look for frogs and buy kits to dissect white mice. Everybody had fun performing the mini operation at the laboratory.

For Biology class, we went into the jungle to observe ferns. I still remember the fern named Selaginella.

We had Mathematics and Additional Mathematics too. Mathematics was simple compared with Additional Mathematics, which always carried a red mark in my report card.

It was very difficult to understand, what more to score. Anyway, we enjoyed our school life and all of us secured good jobs.

Today, the curricula focuses on linguistic, mathematical and technological literacy for jobs in the future.

Students make interdisciplinary connections. They develop global citizenship values, including empathy and good character traits. As business magnate Robert Kuok said: “I do not look for MBA or PhD, I look for attitudes.”

Students must have problem-solving, critical thinking, computational thinking, project management and creativity skills.

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs said:” “Everyone should know how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think.”

Technical and Vocational Education and Training is another solution for it.

STEM should start from pre-school to primary and secondary schools, as stated in the Ma-laysian Education Blueprint (2013-2015), right through to tertiary education.

At preschools, nurture and inspire interest; primary schools, make connections or build foundations; secondary schools, develop STEM skills; and tertiary education institutes, improve STEM skills.

Computational thinking skills should be integrated into the primary and secondary syllabus.

For primary and secondary school students from Year 6 to Form 1 (ages 12 to 13), Scratch, a free programming language, has been introduced.

In Form 4 (where students are 16), they are introduced to Windows Operating System, Microsoft Office, Microsoft Visual Basic, HTML, Java, and JavaScript. They are encouraged to develop multimedia applications.

Learning should be fun and less exam-oriented at this stage.

To advance STEM at the university level, for example, the School of Chemistry at Universiti Sains Malaysia, has developed a micro-scale kit suited for Forms 4 and 5 chemistry experiments. The micro-scale team has been promoting the kits in schools in the northern region.

With this kit, schools could save about 70 per cent of chemicals and time.

The experiments can also be carried out anywhere in the school compound and not necessarily in a lab. The micro-scale kit won the gold medal at the
i-IDeA Innovation Competition 2018.

STEAM is the acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics. This is aimed at balancing the Science and Arts subjects.

The Arts skills are based on subjects such as music, literature, arts and craft, sewing, sports, cake-making or culinary arts.

In the United States, it is called liberal education.

For example, an engineering student could sign up for Arts subjects.

It is free and open to undergraduates, according to their interest, as long as it makes up the credit hours in addition to the core subjects and compulsory subjects. I hope Malaysia can emulate this higher learning institutions. m, STREAM means Science Religion Technology Engineering Arts and Mathematics.

Our national philosophy aims “to create individuals who are well-equipped intellectually, spiritually and emotionally”.

“This effort aims to produce knowledgeable, ethical and responsible citizens who can contribute to the harmony and prosperity of the community and nation”.

From here, we have Moral and Religion (Islamic) classes in schools.

At university level, our syllabus must cover these subjects in order to fulfil the accreditation purposes.

The subjects are Bahasa Kebangsaan, English Communication Skills, Learning Skills for University Studies, Decision-Making Skills, Tamadun Islam and Tamadun Asia, Ethnic Relationship, Comparative Religions, Parenting and Family Issues, and Co-Curriculum.

The end-game is to make the education system respected and relevant.

By implementing STEM, STEAM and STREAM, we want to produce graduates who acquire moral and knowledgeable characteristics that consist of spirituality, leadership skills, national identity, language proficiency, thinking skills and knowledge.

As stated by Harry Lewis, in his book Excellence Without a Soul, what it means with the terms is to be human.

We also want to be on a par with Asean countries in terms of Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment) and other evaluations.

By Dr Rozinah Jamaludin.

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Nurturing interest in STEM

Wednesday, May 16th, 2018
Making it fun: The Education Ministry has taken steps to encourage pupils to venture into STEM fields.

Making it fun: The Education Ministry has taken steps to encourage pupils to venture into STEM fields.

