THE issue of students’ lack of engagement with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects, whether in school or university, is in the spotlight again.
It is learnt that the Education Ministry had called for a round-table meeting with stakeholders to discuss the matter.
Hopefully, this and other discourses in the main and social media will bring about solutions.
As a retired principal, let me share my take on the subject. The arts or social sciences-based courses continue to appeal and dominate enrolment.
Perhaps, we need to examine what we have been doing all this while and consider why it has not produced the desired results.
It has to begin in schools. We have this 60:40 science and arts policy.
It dictates that students, on finishing their Form Three, be streamed into pure science or arts classes in Form Four.
To join the pure science classes, students need to have scored minimum grades of A or B for Science and Maths in their Penilaian Menengah Rendah (now Pentaksiran Tingkatan Tiga) examination.
Students’ performances in their Form Three exams and their subsequent options and the insufficient pure science lab facilities in upper secondary schools have resulted in the desired ratio never being met.
In fact, the actual ratio edges more to the reverse; 40:60. The number of pure science and arts classes in most schools attest to this conclusion.
Nevertheless, let us look at a hypothetical case scenario.
You have 1,000 fourth formers, of which 600 are doing science and 400 doing the arts.
After their Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) results and assuming a fair attrition rate of 20 per cent, you are left with 480 science and 320 arts students.
Now, say another 20 per cent of these post-SPM Science students switch to the arts. You are left with 384 students in the science stream, and the arts stream increases to 416 students.
Note that arts students cannot take up STEM courses simply because “they have not done SPM pure science”.
So, from 1,000 students, you have only 384 students who are qualified to take up STEM courses. And, this is the ideal case.
In reality, the number is much less and that’s why there are continued calls to enrol students for STEM.
We are in dire straits. We need a paradigm shift, a transformation. It is time to do away with streaming in Form Four and Five. We should have just a single stream for all.
Lest we fear that our Form Four and Five students may lose their edge in the pure sciences, we can take cognisance of the fact that many of the “higher-learning preparatory” materials now being taught to Form Four and Form Five pure science students can be carried forward to Form Six, matriculation, diploma or foundation courses.
In fact, the introductory phase in these post-Form Five classes always repeats and revises these Form Four and Form Five materials.
On the other hand, it is necessary and even mandatory for present arts stream students to learn much more science than they are doing now.
This means that all students in Form Four go into a single general stream, where the science syllabus is broader than the present general science subject in the arts stream.
At the same time, the general stream will be spared the higher-learning preparatory materials found in the present pure science subjects syllabi.
This also makes the demands on lab facilities less strenuous.
This way, everybody gets to learn enough science, and there remains more teaching-learning periods for other subjects.
Knowing basic STEM helps us to live a better and fuller life. We have no choice but to learn science.
Consider this new scenario. All students do science in the general stream.
With 1,000 students and taking into account a realistic attrition of 20 per cent, we will have 800 post-SPM students qualified
to be considered for STEM courses in institutes of higher education.
Our STEM aspiration will then be more than on target.
Liong K.C., Seremban, Negri Sembilan