Archive for the ‘Teaching of Science and Mathematics’ Category

More to Mathematics

Sunday, January 27th, 2019
Woo (standing) shares his ideas with teacheers in a session.

Woo (standing) shares his ideas with teacheers in a session.

MATHEMATICS is more than being logical and knowing how to reason.

It is also about being creative, open and communicative.

Sounds contradictory? Well, not according to famed Australian Mathematics educator Eddie Woo who believes that the reasoning and logical skills developed from learning Mathematics are not exclusively mutual from being creative and artsy.

“Many people think that Mathematics is a tough subject.

“In fact, everyone can embrace and enjoy Mathematics if they learn it in an engaging way,” he says.

Teaching Mathematics should be playful and inquiry-based but should also include rote-learning and textbook exercises, he adds.

Teachers, he adds, often ask students to copy something from their textbooks, solve it and repeat the process again and again when it comes to learning Mathematics.

“Textbooks are wonderful servants but terrible masters,” he says, pointing out that teachers tend to depend on textbooks and workbooks during lessons.

“We teach students a pattern and we want them to recognise and repeat it,” he says, adding that this kills the creativity that can be found in solving Mathematical problems.

“Following patterns is not a way to cultivate creativity. Why not let the students create the patterns on their own?”

Woo, whose family was from Kuala Lumpur, was in Malaysia recently to share his love of Mathematics with about 200 secondary school teachers and students during two engagement sessions at Petrosains, The Discovery Centre.

In his “teaching voice”, he discussed and presented interesting topics such as Dispositions for Mathematical Success, Four Compass Points for Beginning Teachers as well as Reimagining Mathematics and Mathematics Games.

Woo is known for his innovative and personal teaching approach and in 2012, he started posting videos online for a student with cancer, who was missing out on lessons in school.

It wasn’t long before his videos found a global audience and his Youtube channel, “Wootube” now boasts more than 300,000 subscribers with more than 19 million views.

On ways to bring more creativity to the teaching process, Woo says that teachers should work with their peers who teach other subjects, pick their minds and come up with new innovative ways to teach their lessons.

Woo admits that Mathematics was not his favourite subject as a child and that he always pictured himself as a humanities teacher.

“The reason I now love Mathematics so much is that it is a new way to think and look at the entire world.”

He is the head mathematics teacher at Cherrybrook Technology High School, New South Wales in Australia.

“In Australia, we don’t want to just develop (Mathematical) knowledge and skills. We want them to become confident and purposeful mathematicians,” he says during his first engagement talk.

“Can our students take an idea, a solution and not just be able to find it but place it into someone else’s mind so that they can understand it?” he asks the teachers, explaining that this should be their goal when teaching Maths.

Teachers should not be thinking about preparing their students for exams or keeping them busy until they go home. Learning maths is about learning to collaborate, open and creative, he adds.

Australian High Commissioner to Malaysia Andrew Goledzinowski says Woo’s methods have made Mathematics more interesting and has given him new insight into the value of education.

By Rebecca Rajaendram
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Promoting interest in STEM

Sunday, November 11th, 2018

Ahmad Tajuddin (third right) sharing a light moment with Dr Siti Hamisah who was touring the KLESF exhibition.

Ahmad Tajuddin (third right) sharing a light moment with Dr Siti Hamisah who was touring the KLESF exhibition

THE next time you’re worried about parking, check your app.

The Chong brothers – Emerson, 10, and Sheldon, 12, aren’t old enough to drive but that didn’t stop them from attempting to solve a grown up problem.

Inspired by the Internet of Things (IOT), the homeschooled brothers spent over a month working on a smart parking app that tells drivers whether parking lots at the place they’re heading to, are full.

They were the Kuala Lumpur Engineering Science Fair (KLESF) International Challenge 2018 bronze medal winner in the primary school category.

Explaining their invention, the Chongs said using RFID (radio frequency identification) tags that contain driver and vehicle information, the app can even be used to book and pay for parking bays.

