STEM, a priority for Malaysia

THE importance of Science and Technology education has always been a priority in Malaysia.

This can be seen as far back as 1970 with the implementation of the first National Science and Technology Enrolment Policy of 60:40, which guaranteed that 60 percent of students would be enrolled in science with the remaining 40 percent in arts.

In 1991, Vision 2020 was implemented and one of the goals was to establish a scientific and innovative society. As a result, the government has since established 69 science secondary schools and 51 Mara Junior Science Colleges.

To move a step closer in achieving the goal, the Malaysia Education Blueprint was initiated in 2011. One of the priorities identified in the blueprint was STEM.

The subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics is where students learn the skills to

gather and study information (investigative skills of science), evaluate and make sense of information

(analytical skills of mathematics) and determine how the information can solve a problem (inventive skills of engineering) using the technology available to them today.

STEM provides students with the opportunity to investigate information provided to them in order to

understand it based on their own experiences; also known as contextual learning. By allowing students to construct their own meaning and understanding of an area of study strengthens their learning.

STEM also makes learning more relevant as students are exposed to the concept of what they learn based on current and real-world situations.

By facilitating and asking the right questions, educators can stimulate students to incorporate identifying, comparing, predicting and testing activities in their investigation; nurturing problem-solving skills.

In August last year, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announced that computational thinking skills will be integrated into the country’s school curriculum in January 2017 starting with students in Year One, Forms One and Four. Why computational thinking and not STEM? That is because computational thinking and STEM go hand-in-hand.

The phrase computational thinking was brought to the attention of the computer science community in

2006 by Jeannette M. Wing when she was the President’s Professor of Computer Science and head of the

Computer Science Department at Carnegie Mellon University in the United States. Wing defines computational thinking as “a way of solving problems, designing systems and understanding human behaviour that draws on concepts fundamental to computer science.” In other words, computational thinking is the ability to think in a structured and logical way. This type of thought process is a methodical approach to solve problems and is used by engineers and programmers.

With 2020 just on the horizon, Malaysia is moving closer to the realisation of the goal to establish a

scientific and innovative society.

With STEM as a priority in our education blueprint and the recent incorporation of computational thinking in the curriculum, our younger generation is on the way to having a strong foundation to be digital citizens and future innovators in a rapidly evolving world.