Get creative with STEM education

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I READ a recent article the transformation for science, technology, engineering and mathematics education (STEM) would be completed soon, according to the Ministry of Education.

The article stated a holistic and inclusive plan was drawn and drafted by a special committee from the Education, Higher Education, and Science, Technology and Innovation ministries, and would focus on eight core areas: Policy, teaching and learning, facilities, career awareness programmes, strategic partnerships, research and data, commercialisation, and innovation.

With only 47 per cent of students opting for the science stream, the target is still away from the 60:40 ratio of science to arts courses in universities.

I believe Malaysia would still lag behind most advanced countries which started a similar transformation 10 to 15 years ago.

I recommend we improve K-12 science and mathematics education, provide additional training for teachers in these areas, and increase the number of students entering college for STEM-related degrees.

Authorising funding for STEM initiatives from kindergarten through graduate school is needed to support proposals to enhance the quality of STEM education.

In improving student learning, the curriculum must become more relevant and our teaching must concentrate on creative and real-world problem solving. To improve STEM, we should perhaps emulate what working scientists and mathematicians do.

We should consider the type of activities which increase student engagement, raise motivation, focus on relevant issues and, most importantly, develop creativity. In other words, we should add arts to the mix to encourage creativity.

Discovery is the main objective of both art and science. Both scientists and artists work creatively toward a product. Research shows creativity can be taught. Integrating arts-related topics and skills into STEM courses, by adding the A for arts to change the acronym to STEAM deserve some thought.

Integrating arts-related skills and activities into STEM courses is one effective way to enhance student interest and achievement. As there are only so many hours in a school day, a consequence of increasing instruction in STEM has been to decrease the teaching time in stand-alone arts classes.

Tight budgets and high-stakes testing in reading and mathematics have furthered this “dream” trend.

A combination of study and application of scientific, technical and mathematical principles embodied in STEM subjects require skills that can be significantly enhanced by training in arts-related areas.

Our current school culture places emphasis on convergent thinking — the type of thinking measured in standardised tests. Because there is only one right answer, the tests are easier to grade and reinforce the need for test reliability and consistency.

Though divergent thinking works best with poorly defined problems with multifaceted solutions, this is the type of thinking typical of artistic activities.

It is time our policy-makers recognise excessive emphasis on high-stakes testing is robbing our teachers of the time and support they need to adopt the element of arts in STEM.

When policy-makers and school administrators encourage realigning the arts with STEM areas, they will place the trust back in their teachers’ ability to conduct more exciting, creative and successful learning experiences for students.