KLESF steering committee co-chairman Datuk Hong Lee Pee said the fair’s objective was to promote interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education among youths and the public.

The KLESF International Challenge 2018 was a main highlight as it allowed students to exhibit their original inventions.

Emerson and Sheldon with a prototype of their invention.

Emerson and Sheldon with a prototype of their invention.

“This year, 400 teams from 150 schools participated,” said Hong.

The International Challenge was among a myriad of exciting events including exhibitions, hands-on experiments and workshops, robotics, coding, science and chemical engineering competitions.

Kayson Choo, who was among the exhibitors, showcased his team’s humanoid fighter.

Using motion sensors, the humanoid punches when Choo moves his hand.

“Now it’s only the hands but we’re working on a prototype that will be controlled entirely by motion sensors.

“So if you duck, step forward or move backward, the humanoid will too.”

The KLESF was jointly organised by the Asean Academy of Engineering and Technology (AAET), Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR), Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT) and the Institution of Engineers Malaysia.

Held from Nov 2 to Nov 4 at the MINES International Exhibition & Convention Centre (MIECC) in Seri Kembangan, over 60,000 visitors thronged the three-day event to promote STEM.

Education Ministry’s Department of Higher Education director-general Datin Paduka Dr Siti Hamisah Tapsir, who launched the fair, said STEM education was important in producing critical thinkers and innovators for our future workforce.

Innovation leads to new and improvised products and processes that sustain our economy. And such science literacy depends on solid knowledge in STEM, she added.

Last year, it was reported that only 47% of school students opted for the science stream – short of the targeted 60:40 ratio of science and technical stream students to arts students.

“We’re working very hard to get students interested in STEM because the future is transdisciplinary. Everyone will need to understand and interpret data – even those in the arts field.

“The ministry’s centralised university unit (UPU) has to scrape the bottom of the barrel to get STEM students. So long as they meet the minimum requirement, students are offered STEM courses,” she said, adding that the ministry has conducted various initiatives including the setting up of a national STEM centre to promote hands-on activities and fun learning.

The centre’s inquiry-based science education (IBSE) workshops for 1,200 teachers nation-wide was recently completed, she said.

IBSE, she said, was crucial in developing critical skills for efficient learning.

The ministry, she added, welcomes engagement with all quarters as promoting STEM education has to be a concerted effort.

“Whether we like it or not, most of our activities are dependent on technology. Technology plays a big role in cooking, going places, studying and staying in touch with loved ones. Even when sleeping, technology keeps us cool and comfortable.

“So, a good grasp of scientific concepts is much needed, especially among the younger generation.”

But the decline in STEM interest, AAET and UTAR president Prof Datuk Dr Chuah Hean Teik said, was a global phenomenon.

He said it was important that STEM careers are highlighted in the media.

“If parents know future prospects are bright, they’d encourage their children to take up these subjects.”

Children naturally find STEM interesting as many toys today have scientific elements, MIGHT chairman Tan Sri Ahmad Tajuddin Ali said.

The problem is that children lose interest when they go to school.

“Is it school and our system that’s the problem? We’ve to make sure that their interest in science continues through their schooling years.”

The KLESF should strive to be as big as the Edinburgh International Science Festival. This, he said, would help generate interest among youngsters in the field.

By Christina Chin
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Essay contest on dangers of war, science for peace

Sunday, November 4th, 2018
Go to and for more details. Good luck, all!

CALLING all writers, including schoolchildren, university students and the public. There are cash prizes totalling RM27,000 for winners of an essay competition.

The competition carries two themes. The first one is “War is a Crime” and the second one is “Science for Peace”.

The competition is jointly organised by the Perdana Global Peace Foundation (PGPF) and

The two entities decided to organise the competition as part of a national drive to create more awareness of the dangers of war and what science can do for peace.

Hurry up if you want to match your writing skill with others and grab the prizes offered.