SCIENCE, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) permeate every aspect of today’s world, and the innovations that emerge from these fields underpin much economic development leading to the establishment of creative enterprises and rewarding careers.

People working in STEM are changing the face of the world we live in everyday, whether it is by making life-saving drugs and devices, researching new cures for cancer or creating new technologies that keep us healthier, safer and of course, entertain us.

Our education system plays a key role in equipping students with the knowledge, skills and dispositions to effect these changes.

“We need a national focus on STEM education in our early years settings and schools to ensure we have an engaged society and a highly-skilled workforce in place.

STEM is at the heart of a new wave which is transforming the way we live and the way we work. STEM will help a competitive country to be part of the world’s developed countries.

The World Economic Forum’s report states that as many as 65% of children in primary school today will work in new, STEM-based fields in the future when they enter the workforce.

Let’s do it: Dr Amin (second from right) launching the STEM Colloquium in Kota Kinabalu.

Let’s do it: Dr Amin (second from right) launching the STEM Colloquium in Kota Kinabalu.

The Education Ministry has taken steps by introducing the Enhancing STEM Education initiative through the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 to encourage pupils to venture into STEM fields in secondary level and tertiary education.

It is vital as strong fundamental skills in STEM enables students to think critically and solve problems thus preparing them as highly skilled workers needed in the industry.

The initiatives to enhance STEM education have considered the six students’ aspirations and how to provide qualified and adequate students in the STEM field through three steps:

* Increase students’ interest through the new teaching and learning approach and the strengthening of the curriculum;

* Improve teachers’ skills and abilities; and

* Improve student and public awareness.

STEM education is multi-faceted and goes well beyond the main disciplines that constitute the acronym STEM.

The foundations for STEM education begin in early childhood. From the earliest years through their play experiences and family environment, children engage with the world in ways that can promote learning related to STEM.

“Young children naturally engage in early STEM exploration through hands-on multisensory and creative experiences.

“By engaging in these experiences, young children are developing curiosity, inquisitiveness, critical-thinking and problem-solving capacities which are built on through their primary and secondary school experience,” said Dr Ami

Education Performance and Delivery Unit (PADU) Student Learning executive director Dr Azwan Abd Aziz said that various activities and programmes are planned and will be implemented under the Enhancing STEM Education initiative.

The initiative targets to increase student’s interest in STEM subjects through the new teaching and learning approach and curriculum enhancement, improving teachers skills and abilities and raising student and public awareness on education and career in the STEM field.

The ministry hopes to produce students with the ability to think logically, are inventive, technology-savvy and are able to solve problems creatively and innovatively.

To sustain a supportive STEM education ecosystem, all stakeholders will need to work together to develop a connected learning network which is advantageous to all.

Multiple stakeholders have a role to play in supporting the STEM education experience of our young people so that we, as a nation, can overcome current misconceptions concerning ability and/or gender. Creating a sustainable STEM education ecosystem is the responsibility of the wider society and will play a key role in enabling and encouraging learners to become active and responsible citizens.

Improving teachers

The objectives of the STEM Education Colloquium are to create interest and awareness among teachers on the importance of STEM in schools, as well as to improve the skills of STEM teachers through hands-on activities. The colloquium is in collaboration with higher education institutions, government agencies and the National Blue Ocean Strategy (NBOS) industry players, as they provided the complimentary venue and industry experts who contributed voluntarily for the colloquium.

The STEM Education Colloquium theme is “Education Through Exploration”.

In 2018, STEM education colloquium will be implemented in four zones – Sarawak, Sabah, Kelantan and Perak – involving nearly 1,200 participants in each zone.

The university partners in each zone are Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, Universiti Malaysia Sabah, Universiti Malaysia Kelantan, and Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris respectively.

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Future of neuroscience education

Friday, May 11th, 2018
VRP students extracting DNA at the Neuroscience Department.

The human brain — a spongy, 1.5 kilogramme mass of tissue — is the most complex living structure in the universe that enables humans to achieve so much.

Its chaotic networks of billions of electrically pulsating neurons in our skulls have perplexed scientists for centuries.

