Moonshot: Ensuring the Success of STEM education for Malaysia’s Next Big Leap

Several phases within modern history are more significant than others, particularly the Cold War and the Space Race between two global superpowers of the time: United States of America and the USSR. In the flurry to outshine each other, the two countries invested heavily into Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) which eventually lead to an accelerated progress pace in technology. Among their numerous projects are moonshot projects, ambitious and groundbreaking projects undertaken without any expectation of near-term profitability or benefit and was literally aimed at shooting for the moon.

The success of the era is undeniable and certainly tangible, and several countries have tried to emulate the same recipe in order to achieve accelerated growth in certain industries and specialties. Malaysia has previously attempted its own long-term Moonshot projects with the birth of Proton, the national car manufacturing company based in Tanjung Malim, Perak as well as building a Super Corridor with smart cities such as Cyberjaya. This has been done by increasing emphasis on STEM education or a particular educational stream such as multimedia to birth industry-specific talents for Proton and Cyberjaya.

What is the secret to building a moonshot technology? During the inaugural Futuretech@IDEAS event organised by Futurise Centre, the secret recipe behind building momentum for moonshot technology was thoroughly dissected by the panellists. Moderated by Syukran Idris from Generasi Marikh Academy, the panel consisted of Zaharin Omar of Terang Academy as well as Akademi Sains Malaysia’s Hazami Habib. Providing a Singaporean and international perspective into the discussion is Preetwant Singh from PAC Aviation.

Among the challenge of progressing in STEM is the rate at which students take up advanced science and maths in schools which has seen a decline over the years. According to a survey in 2017, Malaysians perceive STEM in a more narrow perspective than people from neighbouring countries. Although a STEM education shows an inclination in science and technological fields, it isn’t necessarily narrow in that sense.

The fault partly lies in the industry and economic demands as well. “It is true that there is not enough STEM talent but there is also not enough jobs to existing STEM graduates to start in”, shared Puan Hazami. Another challenging factor is the education system which is an ecosystem that has yet to be truly conducive for all stakeholders to fully endorse STEM in the sector. Teachers are overburdened whereas students do not have sufficient sustained interest in STEM and parents are not providing the right support system for it.

Sharing his input from a Singaporean perspective, Mr Preetwant shared how the education system there moulds STEM talent by starting young; coding is now a compulsory subject in Singaporean schools from age 12 onwards. In addition to that, teachers are not burdened or expected to teach the subject as vendors are brought in with specialists teaching the subject instead.

At the end of the day, all efforts to propagate the magic of STEM takes time and full focus from dedicated stakeholders. For Malaysia, several public policies have been introduced which revolves around STEM education and the need for further emphasis on them. Change may be slow but certainly, the country is pivoting its focus on STEM education and the next generation of Malaysians are sure to be futureproofed in the era of Industrial Revolution 4.0.

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