The competition is held to commemorate the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s World Science Day for Peace and Development on Nov 10.

It is hoped that writers would promote the theme through their use of English or Bahasa Malaysia.

Let the statistics speak: 35 million people were casualties of World War 1 (deceased and wounded); 60 million in World War 2; one million in the Korean war and 3 million in the Vietnam war.

You can dispute the numbers, but the fact remains that war is a savage manifestation of  human attempts to solve conflicts.

PGPF is heading the call to make everyone realise that war is a crime and the perpetrators ought to be taken to task and brought to justice.

In recent times, the Bosnian ethnic cleansing led to more than 200,000 casualties, Rwanda took another one million, Iraq another one million, while the numbers
in the Syrian and Yemen conflicts run into hundreds of thousands more and still counting.

So writers, put on your thinking cap and start writing. Send your entries on or before Nov 29.  Winners will be announced on Dec31. Submit your pieces to

For university students and the public, first prize winners (of both English and Bahasa Malaysia subcategories) will get RM5,000, RM3,000 for second place and RM1,000 for third place. The theme, articulated in not more than 2,500 words, is criminalising war with the emphasis on how do we move forward in a world without aggression. There will be six winners under this category.

For secondary school students, first prize winners will get RM2,000, second (RM1,500) and third (RM1,000). The theme, Science for Peace, should be discussed in not more than 1,500 words. This category will have six winners (for English and Bahasa Malaysia

If you have enquiries, contact Nuh Izuddin at 03-2092 7248, or email, and Hasfazilah binti Hassan at 012-500 1051 or email

Go to and for more details. Good luck, all!


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STEM literacy for industry 4.0

Sunday, October 21st, 2018
Students showcasing their invention at a STEM fair. Malaysia’s STEM initiative is to generate a pipeline of students that will eventually fill the one million new STEM careers that Malaysia will need by 2020.

Students showcasing their invention at a STEM fair. Malaysia’s STEM initiative is to generate a pipeline of students that will eventually fill the one million new STEM careers that Malaysia will need by 2020.

WHEN people think of pineapples, a sweet and tangy fruit comes to mind.

What many do not realise however is the time-consuming effort taken by pineapple farmers to determine the optimal ripeness of the fruit for harvesting.

Most farmers have to wait around six to 12 months for the pineapple to ripen as the conventional methods of determining the ripeness of a pineapple depend on its colour, size, aroma and how it “sounds” when tapped.

But three students from Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia in Johor have created a handheld sensing device that can assist pineapple farmers in evaluating optimal levels of ripeness of the fruit for harvesting – without resorting to poking or prodding.

Calling themselves Team Pine, the students leveraged on a combination of technologies such as optical sensing, machine learning and Internet of Things to perform the Brix test (a common method of determining quality of fruits) on pineapples.

Sweet success: Team Pine from Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia created a sensing device for farmers that evaluates pineapple ripeness. The technologies that the team employed made them champion at Microsoft’s Imagine Cup Asia Pacific Regional Finals.

Sweet success: Team Pine from Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia created a sensing device for farmers that evaluates pineapple ripeness. The technologies that the team employed made them champion at Microsoft’s Imagine Cup Asia Pacific Regional Finals.

The team then went on to become the champion at Microsoft’s Imagine Cup Asia Pacific Regional Finals.

What made Team Pine’s victory even sweeter was that their passion for pineapples goes beyond just helping farmers make a better living; they set out to help Malaysia meet the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal #12 – responsible consumption.

Malaysia’s STEM initiative

Most technical problems can be solved with the application of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Just like how Team Pine drew together technologies from different STEM disciplines, virtually all solutions require the combination of insights and application from the science spectrum.

But most importantly is having the people behind the technologies with the foresight and interest to connect the dots and innovate.

