by KHALIFA AFFNAN
THE Industry 4.0 revolution (IR 4.0) continues to thrive globally, encouraging many countries to adapt to a more digital future. Developed countries such as Japan, the US and the UK have long introduced programmes and incentives to further embrace IR 4.0, where they successfully implemented technological adoption at its roots.
Malaysia, on the other hand, is not too far behind. In order to meet the IR 4.0 goal and tighten the disparity, the Malaysian government has introduced incentives and development programmes — focusing on the education sector — to embrace IR 4.0 at its roots.
For example, the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Higher Education introduced the STEM Centre to cultivate interest and foster understanding of STEM amongst pre-school, primary, secondary and university level students, in line with the guidance from the Malaysian Education Blueprint (2013-2025).
Importance of STEM for Education and IR 4.0
STEM underlines the approach to learning and development that encompasses the elements of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Many educators believe that a STEM-driven generation is influential in shifting Malaysia towards IR 4.0 because by equipping learners with 21st-century skills, it spurs the appreciation for technology and emphasises its significance in our lives.
By teaching STEM subjects in schools, it enables the younger generation the opportunity to explore and expand their knowledge on various subjects, such as the autonomous system and the Internet of Things and sharpens better acumen for machine learning.
These skills have become vital in today’s age, as employers and industries demand for such talent pipeline to fill the widening skill gaps and introduce technology literacy to the future workforce.
A Gender Equal Access Spells Success in STEM Education
The STEM education in Malaysia is fast gaining recognition thanks to the availability of equal opportunities for male and female learners alike.
In the Malaysia Progress Report (2014-2019) by the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, it was revealed that the enrolment ratio of men to women is slowly being bridged over the years, with the number of full-time female students in polytechnics and community colleges not far from male students. In fact, female students make up to 48% of the total enrolment at polytechnics and 44% at community colleges.
Asserting this point through three prominent Malaysian women — Dr Amalina Bakri, Dr Wan Wardatul Amani and Dr Shivaani Mariapun — who set new boundaries in 2021.
Dr Amalina was awarded the “Highly Commended” in the Profession category at the UK Women of the Future Awards 2021, in recognition of her contributions to the medical field and publication of her medical journals that benefitted others in the field.
Dr Amani was the first Malaysian to launch a NASA satellite into space, where she led a team of scientists, technologists and engineers on NASA’s first-ever astrobiology programme.
Meanwhile, Dr Shivaani — a senior research associate at Cancer Research Malaysia — formulated effective screening strategies for early detection of breast cancer thanks to her research in mammographic density among Asian women.
Encouraging Younger Generation to Pursue STEM
The younger generation’s interest in STEM should be piqued from as early as possible and this can begin with an immersive classroom environment that integrates fun activities in STEM-related subjects. These activities should also be incentivising in nature, to spur the young learner on and encourage out-of-the box thinking.
As our younger generation is borne in an era where technology is part of their daily lives, a crucial learning activity is anchored upon the implementation of artificial intelligence solutions into their lessons, to complement what they already know and compel them to want to learn more.
For me, my role of an educator is not only to teach but also identify areas of interest that will ignite my students’ interests. It is important that I pass on my knowledge and help them navigate through challenges.
In my years as an educator, I find that engagement with the students and thereon building a supportive environment for them is the catalyst to their growth. This supportive environment will make the journey of knowledge transfer more seamless, but it is also important to note that the teaching and learning process is not a one-shoe-fits-all approach.
Each student’s ability varies and as such, the educators play a vital role in guiding students according to their interests and capabilities.
In conclusion, STEM is poised to play a leading role in heralding Malaysia towards IR 4.0 led by our future generation and this is why empowering a generation that values STEM from an early age is key to productively moving our country forward.
As our younger generation equips themselves with strong foundations in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, we can expect to see more technological advancement, breakthroughs and innovations that will propel Malaysia to greater heights.
Khalifa Affnan is a vocational teacher from Keningau Vocational College, Sabah, and global winner of the 2022 Cambridge Dedicated Teachers Award.