By Dr Jazli Aziz
For years, Malaysians have debated on whether science and mathematics should be taught in English or Bahasa Malaysia in schools. Each medium of instruction has its own advantages and disadvantages, but that is a story for another day. Today, we are faced with an even bigger problem; our youth are falling out of love with science.
According to a 2022 study by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI), interest in science among school leavers fell to just 40 per cent compared to 66.7 per cent recorded just three years prior. This worrying trend is also seen in the percentage of upper secondary school students participating in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) stream. Data from the Education Ministry showed that 45.2 per cent of students chose to study STEM in 2017, but this percentage dropped to 40.94 per cent in 2022. This downward trend needs to be addressed urgently if we are to stop it from continuing.
Love for science
MOSTI has announced that a special committee will be formed involving the Education Ministry, the Higher Education Ministry and the Human Resources Ministry to help promote the importance of science and technology to our youth in hopes that it will revive their wavering interest. However, in addition to promoting the importance of science to our youths, I believe we must also take a deeper approach that does not merely scratch the surface. We must inculcate an appreciation for science, a desire for scientific exploration, and most importantly, a love for science.
The world around us is fascinating. From the smallest of microbes that we see with a microscope to the vast expanse of space that we see through a telescope. The way an embryo develops into a foetus in the womb and the way new stars are born in our solar system. Science is not merely a subject in school or a career path. Science is quite literally the sum of knowledge accumulated over centuries which explains the laws of the universe and how our world works. And if our youth lose interest in science, it would be because we failed to communicate this to them.
Living organisms pass down genetic information to their offspring in the form of DNA. Computer systems communicate with each other using zeroes and ones in binary code. The chemical composition and structure of all matter can be communicated using chemical formulas. Mathematics has a plethora of notations and symbols covering calculus, set theory, and algebra. Science is filled with many intricate “languages” such as these, and the challenge facing us now is to translate these languages to allow our youth to see the beauty in science.
Reaching out to youths
Academics, lecturers, researchers, teachers, anyone involved in science should make an effort to reach out to the youths. It is not enough to merely tell them why science is important, we must show them. Gen Z (and the upcoming Gen Alpha) are extremely visual and experiential. Seeing science take place with their own eyes and experiencing it first-hand will leave a longer-lasting impression than simply being told why science is important. They need to be exposed to science from a young age and that exposure must continue and get more in-depth as they get older. As with every language, we can only go so far with theory. To become truly fluent, we must immerse ourselves and experience it regularly. The same applies to the language of science.
Dr Jazli Aziz is Senior Lecturer and STEM Representative at the Faculty of Dentistry, Universiti Malaya.