This is the vision of the STEM initiative in Malaysia. The initiative is ultimately tasked with providing a pipeline of students that will eventually fill the one million new STEM careers that Malaysia will need by 2020. These jobs include doctors and technicians as well as careers of the Industrial Revolution 4.0, such as data scientists and programmers.

According to the Malaysia 2018/2019 Salary Guide by Kelly Services & Capita Global, fresh STEM graduates with minimal work experience can expect upwards of RM3,900 as an automation engineer or even RM5,200 as a Java developer.

The initiative looks at more ambitious targets beyond raising a generation of future innovators and technopreneurs; it seeks to create a tide that lifts all boats and inculcate a STEM mindset in every Malaysian student.

The Education Ministry also believes that a core of STEM literacy and the values and approaches from a STEM education are integral in life and career, even outside of STEM.

For instance, the scientific method of generating and validating hypotheses is the foundation of the management consulting practice up to this day.

This goal of embedding STEM knowledge and skills in all students is best reflected in a prominent global movement that Malaysia is part of – STEMforALL. It represents the philosophy that a STEM education is relevant and beneficial to all, regardless of gender, socio-economic status or even ability.

Lack of STEM uptake

Behind all the good intentions of the wonders and future in STEM lies a massive challenge that countries around the world face – globally fewer children are interested in STEM.

In the United States for example, it is estimated that the country will face a shortage of more than 2.2 million STEM workers while the United Kingdom is currently experiencing a 40,000 shortfall in STEM graduates across the country – costing the country’s economy an estimated £63bil a year in lost GDP.

In Malaysia, it sees a steady drop in student enrolment in Science streams. The number of Form 5 students studying Science subjects has dropped an average of 6,000 per year since 2012, and this year’s enrolment stood at only 167,962 out of 375,794 (44.7%).

Equally worrying is the quality of STEM graduates. More than 48% of Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) candidates failed to obtain a Credit grade of C for Additional Mathematics, a prerequisite to enrol in STEM undergraduate courses.

What is even more worrying is that science and technical graduates have the highest unemployment rate among all other graduates in the country at 20.7%.

Stepping up STEM interest

There are many theories when it comes to how interest and quality of students in STEM fields is nurtured.

One of the most compelling methods is to provide STEM experiences to students through extra-curricular activities.

Research published by CBE-Life Sciences Education found that students who are exposed to extracurricular encounters, such as visiting a science fair or watching a scifi movie, are more inclined and interested in STEM.

The research team followed a group of young students that demonstrated clear passion in STEM through joining the Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Programme (ASSIP) and completing 300 hours of research, despite their early age.

What was even more interesting was that most of the encounters were introduced to the students through parents, relatives or friends. Thus, a combination of being led to an encounter by a trusted source and the inspiration from the encounter itself was enough to ignite a passion and interest in STEM among the students.

This is the direction that our Education Ministry is taking – providing quality STEM experiences to students across the country.

Among the efforts taken by the ministry include expanding STEM related extra-curricular activities such as F1 in Schools (an international STEM competition for students) and STEM+ clubs.

The ministry is also spearheading a STEM mentor-mentee programme in which teachers and students are partnered with STEM professionals and undergraduates to allow for a hands-on experience of the industry.

The ministry has also invested in state and national-level STEM fairs where students collaborate and compete to apply their knowledge on STEM subjects and create innovations.

However, the ministry and schools cannot do this alone. As research indicates, parents and kin play an extremely large role in lighting the first spark of interest among students.

There is a wealth of opportunities for parents to get their children involved, from watching films such as Disney’s Big Hero 6 to taking their children for an introductory coding class.

This is why the ministry is piloting a STEM Change Agent Network together with Microsoft Malaysia and organisations such as Petrosains and Kidocode to organise more engagement activities to spread awareness of STEM among Malaysian parents.

“As we work towards future-proofing Malaysian youth with inclusive education and digital skills, we are proud to be partnering PADU (Education Performance and Delivery Unit) and the Education Ministry, as STEM and digital skills are the passport to new opportunities in today’s global economy,” said Dr Jasmine Begum, director of Legal, Corporate, and Government Affairs for Microsoft Malaysia and New Markets.

