In person with Dr. Sonia Ortega
Role of Science in High Technology Development in Malaysia
The role of technology and the development of Science go hand-in-hand. We cannot have one without the other. Science and Technology (S&T) is the future. Their contributions should be monitored and channelled to the right sectors. S&T is an essential component to move a country forward.
Malaysia’s education scenario
Malaysia has its own standard National Education System which should be complimented. Without the national curriculum, the implementation of S&T education programmes would be dependent on individual states that have their own curriculum, making it difficult not just to the students but teachers and parents too. Malaysia’s S&T education path is on the right track, there are a lot of potential in numerous ways to move forward in S&T innovation, and I have been very pleasantly surprised with some of the things that I have seen in Malaysia.
Instilling the interest of S&T
There are several components needed to be included in S&T education. One: You need a good curriculum. A good national curriculum would make it easier to promote S&T education to everyone because it is standardized. Two: Teachers need to be well prepared in terms of knowledge and material to enable them to teach and encourage students. Three: We need to find a way to evaluate what the children are learning in order to assess the efficiency of the teaching skills. These three components have to work together. There has to be willingness. S&T education needs to be put forward as a national priority because it is important for the country’s development. Another important consideration is how S&T is taught. There has to be an engagement. It is not just about learning and memorizing facts. Young people, i.e. students, have to be engaged in the education, involving them in the process of S&T and allow them to experience hands-on activities. Malaysia has a lot of programmes that are moving forward with this approach, and has had so for many years. It is also pleasing to find out that not only Malaysia but the whole region has also been engaging S&T education, and there is a movement towards the hands-on method of teaching and learning science.
Critical Issues in Education
Critical issues in education are subjective. In general, the beginning is most critical. The basic essence is to engage young people who want to learn. Then it can be sub-categorised into different groups – Primary Education, Formal Education, Informal Education, College Education, Graduate Education, and Science Education – with many different aspects depending on how you want to uphold the education structure.
Who is responsible?
In the 20th century the people who train the students are the professors and teachers. However, in the 21st century, there is a wide access to information and the young people today have more accessibility to information. Nowadays, there is no excuse for the young people to be ignorant about science careers because they can simply ‘GOOGLE’ it. It is everyone’s responsibility, the whole society – parents, teachers, and the young people – to learn how to look for information because it is so much easier than back in the days when looking for information means having to go to the library, and even not knowing where to start.
On teaching as a secondary career path
It is unfortunate that teaching is quite commonly thought of as a secondary job. This problem exists in many other places as well. Only a few countries uphold the teaching profession as a highly respected profession, where teachers are very well respected. This is not the way it ought to be. After all, teachers are responsible in educating the next generation. Thus, it is very unfortunate to not be able to raise the teaching profession to a higher standard with salary. If that is done, the teaching profession would be more attractive and competitive, and the incentive to be a teacher would be higher.
The right time to train individuals for their careers
The right time to start educating individuals is when they are in middle-school: 12-15 years of age. This is when they start to either gain or lose interest in science. We notice that a lot of young children are interested in science but, as they grow to adolescence age, they lose it. However, if the interest in science is retained, the next step is when they start developing into it. This is the time to be constantly encouraging children to look forward to science and communicate with other people in the field to know the possibilities and options of science. The interested children would be asking lots of related questions like: “What are the opportunities they have when they graduate?”, “What kind of jobs?”, “How much money will they make?” and so on. We need more programmes that help young science students see the opportunities available to them and the competition they would face at an early age.
Arts Stream over Science Stream
This issue does not concern Malaysia alone but many other countries as well. People do not know their career options when they venture into science. They think that the only career in science is as a professor at the university or a researcher. They do not know that science education can bring about careers in industries and non-profit organizations as consultants, entrepreneurs and so on. In my view, these people don’t know the options available, therefore they do not consider going into the science stream because they think science stream provides limited career choice. The industries should also be involved along the way. Some companies have vested interest in this course because they also want people to join them in the future. It would be good if the industries support some of the initiatives since the return of investment will affect them, especially in the aspects of future development of human capital. It is important to have people who are prepared and ready to work. It benefits industries to support science, not only for their own advantages but, to create a better web, partnership with universities, schools and the community.
The top 10 jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2001: Are we preparing students on the right education track? Some of the top careers of today did not exist before, but there are a few basic elements that can lead the young people on the right track and prepare them for the future careers. One of them is to be a problem solver: Knowing how to solve problems is a skill that can be applied to any career, whether in business or science. Next skill that needs to be acquired is critical thinking as it is essential for decision making. Then the skill of leadership is important for those who are in the leadership roles because it teaches how to lead. Teambuilding skill is also important as it allows individuals to adapt and work in teams. The last element is communication skill, i. e. to be able to convey the appropriate message or information in the right manner.These critical skills: Problem solving, critical thinking, leadership, teambuilding, and communication are required in any line of career. If students are educated in critical skills and technical skills, whether in accounting, business, science, or engineering, they are better prepared for the future, and even in careers that do not exist yet because those critical skills are helpful regardless of the type of jobs they would be engaged in.
To be exam-oriented or not to be
There is the tendency to over test students, not only in Malaysia but, in several other parts of the world as well. So much of emphasis is put on the test that teachers end up teaching for the purpose of the test. Teachers want their students to pass the test as it is used to measure their capabilities. This could prevent some teachers from engaging in more creative ways of teaching as they are afraid that engaging in inquiry-based or place-based methods might lead to their students to not getting good results or even fail the test, and this would reflect poorly on them. In my opinion too much test prevents creativity.
Science education challenge: US case study
In terms of science education, the USA is facing problems with teachers insufficiently trained and children learning science merely to pass tests. On the other hand, graduates who are training to become scientist lack the critical skills. In order to solve this problem, the former Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) decided to combine these two factors together by having the students of science and engineering link with elementary and secondary schools – with children and teachers. The basic aim of the link is to benefit the children, teachers and graduate scientists. It would enable the children to obtain a hands-on approach towards the process of science – to engage the children in science. Second, it would provide teachers with the tools and background necessary for better teaching application for the infusion of sciences into the classrooms. Third, the link allows scientist graduates to learn critical skills, for instance, translate their own research into a simpler medium for the children and bring their research into the classrooms. This system was designed to be a win-win situation that helps everybody: Helps teachers acquire more knowledge in science and enable them to encourage and excite the children by showing them career opportunities in science; and to prepare graduate scientists for any career path, and to be able to communicate and gain the support of the public towards their researches. The engagement between universities and school system would open up the bridge of communication between them. The school system will learn that universities have resources they can utilise and experts they can approach to seek advice on preparation of lessons; and expertise and materials if there is need to set up their laboratories, or when taking students on educational field trips. This is a complex system that is aimed to benefit all participants, giving very positive experience to everyone.
It has been a great opportunity being in Malaysia. The support has been tremendous and very good. It has given me the exposure to several people and organizations that will add to a positive experience and learn things that I was not aware of previously. I do also see opportunities for future involvements with the network that has been developed here in my stay. I would like to see on-going cooperation between USA and Malaysia among scientists, teachers, schools, and the different organizations. This opens the opportunity of having Malaysia- USA collaboration. I hope to se more people from the USA coming to Malaysia and from Malaysia to the USA, and working together.