THE coronavirus may have forced Malaysia's schools to temporarily close, but when they reopen, science and technology learning will be firmly back on the government's education agenda with the nation's future set to be defined by STEM learning (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
The National Council for Scientific and Research Development reported in 2018 that Malaysia would need 500,000 scientists and engineers by this year to cope with the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. However, at that point, it had only 70,000 registered engineers.
Exacerbating that problem is a shortage of students taking up STEM subjects at university. The government is trying to boost STEM education through its Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 that seeks an enhanced curriculum, the testing and training of teachers, and the use of blended learning models.
However, as a young country in which the average age is around 30, and with Internet penetration now as high as 82 per cent, Malaysia may have an ace up its sleeve as it seeks to bolster STEM learning in schools.
Of course, there's no substitute for face-to-face teaching, but where schools, whether through lack of staff or resources, struggle to teach a full range of subjects such as Computer Science or Advanced Mathematics, they can look to online learning platforms to connect students to teachers around the world offering these subjects in virtual classrooms.
By leveraging cloud-based classrooms, supported by staff on the ground in schools, it is possible for Malaysia to move quickly to widen access to internationally recognised, high-quality education.
Online tools can also provide the opportunity for Malaysian schools to introduce blended learning.
These platforms, which provide teachers with entire subject courses broken down into individual lessons they can plan out, allow them to set tasks and track pupils' progress online.
Even when a school has fully- trained teachers across all STEM subjects, using online tools to flip classrooms greatly reduces the time teachers need to spend on course preparation, marking and reporting, freeing them up to focus on teaching in the classroom and guiding the learning experience for students.
For students, this means more face-to-face time with their teachers in class, and with many learning activities done online, it means more time in school to collaborate with their peers, all of which helps increase engagement by bringing complex STEM subjects to life.
While Internet access is still not even throughout the country and with schools turning to online learning during the Covid-19 pandemic, this will only further underscore the need to close the digital divide.
The capacity of online learning to boost STEM education from an early age can play a key role in preparing the next generation of Malaysians for the rapidly-changing job market they will face.
Students who can access online learning platforms will not only have a new window into STEM learning, but also gain practical experience of collaborative, digital technologies that promote self-direction and independence in learning.
All around the world, artificial intelligence and automation are transforming the job market and rendering many of the jobs we know obsolete, while creating new jobs that could not have been imagined before.
If Malaysia's students are to gain the skills to not only survive, but thrive in tomorrow's world of work, they cannot afford to lose another minute.
Every day they are not receiving STEM education is a day they will never get back.
Online learning can be a powerful ally for Malaysia's brilliant young minds as they stand ready to face a world that has just been turned upside down right at the beginning of what could have been, and still can be, a brave new decade.
Source: New Straits Times https://bit.ly/3c5l4hF