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Rapid calculation method helps kids to improve maths skills.

Wednesday, July 18th, 2018
KUALA LUMPUR: It is not simply by chance that the Chinese are strong in mathematics.

The ability to do mental arithmetics has been ingrained in them since the age of 5. Hence, mental calculations forms part of their daily habits.

When a child is counting, their brain is developing. The result of this is that their brain also develops faster.

The Mental Arithmetic system being used in China today is Shifengshou Rapid Calculation – a rapid algorithm method, where a person is able to mentally calculate very huge numbers without the assistance of computers or calculators.

Shifengshou has a simple set of calculation rules and is highly systematic. It encompasses Addition, Multiplication, Subtraction and Division.

This rapid calculation method is learnt just by one hand. Today this multi maths system is a core part of China’s education primary syllabus.

Parents are increasingly sending their children for Mental Arithmetics classes, not just to be adapt in mathematics, but also to develop creativity, problem solving and resourcefulness.

When a child’s ability to problem solve is cultivated, the child is able to handle tough challenges in life, and help them grow with strong analytical skills.

This is especially suitable for hyperactive kids, where a lot of that excess energy can now be transformed to faster brainwork.

Even for adults, the practice of mental arithmetic keeps the brain stimulated, and hence they become mentally sharper and more alert.

For some background, the Shifengshou Education International Department in China was set up in May 1991 for the purpose of researching, developing and promotions.

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Igniting interest in STEM

Thursday, July 12th, 2018
Noraini Idris (second from left) and University of Malaya’s science matriculation students discussing their experience in learning science and mathematics in the programme.

IN the era of globalisation, digitisation and fourth industrial revolution, the need for talents in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is becoming more pronounced to move the country forward.

However, the interest in mathematics and science in schools and, consecutively, universities seems to be waning as reflected in the poor enrolment into science stream at secondary schools, and the lack of good candidates for STEM-based programmes at universities.

National STEM Movement chairman Datuk Professor Dr Noraini Idris said this disinterest in science and mathematics stemmed from uninspired teaching of the subjects at schools, which had a continued impact at the higher-education level.

National STEM Movement chairman, Datuk Professor Dr Noraini Idris

“When I was studying in the 1970s and 1980s, science and mathematics teachers at school were knowledgeable and well-versed in the subjects. In class, they had students enthralled with their stories on the subjects being taught, whether it be maths or science,” she said.

“In mathematics, we were thought to reflect and think, and had to give reasons for equations, like whether it is true that one plus one is two. And, if so, we had to give reasons why is it true. We had to prove it in class — both students and teacher.

“And, it didn’t matter if we get it wrong, as it is a learning process. During break time, at the canteen, students had the opportunity to play chess with the mathematics teacher. So, the rapport was very strong between teachers and students.”

For science, Noraini said teachers would have students carry out experiments in the science labs.

“But science is not just about chemical elements and confined to labs. Teachers would also teach science through agriculture or gardening, where students had fun and were encouraged to ask questions and think,” she said.

“Last time, we were not that clever but we built up interest in science and mathematics because our teachers were engaging.

“The textbooks used in class was not used to just copy exercises from. We read the textbooks and applied or link the knowledge to everyday life. That was what made me like science and mahematics till today,” said Noraini, who holds a string of qualifications in mathematics, including a PhD (Mathematics Education) from the Ohio State University, in Columbus, Ohio, the United States. She obtained the doctorate in 1998.

“Teachers were strong in the knowledge, as well as pedagogically. I think this is what differentiates today’s and yesterday’s classroom,” Noraini said.

“We have to strengthen our kids’ interest in STEM. When they enjoy learning STEM and partake in STEM-based activities, this will trigger curiosity and go towards exploring the use of STEM to provide innovative applications and solutions,” she said.