The brain’s capacity can store more information than the most advanced computer and create a network of connections that far exceeds any social network.

In the last 10 years, through neuroscience, our understanding of this mysterious organ has exploded.

Studying the mechanisms of the mind, roots of behaviour, cause of disease and capacity to grow and change throughout one’s life opens a window into what makes us human.

Prodigious advances in diagnostic and molecular techniques have laid bare some of the brain’s complexity, and scientists are just beginning to parse how these revelations translate into everyday behaviour, let alone disease.

According to Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) Center for Neuroscience Services and Research (P3Neuro) director Professor Datuk Dr Jafri Malin Abdullah, neuroscience — the scientific study of the brain and nervous system —involves multidisciplinary sciences concerned with the study of the structure and function of the nervous system.

“Neuroscience research is one of the great frontiers of scientific research. It leads to an understanding of our own thinking and behaviour.

“Neuroscientists routinely draw on the fields of psychology, biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics and computer science in their work. And that’s one reason neuroscience is such an interesting and challenging field of study,”he said.

Dr Jafri Malin is among the pioneers who introduced and developed the field of clinical and experimental neuroscience in Malaysia and in expanding it through the Academy of Sciences Malaysia.


Last year, SMK Seri Bintang Utara, Kuala Lumpur student Elwin Raj did Malaysia proud when he secured third place in the International Brain Bee Championship (IBBC) 2017 at Washington, D.C. in the United States. He won US$1,000 (RM3,936) along with an opportunity to undergo industrial training in the field of neuroscience at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

Organised by the American Psychology Association, IBBC is geared towards motivating students aged between 13 and 19 to study the brain, and inspire them to pursue a career in basic and clinical neuroscience.

Elwin was the champion of the Malaysian Brain Bee Challenge (MBBC), the neuroscience national level competition that took place at the Health Campus, USM, Kubang Kerian before he represented the country at the international level.

MBBC encourages students nationwide to be familiar with basic neuroscience concepts and terminology as well as have an understanding of how scientists learn about the brain.

At IBBC, students are tested on knowledge of the human brain, covering subjects such as activity, emotion, memory, sleep, sight, hearing, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, addiction and brain research.

The competition involves oral tests, neuroanatomy laboratory examinations using actual human brain, neurohistology examinations and component diagnosis of patients.

Founded in 1998 by Dr Norbert Myslinski from Maryland University, IBBC was created in response to the growing incidence rates of neurological diseases and the need to motivate young men and women to learn about the human brain.

Myslinski said the world needs future clinicians and researchers to treat and find cures for more than 1,000 neurological and psychological disorders. The competition hopes to inspire youth to join careers in research and clinical brain sciences.

So why is neuroscience ever more important today than ever before to fuel the next generation of top scientists, doctors and even future entrepreneurs?


Studying neuroscience is not only important to understand normal human behaviour.

In an age when neural networks are applied to advance technology and brain-computer interfaces are being introduced to the market, the compelling subject of the human brain takes centre stage. Something that combines neuroscience and technology is going to be really important to accelerate the pace of human development in the future.

Dr Jafri Malin said: “There are numerous fields that incorporate neuroscience such as biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering, mathematics, medicine, philosophy, physics and psychology.

“The collaboration between artificial intelligence (AI) and neuroscience can produce an understanding of the mechanisms in the brain that generate human cognition.”

AI, software and web hosting involve computational neuroscience, an interdisciplinary science that links the diverse fields of neuroscience, computer science, physics and applied mathematics together. It serves as the primary theoretical method for investigating the function and mechanism of the nervous system.

“The fifth revolution, which is already around the corner, is in neuroscience. As it unfolds, we can expect technology including artificial intelligence to become more superior and sophisticated in every sense. To enhance creativity, there is a need for more development, discovery and exposure for Malaysians.”

He added that the number of neuroscientists in Malaysia, although small in comparison with other countries, has increased positively.

“According to the 2015 Unesco Institute of Statistics data, we had six scientists per 1,000 workforce.In 2016, the number has increased to 14 scientists per 1,000 workforce.

