Archive for the ‘Teaching of Science and Mathematics’ Category

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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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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