She said only allowing students who obtained As and Bs in science and mathematics into the science stream in upper secondary, which has been the common practice, might not be the way to go.

“When I was young, students were encouraged to take up science. 15 is too young to decide on streaming.

“What is best is for all to enter the science stream, fortified with subjects like social science and economy. That way we can get more talents in STEM,” said Noraini.

She said Malaysia could learn from Finland in training and grooming great teachers, as well as an ecosystem that supports insightful and fun learning that encourages interest in science and mathematics.

In a recent study visit to Finland, Noraini saw that to teach sicence, candidates must not only be strong in the subject, but also in pedagogy, with a clear grasp of in-depth technique of teaching science.

“They take five years to graduate to become teachers. This is inclusive of active research done in schools,” she said.

Apart from preparing competent and passionate teachers, the Finnish government facilitated the setting up of start-ups comprising graduates to create teaching modules and toolkits to be used in schools, like 3D printing kits.

There were also companies which created applications to be used in schools that animated and gamified elements of science to get children excited about STEM.

“The whole ecosystem is in place, from school to talents and start-ups, that come up with teaching aid. The framework is impressive,” said Noraini.

She said Finland parents were welcomed to school, whether they had a background in STEM or not. They get involved in teaching the kids, where parents share their careers in STEM.

“We at the National STEM Movement have been trying to involve the community and other stakeholders in the STEM Mentor-Mentee Programme to promote greater interest and capacity-building in science and mathematics among students,” she said.

Launched in 2016, the programme pools together lecturers, researchers, scientists, engineers and mathematicians from the academia, professional bodies and the industry to offer guidance in promoting better understanding of STEM and provide the expertise to nurture talents in the field, mainly among students from Forms One till Three.

It involves facilitators who are the teaching staff of universities, mentors comprising science students from tertiary institutions and mentees who are school students.

“Apart from universities becoming mentors to schools and teachers and students, parents as mentors, too, will be our push this year. It is already happening in SMK Batang Kali. Some parents who work in the medical line in hospitals and clinics have adopted Form Two and Form Three students to became mentees to doctors in the area. They are given lab coats and stethoscopes to follow the doctors when doing their rounds,” Noraini shared.

“We also encourage schools to form STEM learning centres. Some schools choose to develop agriculture centres as the core of this initiative. There are schools that have come up with fertilisers, and are selling them commercially. This is supported by the principals.

“For principals who are not keen on STEM, we hope the Education Ministry will allow teachers, school management, students and parents to collaborate.

“Schools should welcome such efforts. We shouldn’t be territorial and should be more flexible. The community volunteers can help out, if well planned. Students can see careers related to STEM with this initiative,” she said.

On other activities by the National STEM Movement this year, Noraini said the organisation would hold an Asia-Pacific Roundtable event in November involving universities, industry stakeholders, the ministry and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

“The event will focus on issues and challenges concerning STEM education and best practices, higher-order thinking skills that seem to not be successful, and Asia-Pacific collaboration going forward.”

The movement is also active in training teachers to develop digital games.

“We will continue with the mentor-mentee programme, science carnivals and hold the Malaysia Technology Exhibition in February next year,” she said.

Noraini is also currently helping University of Malaya set up its STEM centre, which would see the development of science- and mathematics-based teaching modules, aimed at making learning the subjects more exciting and insightful.


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Nurture new breed of citizens with ‘STEMM’, ‘HASS’

Monday, July 9th, 2018
Research allocation to local universities must reflect a balanced emphasis on STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine) and HASS (Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences). Reuters Photo

EXCEPT for the oil-rich countries on the Arabian Peninsula, the rich, industrialised countries of the West and Asia all owe their good fortune to their mastery of science, technology and innovation (STI).

Indeed, with few exceptions that prove the rule, a nation’s economic prosperity is determined less by the richness of its natural resources than by the rich ingenuity of its human resources.