“With so much at stake, the need for the field of neuroscience and AI to come together

is now more important than ever before,”

said Dr Jafri Malin, who was responsible for establishing the neurosurgery and some neurological components at the School of Medical Sciences, USM as well as at the Hospital USM.

He is also dedicated to promoting knowledge about and interest in neuroscience to Malaysian students through various programmes. This is also to address the deficit of science students in the higher education pipeline.

In 2016, he was appointed adviser of the International Youth Neuroscience Association (IYNA) based at the University of Maryland.

“It was through the contribution in establishing the first Neuroscience Club at the primary school level in SK Kubang Kerian 3 in Kelantan and at the secondary school level in SM Sains Tengku Muhammad Faris Petra more than seven years ago, as well as conducting various activities focused on neuroscience, which has made this appointment possible.”

Recently, IYNA selected Malay College Kuala Kangsar as the Malaysian Chapter representative for the 18 neuroscience clubs in Malaysia to coordinate their activities.


Dr Jafri Malin said P3Neuro of USM has been running the Vacation Research Programme (VRP) for secondary school students for the last six years.

The first of its kind in Southeast Asia, P3Neuro does translational and transdiciplinary research and services related to neuroscience. It handles Combined Specialist Clinics Neuroscience Functional And Epilepsy, Combined Clinical Neurology (MAPPING), Combined Clinic Psychology-Neuroscience, and Sound, Movement, Arts And Rehab Therapy Clinic. It also supervises undergraduate neuroscience students on industrial attachment from overseas universities such as Keele University and postgraduate research in the same field.

VRP is one of its programmes targeting pre-university students in an effort to promote interest in brain research among secondary school students,

Originally an idea of Dr Jafri Malin, VRP was introduced in 2012 for Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) students to inculcate the love for neuroscience in particular and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in general for those who are keen to pursue careers as scientists.

“An important goal of VRP is to share what we are doing in our laboratories and encourage these bright young minds to consider a career in brain research.

“Reaching out to students in this way sends a strong message about the importance of neuroscience research. I cannot think of a better way to encourage students to consider science as a study option.

“Young generations, who take up fundamental and applied sciences as their basic degree and pursue postgraduate studies, will be assured of job security, promotion and reward at the end of the road.”

By providing early exposure to conduct research in the areas of STEM, it allows youth to explore and learn through hands-on activities. Programme participants are supervised and guided by scientists at P3Neuro together with undergraduate students and staff from other schools at USM.

During the course of six to nine weeks, these students are exposed to not only artificial intelligence, software and web hosting but also neurobiology and electrophysiology.

“Neurobiology is a branch of biology that focuses on the structure and function of the nervous system in animals and humans.

“Meanwhile, electrophysiology is the study of the electrical properties and activity of brain cells. In neuroscience, it includes measurements of the electrical activity of neurons and, particularly, action potential activity. It is one way to understand quantitatively and qualitatively the interactions of the many cell types within the brain and how their dysfunction may lead to pathology,” added Dr Jafri Malin.


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Assessing the nation’s STI standing

Thursday, April 19th, 2018

SCIENCE, technology and innovation (STI) must converge with economy and finance, geopolitics, society and culture to fuel a robust ideation process for the nation’s socio economic transformation.

This is the key takeaway within Science Outlook 2017, the recently unveiled second edition of a flagship initiative by the Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM), which presents an independent review of key trends in STI in Malaysia and which aims to provide evidence-based insights and new perspectives on the Malaysian STI landscape.

Asma Ismail

ASM president Professor Datuk Dr Asma Ismail said results from the findings called for transformative thinking, growth mindset, integrated planning and inclusive implementation.

“Malaysia’s aspiration to be an advanced nation requires all sectors to have the capacity for developing knowledge capital to fuel Malaysia’s drive to be an advanced economy.

“Industry 4.0 has made it more urgent for stakeholders to collaborate in making sure that the country is capable of coping with potential socioeconomic uncertainties brought about by technological upheavals to the global economy.

