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STEM or STEAM — Azizi Ahmad

JULY 9 — I read with interest Star Online’s July 6, 2017 story ‘Ministry: STEM transformation plan to be completed soon’.

The article also stated that ‘a holistic and inclusive plan is drawn and drafted by a special committee from the Education Ministry, the Higher Education Ministry and Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry, a combination of experts which 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.

My feeling says, we will still be behind as most advanced countries had already started ‘transforming’ 10-15 years ago.
In recommending on improving K–12 science and mathematics education, providing additional training for teachers in these areas, and increasing the number of students entering college for STEM-related degrees must be our priority.


Authorising funding for STEM initiatives from kindergarten through graduate school are very much needed to support proposals to increase the quality of STEM education.

We must also be accountable in providing the ‘assessment’ results as we need to be ‘transparent’ in reporting the ‘assessment reports’. Even the advanced countries performed poorly in the use of higher-level problem-solving and critical-thinking skills in both real and simulated laboratory settings. A report from NAEP considers being “proficient” levels of achievement.

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

We should consider the type of activities that can increase student engagement, raise motivation, focus on relevant issues, and, most importantly, develop creativity. Meaning, we must add ‘ARTS” as arts create creativity.

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

Integrating arts-related skills and activities into STEM courses is one very effective way to enhance student interest and achievement. As there are only so many hours in the school day, one consequence of increasing instruction in the STEM areas has been to decrease 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 the scientific, technical, and mathematical principles embodied in the STEM subjects require skills that can be significantly enhanced by training in arts-related areas.

Our current school culture places heavy emphasis on convergent thinking, the one type of thinking that is measured in standardised tests because there is only one answer, making it easy to grade while reinforcing the need for test reliability and consistency.

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

It is time for our policy-makers to recognise that the excessive emphasis on high-stakes testing is robbing our teachers of the time and support they need to make those STEM to STEAM adaptations.

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

*Azizi Ahmad is an educator. The Malay Mail What You Think Sunday July 9, 2017 10:30 AM GMT+8

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