Promoting interest in STEM

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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