“The country’s progressive and innovative society must have the necessary STI robustness for the country to navigate the deep waters of knowledge-based economy for sustained growth and inclusive development,” she said.

Driven by an extensive network of ASM fellows and associates, Science Outlook 2017 tracked where Malaysia is in STI as a nation, identified gaps in relation to where it wants to be in the future, studied best practices and transformation trajectories of other competitive nations, as well as prescriptions to ensure Malaysia’s aspirations can be realised.

The report found that coordination of the ecosystem in Malaysia’s STI landscape remains a challenge.

Also highlighted was the fact that although Malaysia enjoys a reasonably good position in global competitiveness — holding the 23rd position in the Global Competitiveness Index, 2017-2018, in innovation indices under Pillar 10 on Product Innovation — Malaysia is ranked 130th out of 137 countries.

Science Outlook 2017 chairman Professor Datuk Dr Halimaton Hamdan said the multitude of actors in the national STI landscape has to be revisited

Halimaton Hamdan

“Too many actors and funding agencies become self-competing, hence diluting available funding and resources. The weak link between the federal and state governments on the STI issues must also be bridged to cascade policies and decision for effective transformation of the nation towards joining the paradigm shift towards a knowledge-based economy,” she said.

As for the country’s low rank in innovation, Halimaton said part of the problem lay in the fact that little emphasis was being put on experimental development.

She said research and development (R&D) done in Malaysia was not industry-led, as most of the country’s researchers were concentrated in institutions of higher learning.

“If you look at countries like France and Japan, they are now spending more on the experimental part of research, which takes findings from the fundamentals to commercialisation and on to application.

“In advanced countries, they do research at all levels, not only at the university-level. Even industries are doing research for product development.

“Researchers in our country are mostly concentrated in universities, and do not receive much funding. The industry should support experimental research at their industries. Researchers at universities should be engaged to do this research for them,” she said.

Launch of Science Outlook 2017

The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) talent pipeline also remains a concern.

Halimaton said there was a decline in interest in enrolling in STEM and related fields, and that the quality, based on major national level examination results, was about average.

“Is the STEM field unattractive, or is the pedagogy losing touch with the learning style of millennials? Our survey showed that almost 47 per cent of STEM teachers from secondary schools had not received STEM-related training. Future jobs will be technology-based. There are also critical STEM-related jobs which may not be filled by national talent, since the numbers are declining.

“But then again, is our industry ready to hire STEM talent? With 98.5 per cent of our industry being small and medium enterprises (SMEs), most do not adopt technology and do not invest in R&D. Only six per cent are creators.

“The productivity of our SMEs is low; the contribution to our gross domestic product is less than 40 per cent, and most SMEs do not have the capacity to hire knowledge workers,” she said.

STI enculturation — the process through which science culture become integrated in the mind and habits of the people — was something the report focused on. STI culture includes scientific literacy, public understanding, acceptance and awareness of science and scientific methods, as well as the applications of science in day-to-day life.

The report found that the Malaysian young public’s STI literacy benchmarked against other countries are below the international average. A STI enculturation survey showed that Malaysian adults generally scored below the international average, lower than the adults in most developed countries.

Science culture is highly influenced by the level of education, mass media coverage and cultural mentality. Halimaton said that it was clear that more was needed to make science mainstream in Malaysian culture.


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Early risers and better mental health

Friday, April 13th, 2018

There is much truth in the adage, ‘early to bed, early to rise will make you healthy, wealthy and wise’.

Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day but how are some able to accomplish great things while others turn in mediocre results.

Time management is the key to success and failure for it gives that edge in achieving our dreams.

Waking up early is a virtue that needs to be cultivated among the young. Many youths have the habit of waking up just in time to hurry through the early morning chores before rushing off to work.

There is no time to pause, plan and profit from reflection. Not to mention the stress that goes with it.

We need to cultivate the habit of waking up early from an early age.

When you win the battle of the bed and put mind over the mattress, it will allow you to take control of the day rather than the day dictating terms to you.

You have the extra hours to do the things that you always wanted to do in a day but which you could never do because of your hectic schedule.

