National Science Day to spur STEM learning

The UNESCO General Conference in 2001 had proclaimed every 10th of November as the World Science Day for Peace and Development. It aims to bring nations together to commit to science for peace and development, and long term sustainable development

One agenda is the Paris Agreement on climate change, of which the Cabinet recently gave the green light to ratify. Malaysia pledged to reduce its greenhouse emissions by 45 per cent by 2030, and eliminate 32 million tonnes of carbon emissions in over three years’ time.

Hence such a celebration dedicated to science is essential to raise public awareness of scientific matters, and to bridge the gap between science and societies.

This year, the theme of World Science Day is “Celebrating Science Centres and Science Museums”. Although our National Science Centre has been closed for over a year for renovations and set to reopen to the public next year, the Science Centre crew continues to actively conduct science engagements with the community. They have travelled to Sabah several times, organising Science Festivals in public places and outreach programs in schools.

As a strong proponent of science enculturation among Malaysians especially schoolchildren, I laud the various initiatives undertaken by our Science Centres so far. Modern science centres are very important in science enculturation for children through hands-on exhibits.

Seeing the significance of communicating science to the public, I am pleased that my Ministry has announced for every 10th November to be also celebrated as our National Science Day, commencing 2017.

At schools, we encourage educators to apply Inquiry-Based Science Education (IBSE). The Academy of Sciences Malaysia for example, organised training workshops for primary school teachers on IBSE in four parliamentary areas in Kedah, Terengganu, Melaka and most recently in Sabah.

Last week, 40 teachers from Tuaran schools, selected as “Science Ambassadors”, were trained in IBSE in a workshop, facilitated by two French IBSE experts Professor Yves Quere and Ms Ann Laperdrix.

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The 40 “Duta Sains” or Science Ambassadors of Tuaran.

During courtesy calls on Dato’ Seri Mahdzir Khalid, Minister of Education Malaysia and Mr Christophe Penot, French Ambassador to Malaysia, Professor Quere proposed a Malaysia-France primary school science teacher exchange, which was favourably received by them.

The exchange will start in June 2017 with Tuaran science teachers attending LAMAP Assembly in Paris.

Many of us would have been aware of the IBSE approach and although it is not a completely new concept to us, I believe its background story is not known to all.

During the last decade of the 20th Century, the global scientific community became very concerned at the declining interest in science and technology among school children. The enrolment in science and technology courses in universities in the West decreased alarmingly.

In some US universities, pure science and engineering departments were entirely shut down.

Nobel Laureate Dr.  Leon Lederman, who was also the Director Emeritus of the National Fermi Linear Accelerator Laboratory of the US Department of Energy in Chicago, decided to take concrete action to reverse the decline.

He was convinced that the ineffective book and rote learning of traditional education stifled the inquisitive and creative instinct of children.

Clearly our teachers are the primary agent of change. Through his Teachers Academy for Mathematics and Science, Dr. Lederman started the IBSE method of hands on training of primary school teachers in Chicago with notable success.

Dr. Lederman’s deep concern about the declining interest in science and technology among the young ones was shared by another Nobel Laureate Georges Charpak of France.

Dr. Charpak was a former Director of CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, and thus a close colleague of Dr. Lederman. Realising that only three per cent of primary schools in France had science in its syllabus and that it was diminishing, he led a delegation from the French Academy of Sciences to visit Dr. Lederman in 1995.

One of the three delegation members was Professor Yves Quere, whom I would come across with many years later. The trio were deeply impressed with the IBSE programme of Dr. Lederman and a science education revolution was launched in France.

The IBSE programme of the French Academy of Sciences was named La main a la pate (LAMAP or “hands on the dough” as in kneading bread). All four pioneers of IBSE happened to be world famous physicists.

Science education contributes most significantly in shaping our mind, by stimulating curiosity and imagination. The LAMAP IBSE approach is based on its innovative pedagogy. According to them, this is how you teach science:

  • Start with a question by a child about a phenomenon he/she encountered and does not understand.
  • Urging the rest of the class to form their own hypotheses about the phenomenon.
  • Have the children set up and conduct an experiment to prove their hypotheses.
  • Request them to write down their small intellectual adventure to strengthen the language skill of pupils.

Yet LAMAP has gone beyond promoting IBSE in classrooms. It mobilises university professors and science students in assisting maths and science teachers. These learned scientists were to only advise teachers and leave the direct interaction with schoolchildren to their teachers who were much better communicators.

A dedicated website which contains classroom resources, training resources as well as a platform of teachers has been created and available for free. A high level scientific panel of fellows of the French Academy of Sciences serves to provide scientific explanations to queries posed by teachers. The website recorded some three million hits in 2015.

The English mirror website is now available in English through the UNESCO International Science, Technology and Innovation Centre for South-South Cooperation (ISTIC), an international centre under MOSTI, at www.istic-ibse.org.

After 20 years of LAMAP, science syllabus has now reached more than 60 per cent of French schools, an achievement also largely attributed to the support of their Ministry of Education.

The widespread support of LAMAP by government, academia, industry and society in France testifies to the success of IBSE in nurturing innovative and creative human capital in France to face the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

To date, the LAMAP IBSE programmes held in collaboration with ISTIC had impacted 480 science education in Malaysia. In fact, ISTIC is the closest international partner of LAMAP in the developing world.

I had the opportunity to visit LAMAP Foundation and the French Academy of Sciences in September 2015. By happy coincidence, Professor Quere, one of the pioneers of LAMAP IBSE whom I mentioned earlier, was my guide.

We also visited Ecole Cave, a French primary school and observed a science lesson using this approach. The role of the science teacher as a facilitator in hands on activities rather than merely using a book had greatly inspired me.

Last week, LAMAP has ventured into Sabah for the first time, organising a five-day IBSE training workshop in Kota Kinabalu.

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Had the pleasure of meeting Ms Ann Laperdrix and Prof Yves Quere last week.

I appreciate that Professor Quere and the Director of the French primary school above Ms Ann Laperdrix travelled from Paris and gladly assisted in the workshop. I share their passion of motivating teachers and students alike since 1979 where I took up a brief stint as a teacher.

The objective of IBSE is to assure the supply of innovative and creative high school graduates for science and engineering courses in universities by nurturing the creative instincts of the young.

IBSE encourages students to question and doubt a proposition until it is supported by experiment and evidence.

In a world where our children are constantly bombarded by “prophets” of unnecessary military expenditure, of extreme religious fundamentalism leading to terrorism, of imprudent consumption as the model of economic development, this evidence based education provides an effective defence by nurturing a discerning and rational citizenry.

 

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