Education Minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid (third from right) at a STEM event at SM Seri Pekan in Pahang. FILE PIC

“IT’S okay if you do not want to choose science. Not everyone can cope with the subject.”

Such is our common response to students when they say science is just too difficult to handle.

They may just believe what we say, and, that may deter them from majoring in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects. This will act against the country’s efforts to prepare the nation for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

According to Professor Datuk Dr Jafri Malin Datuk Abdullah of the Centre for Neuroscience Services and Research director at Universiti Sains Malaysia, we must do our best to encourage students to take up science in school even if they think it is too difficult for them to handle.

“The problem will show up in Form Four when students are placed into either science or arts stream.

“I was at a high performance school recently that scored good results during the latest Form Three assessment (PT3) and nearly half of them wanted to drop Physics in Form Four.”

He was speaking earlier at a STEM Forum at the 17th Malaysia Technology Expo on career paths in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The forum was organised to discuss the type of human capital Malaysia needed to lead the country into the next industrial revolution.

Dr Jafri Malin also said most pupils had a reasonable idea of which subjects to focus on: science, creative studies or humanities.

However, he stressed, studying STEM develops students’ problem-solving skills, which are important for jobs, be they in science or otherwise.

Science literacy learning process trains one to be logical and to develop clarity of thought, two skills that are needed to be a good problem-solver. Science is really about how things around us work. And this is important in a world that is fast becoming science and technology-driven. Besides, problem solving skills come in very handy when one moves up the corporate ladder into management position.

So, why do students shun STEM disciplines despite the fact that studying them increases a student’s future options?

The most common explanation is that these subjects are perceived as tough. Besides, entry requirements into STEM disciplines do not help either. Only an A or B in Science and Maths will get one in.

Another hurdle that stands in the way of getting as many students as possible into STEM disciplines is the belief students must be encouraged to follow their passion.

For years, we have been agonising over the low numbers of secondary school students entering the science stream compared to the arts. Too many students are failing to choose STEM disciplines while many graduates leave university without any STEM-based skills.

Why are STEM subjects important?

Simply put: we live in a world that is becoming increasingly dependent on technology. Also, The next big ideas and innovation are going to come from science and technology. Innovation generally comes from combining technologies that already exist or have recently evolved. Studying science lets one understand at least some part of this.

Another academic at the STEM Forum, Professor Datuk Dr Halimatun Hamdan of Razak School of Engineering and Advanced Technology, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, had this to say: “Today our world faces a confluence of very pressing global challenges in the 21st century.

“Solving the problems of climate change, poverty, food security, water security and the world economy all depends on how well-versed in STEM are a people of a country.”

To her, societies that will be best at harnessing this kind of combined innovation will be those most richly endowed with people who understand the sciences and technologies involved, that is, people learned in STEM disciplines.

“If we are to survive in the coming years, we must arm ourselves with the knowledge required,” she said, adding that the generation who are in school today will be the one leading the country towards the transformation we aim to achieve in 2050.

Today, only 23 per cent of those in upper secondary schools are studying pure science in this country. And this decline in appetite for STEM disciplines is a matter of grave concern.

One thing we must do, and we must do it now: we need to make sure that we encourage more children at the earliest stage of their study to be interested in STEM disciplines.

And parents hold the key to this. We need to encourage parents – especially those without a science background – to enthuse their children about the worth of science and technology.

Love may make the world go round, but it is science and technology that make it a liveable place.

Hazlina Aziz is the Education Editor, English Content (School Times & Higher Ed) New Straits Times Press. She can be reached via

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