The early morning is the most crucial part of the day and setting off on a good early start will unfold a wonderful and beautiful day.

Science now tells us what others have been saying through the ages, that early risers enjoy better mental health and are more productive.

By getting up early, you have ample time to care for yourself which will make you a better spouse, parent and professional.

The adage “the early bird catches the worm” amplifies the re wards of waking up early in a dog-eat-dog world.


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Penampang school leads charge in harnessing energy

Friday, April 6th, 2018

KOTA KINABALU: Five schools in Sabah were selected by Shell Malaysia to promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) amongst lower secondary school students in Malaysia.

According to Prithipal Singh, Shell Malaysia Senior Representative, revealed the company introduced a STEM immersion programme known as #MyGeekMovement to 15 selected schools nationwide in August last year, including five schools in Sabah.

(The five Sabah schools are SM All Saints, SM La Salle and SMKMaktab Sabah in Kota Kinabalu; SM St. Michael in Penampang; and SMK Sung Siew in Sandakan.)

Shell Malaysia focused on STEM to influence students to take an early interest in fields like engineering, information technology and automation.

“This will increase the numbers of STEM graduates thus helping to meet national targets and aspirations,” a company statement said.

MyGeekMovement provides learning content that complements the existing school co-curricular structure with a long-term goal to increase number of students opting for science stream in the selected schools, while boosting interests in science and technology amongst the young generation.

STEM are subjects at the very heart of Shell, according to Prithipal.

“Our industry needs talented people with relevant knowledge and skills in these areas. Through our STEM-related programmes, we actively shape and participate in the energy transition.”

With the support of the Ministry of Education, #MyGeekMovement Shell STEM Malaysia selected 225 form one students in 15 schools in Sabah, Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia. These students will experience the opportunity to gain hands-on STEM learning, with a focus on technology. Peer to peer coaching is also implemented to widen the knowledge beyond those directly involved in the participating schools.

During the showcase, Shell Malaysia presented the innovative inventions produced by the students involved in #MyGeekMovement. The students delved into an ‘Access to Energy’ challenge and the five Sabah secondary school champion teams were engaged in a #MyGeek-a-thon showcase to vie for the title #MyGeekMovement Sabah State Champion.

The team from SM St. Michael, Penampang was announced as the Sabah champion yesterday. Their prototype invention combines wind and hydro turbines and a solar panel to convert wind, hydro and solar energy as renewable energy to produce electricity. The team will represent Sabah in the #MyGeekMovement Malaysia Grand Finals, scheduled next week in Cyberjaya, Selangor competing against the other state champions of Peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak.

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Getting preschoolers in math early

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018
Christina Andin (fourth from right) with the mentors for the Accountant Junior programme.

DURING early childhood, infants and toddlers develop 700 neural connections every second. This period has long been accepted as the most critical point in neurological or brain development.

Experts say this sensitive period of development must be utilised to start children on the right path to be successful in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), and other content areas. Once these neurological pathways are developed, they go through a pruning process, in which synapses that are not used are eliminated.

Based on this, the Faculty of Psychology and Education at Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS)

has taken on an initiative to focus on creating STEM activities, particularly in the area of Mathematics, for preschool level (nursery and kindergarten) children under the STEM Mentor-Mentee Programme driven by the National STEM Movement.

“The Faculty of Psychology and Education produces graduates who are recognised in the field of Psychology and Education.

“We have five programmes: Science and Mathematics with Education, Social Science with Education, Economic with Education, Education with Teaching English as a Second Language and Early Childhood Education.

“The programmes train teachers for the said particular areas. Thus, we have strong connections with schools as we are producing future teachers,” said senior lecturer Dr Christina Andin.

Why mathematics?

Christina said research confirmed that the brain was particularly receptive to learning mathematics and logic between the ages of 1 and 4, and that early mathematics skills were the most powerful predictors of later learning.

“Early math skills are a better predictor of later academic success than early reading. Basically, we hold this findings as justification in the paperwork for this STEM project.”