Wisely, therefore, investing in STI has been and will continue to be a cornerstone of Malaysia’s economic strategy for decades.

Growing up in a multicultural and multireligious country like ours, however, influenced and moulded over centuries by the movement of seafarers from ancient civilisations in China, India and the Middle East, I have always been conscious that in this modern age, balanced progress is required ever more so.

I am often reminded by Distinguished Professor Datuk Shamsul Amri Baharuddin, the founding director of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Institute of Ethnic Studies, that when all is said and done, the survival of this country hinges on the ability of our various communities to come together to form a united nation. No amount of technological advances could ensure peace and prosperity if we, the citizens, are at loggerheads.

Sixty-one years after Merdeka, this nation is still “a work in progress”.

What we are going through at present, according to Shamsul, is a state of social cohesion. What we need for a prosperous and inclusive society is true national unity, notwithstanding our ethnic and cultural differences.

“Social cohesion,” he says, “is a situation where there is peace, stability, prosperity and wellbeing in a society, specifically one which is multi-ethnic, because there exists a strong social bonding built over many years” of co-existence.

To help us achieve national unity there must be greater understanding among our diverse communities, facilitated by the behavioural sciences in moulding our future generations to have a stake in this blessed country.

Our emphasis on the mastery of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM) is essential in light of the explosion of advanced technologies that one would anticipate with the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Many observers believe, therefore, that STEMM can and should remain the bedrock of our science-driven socio-economic development. The growing view is that our children’s education needs to be completed with a sense of national purpose or “soul”.

As Professor Tan Sri Dzulkifli Razak, former vice-chancellor of Universiti Sains Malaysia and the 14th president of the International Association of Universities eloquently expressed it: “Science needs to find its roots once again because STEMM is no longer able to bridge meaningful dialogue with religions, ethics, arts-oriented disciplines such as humanities, and management. STEMM must be widened to allow for the streaming of religions, ethics, arts and management as its integral support.”

Some scholars have termed this complementary set of disciplines HASS — which stands for the Humanities, Arts and the Social Sciences.

This notion has been around for some time, but, it has been gaining traction now given the challenges faced by countries aspiring to meet the 2030 Development Agenda set by the United Nations and the fact that science alone can’t solve many of the problems the world is facing today, which are often cross-sectoral and multidisciplinary in nature.

Increasingly, countries are seeing the value of HASS in research allocation. For example, in Canada — a diverse, multicultural country like Malaysia — the national government will reportedly invest C$925 million (RM2.8 billion) over the next five years not only in science and health, but also in HASS research. The Canadian budget also includes C$275 million (RM844 million) for interdisciplinary and high-risk research to be administered by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

Along with Canada’s health and science-based funding agencies, SSHRC provides special funding schemes to support STEMM and HASS interdisciplinary work.

These initiatives not only provide strategic funding to support top researchers, but attest to the value of the HASS disciplines in full partnership with STEMM.

These initiatives are part of Canada’s focus on mobilising the value of science and technology, which the government recognises cannot succeed without a simultaneous and clear focus on the human, cultural, and creative aspects of modern society.

It is, therefore, timely, with a new government in place, for us to review our education policy to incorporate and integrate STEMM with HASS so that a new breed of citizens can be nurtured to take on the challenges of tomorrow.


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Adding to Malaysia’s MIGHT

Monday, June 25th, 2018
(File pix) Dr Siti Khayriyyah Mohd Hanafiah of Universiti Sains Malaysia returns home after beating 11 finalists to be the ‘World’s Best Science Communicator’. Pix by Khairul Azhar Ahmad

TO earn the title ‘World’s Best Science Communicator’, a young scientist must explain an important science idea in a compelling, easy-to-understand way, and in less than three minutes — a tremendous challenge of World Cup proportions.

So it was with great pride that we learned one of our own had won the top honours at the 2018 FameLab International competition, held this month in the western UK city of Cheltenham.

Dr Siti Khayriyyah Mohd Hanafiah of Universiti Sains Malaysia prevailed over 11 other finalists — from Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia — with her description of modern diagnosis of a “hidden killer,” tuberculosis, through the use of antibodies-antigens.

Siti Khayriyyah was the second Malaysian winner in three years. Dr Abhimanyu Veerakumarasivam of Universiti Putra Malaysia won the 2016 competition. And together they have demonstrated to the world the capacity of Malaysians to excel in science and technology.

And what a boost for young scientists as they start careers, not just for the winner but for all those from the 27 participating countries. While only one competitor can win in one sense, all took home valuable experience and contacts.

Malaysia was invited by the British Council to participate in FameLab in 2015 and the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT) offered to act as its national partner.

It is one of MIGHT’s more recent creative efforts to drive forward our economy through competency in science and technology.

Celebrating its 25th anniversary of service this year, the independent, non-profit MIGHT was created as a public-private partnership to prospect and promote promising technology-related opportunities, and to build consensus on strategically important policies.

The origins of MIGHT actually date back to 1984 when, in his first tenure as prime minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad appointed his first science adviser, an authoritative voice to augment the counsel of government ministries

With a mandate to develop science and technology in Malaysia, the first Science Adviser, Tan Sri Dr Omar Abdul Rahman, created a “High Technology Special Unit”, which gradually grew and emerged as MIGHT in 1993.

Since then, MIGHT has realised many achievements, nurturing the growth of strategic, technology-related industries and helping Malaysia edge ever closer to developed nation income and status.

So what are the key tech-related sectors MIGHT prioritised as most promising and valuable for national pursuit? There are several, including:

Aerospace, advanced automotive materials, biotechnology, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals, energy, electronics and electrical equipment, herbal products, housing and construction, intelligent transportation systems, “smart cities”, shipbuilding and repair, telecommunications, waste management, nanotechnology, medical sensors, and plantation crops.

Creating concrete substance in these priority areas, MIGHT’s early successes included support of the Malaysian Automotive Institute, for example, as well as Formula 1 racing to advance our expertise in auto-related technology.

Opened in 1996, the MIGHT-supported Kulim High-Tech Park was the first development of its kind in Malaysia and now ranks among the best in Asia Pacific.

It offers local and multinational companies a world-class, synergistic space within which to produce high-value products, and boasts 37 industrial and 78 supporting tenants employing a workforce of 28,000. In all, the Kulim High-Tech Park has helped cultivate investments of more than US$11 billion.

Over the years, Malaysia’s development of more than 20 industrial sectors has been charted with the benefit of blueprints and roadmaps produced by MIGHT.

MIGHT’s programmes and activities today also include supporting, for example, Malaysian business competitiveness through our membership in the Global Federation of the Competitiveness Council and the Kyoto Science and Technology Forum. MIGHT is also the secretariat of the Global Science and Innovation Advisory Council (GSIAC) established by the prime minister and comprising leading world figures in academia, business and civil society to advise Malaysia on the role of science and technology in economic development. One of the projects arising from GSIAC’s advice is to find ways to derive additional products and economic benefit from biomass left over from palm oil refineries (MyBiomass).

It is expanding Malaysia’s use of systematic foresight techniques beyond the realms of technology and industrial development. In 2012, MIGHT launched the Malaysian Foresight Institute (MyForesight) to build national capacity to employ these techniques for better decision-making

Winners of MIGHT’s Global Cleantech Innovation Programme, a collaboration with the UN Industrial Development Organisation and other partners since 2014, give Malaysian entrepreneurs the opportunity to pitch their innovations in Silicon Valley, and access to potential venture funding.

Senior government officials and captains of industry are represented on MIGHT’s board of directors, which I have the honour to chair jointly with Tan Sri Dr Ahmad Tajuddin Ali, a distinguished leader from Malaysia’s corporate world. MIGHT’s talented president and chief executive officer is Datuk Dr Yusoff Sulaiman.


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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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