For the STEM Mentor-Mentee Programme, Christina collaborated with fellow lecturer Dr Connie Shin.

“She is from the Early Childhood Education programme and I am from the Economic with Education programme.

“Our study is about the learning of numbers among preschoolers. We used money as a medium to learn mathematics because it provides a perfect, authentic opportunity to explore mathematics.

“Each coin and paper money has an assigned value. These can be used to engage kids in techniques of sorting, counting, comparing, measuring, adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, and, eventually, using fractions, decimals, percentages and more,” Christina said.

“Accountant Juniors”, the name of the project, illustrated the ambitious mind to be“like a professional”.

“As we know, an accountant is a professional who performs accounting functions, such as audits or financial statement analyses,” said Christina.

Accountant Junior also has some integrated learning objectives, such as introducing and familiarising children with money, value and the concept of trading, developing social skills, and practising negotiation skills, turn taking and sharing.

The activities provide opportunities for working out problems and experimenting with solutions.

“The development of the modules involved several stages,” said Christina.

“The first was to determine the content to be taught, where we referred to the latest syllabus of Early Mathematics by the Education Ministry. Then, the writing of the lesson plan, which provides important guides for teachers on how to implement the teaching and learning activities. Following that was the creation of the teaching aid as a tool for teaching and learning activities.”

As the concept is based on games, there are five games within the modules that range from simple money-counting activities to more complex money calculations.

The games include an activity called “Know Your Money”, where preschoolers get familiar with coins and paper money. This activity is divided into three sub-activities, namely “Pancing Wang”, “Many or Little” and “Pay by Price”.

Activity 2, “Wheels of Dreams (Needs and Wants)”, is based on the theory in psychology proposed by Abraham Maslow. Through this game, children will learn about the concepts of cheap and expensive through identifying of price tags.

Activity 3, “ATM Machine (Addition and Subtraction)”, relates to the introduction of value in money to children. Children will be exposed to activities that involve addition and subtraction.

Activity 4, “Monopoly (Plan Your Money)”, is a board game where players are involved in making purchses and saving money. This game applies the concepts of addition and subtraction, as well as enhances cognitive, affective and psychomotor aspects. Kids will distinguish between earning, spending, saving and sharing money. The money used per player is below RM10.

Lastly, Activity 5, “Spend and Save”, introduces to children as early as 4 to the usage of 10 sen up to RM10.

“We implemented Accountant Junior in real classroom settings. This involved the pre-test and post-test. The pilot programme was held in Ranau, Kota Belud, Labuan, Kota Kinabalu and Kuala Penyu in Sabah, involving 15 kindergartens, with the presence of 375 preschoolers,” said Christina.

To fulfil the basic concept of the mentor-mentee programme, the kindergarten and nursery teachers took on the role as mentees and university students as mentors.The students are from UMS’s Early Childhood Education programme.

“They are the future kindergarten teachers. Therefore, engaging them in this activity will indirectly expose them to the real world of teaching and learning in the kindergarten context. This is important in producing teachers who have the passion for STEM education,” said Christina.

UMS second-year Early Childhood Education student Phreoza Dayzency Missie said: “The programme is all about exploring early mathematics and exposing preschoolers to financial literacy and money skills. We observed that lower primary schoolchildren often have problems dealing with transactions at their school canteen and thought of teaching them to count by using games and activities.

“The 12 of us mentors, students of the Early Childhood Education Programme, have worked with 33 mentees — kindergarten teachers. We’ve been thinking of turning the games into software applications, so that we can run the programme in Sarawak and the rest of Malaysia too.

“The age of 4 to 6 is very critical to instill understanding of numbers and relate it to problem solving.”

And has the Accountant Junior mentor-mentee programme been successful?

“This is only the starting point for the STEM Mentor-Mentee Programme at UMS. A lot of things need to be done, especially in involving the rest of the three components of STEM, Science, Technology and Engineering,” said Christina.

“We are also in the process of developing the module for ‘Natural Lab’, where we use the eco-campus environment as a medium of learning science concepts among pre-schoolers.


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